You can be quite sure that previous generations would have used the word ‘natural’ somewhere in the conversation if they were asked to describe the characteristics of food. This is, as we have seen over the past few weeks, far from self evident in modern times. In fact, so many unnatural substances have entered our food supply that it takes a real effort to find food for which natural will be the best possible description. This fact should alarm anyone who believes that there is a causal link between nutrition and ADD/ADHD (as research is increasingly confirming). It is also the reason why we are devoting so much attention to the ways in which our perceptions of food are changing and how this is harming us. This week we will continue to look at the ways in which many foods have become unnatural. We will do so by discussing a class of chemicals that are perhaps not as obviously harmful as pesticides (discussed last week) but that can still have a significant negative impact on human health. I am, of course, referring to additives.
Additives are, as the name suggests, chemicals that are added to food to fulfill certain functions. The vast majority of additives in use today are non-natural in the sense that they are artificially created in laboratories and then sold in industrial quantities to food companies. Additives come in three general categories. They are:
- Preservatives: Used to stall or halt natural degenerative processes in food.
- Colorants: Used to make food appear more visually appealing
- Flavorants: Used to enhance the taste of food
The use of all three classes of additives has skyrocketed over the past few decades. If you don’t believe me you are welcome to turn over just about any piece of food packaging in your house to take a look at the ingredients. You are almost certain to find a bunch of complex sounding chemical descriptions or combinations of letters and numbers between the more innocuous ingredients. This industrial scale ‘chemicalization’ of our food supply represents one of the most profound nutritional changes in human history yet it occurred almost by stealth, driven by food companies whose soothing ad campaigns ensured us that they have our best interests at heart. It is easy to see why these companies are so excited about additives. Better tasting, longer lasting and visually appealing foods are sure to increase the ‘bottom line’. We should, however, be very wary of simply accepting the safety claims of these global conglomerates at face value.
It would be rather naïve to think that you can alter the chemical composition of our food supply in dramatic ways and that there would be no negative effect whatsoever. Yet this is what we are constantly being asked to do. Fortunately the consensus that have been so carefully built up by ‘Big Food’ is starting to break down, with more and more scientists pointing out the ways in which additives are influencing everything from digestion, through sleeping patterns, to even human behavior. One of the most disturbing claims that are being made, and one that is of particular relevance to those dealing with the effects of ADD/ADHD, is that some additives (especially some colorants) significantly contribute to the incidence of hyperactivity in children.