Episode 86: Should You Avoid Food Additives?

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Thanks for joining us for episode 86 of The Ancestral RD podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering the following question from a listener:

“Hello! I was wondering what’s your take on food additives? Which ones do you think one should try to avoid and which ones are okay? I started thinking about this recently when I bought some almond and coconut milk, as I finally found some that seemed to have pretty good ingredients, no sweeteners or vegetable oils etc. They do have some guar gum, gellan gum, and sunflower lecithin as well as calcium phosphate and potassium phosphate. What do you think of these? Can some minerals or vitamin formulations be potentially harmful? If you have time, I would love it if you could also talk about which additives have special contraindications for gut health or that can be problematic for people with IBD. And thanks for your great show!”

Have you read the ingredient labels on packaged foods lately? When transitioning to a whole foods diet, we start to be more careful about the packaged foods that we buy.  Often it can be quite a surprise to read the additives that are on the label. On top of that, it can be extremely difficult to find a packaged food that doesn’t contain an additive. Many of us wonder, should we be avoiding food additives?

Join us today as we share our opinions about additives in processed foods. Some of what you’ll learn is the process of how additives enter our food supply and which additives we personally try to avoid. You also come away with factors to consider when deciding the amount of additives you want to allow into your diet.

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • The prevalence of additives in packaged foods
  • The brand of coconut milk that does not contain additives
  • The history and controversial process of how food additives are allowed into our food supply
  • What the designation of GRAS or “generally regarded as safe” really means
  • How the GRAS label is more about short term safety than long term safety
  • Why the decision of how much you want to avoid food additives is a personal one
  • Laura and Kelsey’s personal opinions about food additives
  • Which food additives Laura and Kelsey try to avoid and in which foods they are commonly found
  • The possible effects of gums on digestive conditions like IBD
  • Why sugar may not be the villain it’s been made out to be
  • Why you should try to avoid food additives without obsessing over it


Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone. Welcome to episode 86 of The Ancestral RDs Podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey guys.

Laura: Our episode is publishing the week of Christmas, between Christmas and New Year’s, but we are currently in the beginning of December.

Kelsey: We’re talking about ourselves in the future.

Laura: Yes, it’s so weird. What are you up to over the holidays, Kelsey?

Kelsey: Well I’ll be in Massachusetts for actual Christmas and everything. I think we’re planning and going a few days before Christmas and then staying until probably the 28th I think, or the 27th I guess. Then I’m going to be in Montreal from the 28th to New Year’s. I’ve never been there, but it should be fun. It sounds like they do a lot of fun New Year’s stuff and it’s decorated nicely and everything. I’m going with my mom, my sisters, my husband, and then both my sisters’ boyfriends. It’s going to be a big group actually, which is always interesting.

Laura: When you said both my sisters’ boyfriends, I thought you meant your one sister has two boyfriends. I was like, what?

Kelsey: That’s just how it goes in my family. No, just kidding.

Laura: I was like does that happen? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a thing.

Kelsey: Maybe it’s a thing. No, I have two sisters, both of whom have boyfriends. I think it’ll be seven of us in total and we’re all staying at an Airbnb in Montreal.

Laura: Oh, cool.

Kelsey: Yeah, just hanging out, exploring the city. I’m excited because like I said, I’ve never been there before and I always like adventuring and exploring new places. I think it’ll be really fun.

Laura: It’ll be really cold.

Kelsey: Yes, really cold, definitely. But I don’t have any big plans or things that I’m definitely doing there yet. I think we’re kind of taking it easy, and playing it by ear, and just seeing what sounds fun. Looking forward to it. I love the holidays. I love Christmas, it’s my favorite holiday and I just love being with family and everything. I’m looking forward that time of year. We’re getting pretty close at this point. How about you?

Laura: Yeah, only a couple weeks away. I am going to be going up to Ohio for the first half of the holiday week or so.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: I’ll be flying up there and spending Christmas with my fiancé’s family. Between me flying up there and before Christmas, my sister is supposed to be having a baby. Her due date was yesterday.

Kelsey: Wow!

Laura: From the day that we’re recording this. I’m hoping by the time this podcast is live, I’ll be an official Aunt. She and her husband live up in Michigan and my fiancé and I are going to drive up there and meet my nephew if all goes well.

Kelsey: Aww, that’s so exciting.

Laura: Yeah, there’s so many babies in my life right now, it’s crazy. I have probably like four friends that either just had a baby or are pregnant.

Kelsey: Wow.

Laura: One of my friends just had twins. I actually got to hold and feed one of them a couple days ago and literally the babies are four days old.

Kelsey: Oh my God.

Laura: The tiniest baby I’ve ever held. Lots and lots of babies. I guess my sister hopefully will have a three week old something, or two week old by the time we…depending on if she’s super late or not, I’ll get to meet him. Then like I said, have Christmas with my fiancé’s family.

It’s funny, I think Christmas is fine, which is ironic as a Christian. I’m not super into Christmas. Part of it is just because I think the way that our culture has changed the meaning of the holiday, I’m not super fond of. I don’t like all the advertisements, and materialism, and that kind of thing.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: But I’m not like anti Christmas. I’m just kind of like eh, whatever. It’s cool, but sometimes I’m actually glad when the holidays are over because I feel like life can kind of go back to normal. But my fiancé’s family is super into Christmas. I’ll be interesting to be in that environment and maybe my excitement about it will be different if I have that kind of environment for celebrating.

Kelsey: Yeah, I think it helps when everybody else is kind of into it. I’m not religious and neither is my family, but we celebrate it as just like a time to be together and spend time with each other. That to me is awesome, just baking cookies and playing Christmas music.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey: I just love it. I love all of it.

Laura: Yeah. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been into it lately because actually the last, I’m trying to remember the last time I was with anyone for Christmas. Gosh, because last year I was by myself and the year before that it think I was by myself.

Kelsey: Yeah, I think you’ll like it.

Laura: Because all my friends have their own families and kids and stuff so obviously they’re doing their own Christmas thing. The last couple of years I just kind of hung out with my dog, and drank some beer, and watched a movie or something.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I haven’t really been that excited by it, so this year will definitely be a lot different especially with the level excitement that my fiancé’s family gets with the experience. He has two sets of parents, so we have his mom’s side in the morning and his dad’s side in the afternoon.

Kelsey: Wow.

Laura: So it will be quite a different experience for me.

Kelsey: So it’s like the whole extended family too.

Laura: Yeah, so we’ll see what we do or what the events are. I’m honestly just like alright, this is going to be the most intense Christmas I’ve ever had. But I mean it’s going to be enjoyable. I don’t think it’s going to be like intense, I just mean there will be a lot going on.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: We’ll be driving down from Ohio together, so that will be our first long distance drive together which I think will be fine.

Kelsey: You’ll learn a lot about each other.

Laura: Well, honestly our relationship is mostly via phone so we have lots of phone conversations all the time.

Kelsey: Yeah, I guess that’s true.

Laura: Being in a car together is just like a long phone conversation.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: But we’ll be driving down to Maryland and my brother gets to meet my fiancé for the first time, so that’s cool.

Kelsey: Cool.

Laura: Then we’re going to be down in Raleigh for New Year’s. Actually the day this podcast goes live, we have our official engagement photo shoot with our really awesome photographer that we’re super excited about. Sadly we were hoping to do it out in the mountains of North Carolina, but with all the wild fires out there it kind of wasn’t really going to work. I’m not exactly sure where we’re going to do that, but that’ll be fun because we actually had a little mini shoot with my friend who’s a photographer by I guess hobby, but she actually she just got a job as a videographer.

Kelsey:  Cool.

Laura: She’s somewhat professional and she also did my video for my new website. If people have seen that video, she was the one that did that. We had our first real photos taken and I was like these are so much nicer than all the stupid Instagram selfies that I have of us. I’m excited to have nice photos. It’s kind of weird when you want to show people a picture and you’re like well this is an Instagram selfie that I took a couple weeks ago. It’s nice to be able to be like actually this is what my fiancé looks like.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Those will be fun. Then we don’t have any plans for New Year’s yet. We’re trying to figure that out. Honestly that’s another thing I haven’t done seriously in a long time.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: I feel like this is the first year my holidays have someone to spend it with because it’s been many years since I was dating anyone over the holidays. Probably I think it’s like almost 10 years since I was dating anyone over the holidays.

Kelsey: Wow.

Laura: Yeah, so definitely going to be a different experience. But I’m really excited about it and it’ll have been three weeks since I saw my fiancé when I go up there. I’m sure I will be quite antsy to see him at that point.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: We’re looking forward about two weeks together and then getting into 2017 and starting the countdown for the wedding.

Kelsey: Woohoo! That’s awesome. I think you’ll have a lot of fun. Like I said, I’m a big proponent of Christmas. Not just Christmas, I just love this time of year. The whole time from Thanksgiving to January 1st is my prime time. I love it.

Laura: Yeah. Maybe that’s another thing is I like warmer weather.

Kelsey: Oh, yeah. I don’t mind the cold.

Laura: It’s going to be pretty cold up in the Ohio and Michigan area. There may even be some snow, which I haven’t seen like snow in a couple years.

Kelsey: Oh my gosh!

Laura: Yeah, it’ll be fun, I think.

Kelsey: Yeah, maybe you’ll get a white Christmas.

Laura: Yeah, maybe. It’s already snowing up in Ohio now so we got three weeks before that happens. It could be a white Christmas. It’s one of those things that again, I feel like the last couple of Christmas’ have been so non eventful that maybe this year will be like oh this is what Christmas is supposed to be like.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: This is why people like it so much.

Kelsey: Yeah, maybe you’ll become a convert and you’ll love it.

Laura: Maybe. We’ll see what happens.

Kelsey: We’ll see, yeah. We’ll get the update from you after and you’ll be like I hate Christmas actually guys.

Laura: Oh, no.

Kelsey: I remembered.

Laura: Like I said I mean from a Christian perspective, I don’t know. It’s just weird because it’s not really a Christian holiday and I won’t get into that. I kind of don’t always get the religious connotation of it.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I mean I think the religious side of things if you look at it objectively, it is useful. But I don’t really ever see that happening on a large scale.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I don’t know.

Kelsey: That makes perfect sense.

Laura: Yeah. It’s one of those things where I’m like okay, maybe if I have an actual reason to look forward to it from a family perspective, I’ll be more into it.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: But lately it’s just been another day in the calendar.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: But we’ll see. It could be fun this year.

It’s funny because I had mentioned last week that I was on the Paleo Women Podcast and they spent the first couple 5 to 10 minutes talking about stuff going on. Steph was going talking about going on a date that night. And I was joking with you a couple weeks ago, I was like feel like that’s the kind of update that I’m not sure people want from us. But to fair, Noelle and Steph have a pretty popular podcast, so maybe us talking about ourselves isn’t that bad of an idea. If you’re still on listening, then I guess you must enjoy hearing about our lives. If you left, well then I guess you’re not here anymore.

Kelsey: Quickly fast-forward to the meat of the podcast.

Laura: Right, right. I mean we always love to people’s feedback. If you like this kind of stuff, please let us know. If you hate it, you can tell us. Just try to be nice about it.

Kelsey: We would appreciate that.

Laura: I know. We definitely had some people email being like stop talking about yourselves! And I’m like, okay….

Kelsey: Sorry.

Laura: I don’t think so. I mean that’s the thing about a podcast is it’s free information. If you don’t want to hear us blabber on about ourselves, then that’s why there’s a fast-forward button. But hopefully those of you still here enjoy it and we like chatting about what’s going on in our lives a little bit too. But anyway, let’s get into our question for today. But first, we will hear a word from our sponsor:

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Laura: Alright, here’s our question for today:

“Hello! I was wondering what’s your take on food additives? Which ones do you think one should try to avoid and which ones are okay? I started thinking about this recently when I bought some almond and coconut milk, as I finally found some that seemed to have pretty good ingredients, no sweeteners or vegetable oils etc. They do have some guar gum, gellan gum, and sunflower lecithin as well as calcium phosphate and potassium phosphate. What do you think of these? Can some minerals or vitamin formulations be potentially harmful? If you have time, I would love it if you could also talk about which additives have special contraindications for gut health or that can be problematic for people with IBD. And thanks for your great show!”


Kelsey: Okay. This is an interesting question and I don’t think we’ve talked a lot about this topic on the podcast in the past, so thank you for sending a different question. Always good to talk about topics that we don’t get to hear about a lot.

I think as you start to transition to a more real food diet or a Paleo diet, you tend to start to look at food labels maybe for the first time for some of you. A lot of us I think once we start to do that get really surprised how many extra things there in our food that you wouldn’t really think needs to be there or you wouldn’t even think they were there eating the food.

In general, it sounds like this person is trying to avoid as many additives as they can, which I think is a good idea and it’s what I do myself as well. But for some things, even when you’re really trying to avoid additives, there are just some foods or slightly processed foods that it can be seemingly impossible to find versions of it that don’t contain some kind of additive.

This person was talking about coconut milk. Just as an example, I recently went through the same process. I was at my local grocery store looking for coconut milk because we were making some curry and I wanted to put coconut milk in it. They literally had like ten different brands of coconut milk. I’ve never seen that many different brands of coconut milk in the store before. I spent probably a good 5 to 10 minutes looking at all of the different brands. This grocery store is weird. They put them in a million different isles so I was like going up and down the aisles grabbing every coconut milk possible looking at them. I would look at the back, look at the label, and literally none of them did not have some kind of additive. The ones that you’re mentioning in the question, like the guar gum, or gellan gum, sunflower lecithin, that’s the kind of stuff I was seeing as well. It’s kind of disappointing when you’re spending all this time trying to find something that doesn’t have additives only to find out that pretty much it’s impossible.

That’s why I think this question is a good one because there definitely are times where you either have to choose between eating a food that has some additives in it or not eating the food at all. I think for many, many people, coconut milk might fall into that category depending on what you have available locally or what you can buy online.

Personally, after that experience, I actually didn’t buy anything at that grocery store. I took the time to go to a different grocery store that I know has my favorite brand of coconut milk, which is from Arroy-D. That one has no additives, which to be honest, I don’t know how they do that. Maybe they have some undisclosed additives. I don’t really know. But at least on the label they don’t have any additives, I think it’s just coconut meat and whatever else is in coconut and water. I try to buy that if I can. I think you can buy that online as well, although it’s probably much more expensive to buy online because it’s a heavy product obviously. But I’m able to get that at least somewhat locally even though it’s a little bit extra effort for me. If you can find Arroy-D coconut milk, that might be a good thing to look for just because it doesn’t have those additives that you’re noticing in the stuff that you were able to find currently.

But it think like I said, this is a really good question to ask. Let’s say those were your only options for coconut milk. It had those additives. This person says it’s got guar gum, gellan gum, sunflower lecithin, calcium phosphate, and potassium phosphate. Personally, I would say that if it were me buying the coconut milk and that was my only option, I don’t have coconut milk all that often. I don’t even know how often I would say I use it, maybe like once or twice a month. It’s not something I’m using all that often. Having those additives in there isn’t a big deal to me because I’m not eating it every single day.

We’ll go through kind of my thought process and Laura’s though process behind additives in a moment here. But I just want to talk a little bit about additives in general first because over the last few decades we’ve started putting so many more additives in our food and honestly, they’re not really well researched or there’s just not a whole lot of oversight that is done on these additives that we’re eating and that we’re eating a lot of if you’re eating a fair amount of even slightly processed food. I wouldn’t really consider something like almond milk or coconut milk to be a super processed food, but it’s processed enough that they sometimes need to put in additives to keep them safe.

The process that happens when a company wants to put a food additive into the food supply or their product is a little weird because the FDA, I think sometime in the 1950s, they decided that they wanted to create a system that would allow companies to put food additives into our food supply without having to go through a really lengthy process to get approved by the FDA. It was really meant to help processed foods with ingredients like vinegar or salt get on the shelves more quickly because we kind of knew that those things weren’t problematic and it didn’t really necessitate oversight by the FDA to put those things on the shelves. But essentially, companies started using this as a loophole to get new food additives that we really didn’t know a whole lot about into the food supply without oversight from the FDA. You can imagine that this turns into a much bigger problem as companies are finding cheaper food additives to use, ones that maybe work better, but that we don’t know how safe they are or anything like that.

I think the general idea with food additives, at least in my mind, is to avoid them as much as humanly possible, but not to go crazy over it. Because a lot of these are probably safe, but we don’t want to eat a ton of them if we can’t avoid it. If it’s something you can easily avoid, obviously not knowing how safe it is in the long term, I would choose to avoid an additive if I can.

These companies basically say that their additive that they’re putting into their product is generally regarded as safe. They’re allowed to because of this law that the FDA made in the 1950s hire a group of scientists for their company to look at whatever additive that they’re wanting to put in their food, regard it as safe based on whatever method they want to use really, and then they’re allowed to put it into the food supply. That sounds sketchy.

To me as I’m sure to you Laura, and I’m sure to all of our listeners, that’s not something I want to hear about my food supply that basically companies are allowed to put whatever the heck they want to into our supply without a major governmental oversight on what’s happening and what’s going into our food. It’s just the company hiring a group of scientists to make that decision for them. I would imagine it probably creates a little bit of conflict of interest because the company is going to want to hire scientists that will most likely say that their additive is safe.

Laura: Yeah. I feel like the GRAS or the generally regarded as safe label is more about short term safety.

Kelsey: Yes.

Laura: Is this something that’s going to make someone sick as soon as they eat it? A lot of this stuff doesn’t apply to the long term health effects of continuous consumption of that additive.

Kelsey: Right. Although even there are some additives that certainly can have acute effects. Just for an example, sulfites. There are people out there that are sensitive to sulfites, especially those with asthma that they’ll eat some sulfites in their food and then they can get an asthmatic reaction because of that. That’s something of course that we learned as people started eating this stuff and it wasn’t something that we knew originally. But it is more of an acute effect.

But in general, yeah, totally, these scientists are generally looking at what do we think the short term effect of this is? Is it really going to cause someone to get sick within a day of eating it? Probably not, okay, it’s generally regarded as safe. The reason for that typically is just because looking at something over the long term especially if you want to look at in humans or if you want to start with mice or whatever, it’s going to be a lot more expensive and it’s going to take a lot longer obviously to see what happens over the long term.

The scientists are basically just saying okay, we don’t think anything bad is going to happen in the short term because we’ve maybe done some tests, or we looked at the research that’s already been done on this maybe, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in the long term. But we can generally regard it as safe because we don’t think it’s going to cause problems in the long term and it doesn’t seem to be causing problems in the short term.

But of course as people have been eating all this stuff, we start to wonder if a lot the chronic diseases that we are dealing as a society might be due in part at least to some of the food additives that we’ve been eating for years and years at this point and because we just don’t know they do. You can imagine that that’s a little scary to hear. And I’m really not trying to fear monger at all because personally I eat a good amount of these of these additives and it’s something that I think can be hard to avoid if you want to keep any level of sanity regarding food.

I thought It would be a good idea for Laura and I to kind of walk you through how we think about additives personally because at the end of the day, this is a really personal decision because we just don’t have a lot of the information that we would need to make really strong arguments either way as to whether these food additives are safe for most people or that they’re harmful. I think it mostly makes sense to decide this on a personal level like how much of these additives do you want to allow into your diet and what amount of psychological kind of worries and anxieties you’re going to allow into your head because you can get really worked up about this stuff. You can try to avoid it entirely, which is going to be really difficult and for some people that’s not worth it, myself included.

Let’s kind of talk about this in terms of what Laura and I do personally. Laura, I don’t know if you want to start. I’ve been talking for a while. If you want to say anything here, go for it.

Laura: You’re like, Laura, say something. I’m just kidding. I feel like I remember back in the day we had somebody mention that I used to interrupt you a lot, so hopefully I don’t do that anymore. I can’t help it, I’m from New Jersey. It’s too hard for me to not talk. Although to be fair, I feel like I’ve gotten better at listening over the course of a couple years.

Kelsey: I don’t feel like you interrupt me.

Laura: Well, apparently somebody did.

Food additives are interesting because on one hand, there’s definitely ones that I wouldn’t choose to eat, things that I don’t buy food that contains those items. But you and I were talking about this before we got on the call. I don’t go out of my way to avoid certain things. I’m not reading the label of every single product that I buy with a magnifying glass making sure that it doesn’t have anything in it that could potentially problematic. I just don’t buy a lot of things that are packaged.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: It just cuts down on the number of things that I need to really be looking at. Because the more whole, fresh foods that you buy, and the more ingredients that you buy, and the less processed, and persevered, and packaged foods that you’re eating, the less you’re going to even be exposed to that kind of stuff. I don’t know if this is the way that you approach your grocery shopping, but generally I am only buying things that are whole food ingredients and then occasionally I’ll buy some products that I’m going to use, like for example, I have this almond milk creamer that I like to use in my coffee. There’s sugar in it, there’s the guar gums and stuff in it and all that. I look at that as being like okay, I drink a couple tablespoons of this a day, probably not that big of a deal. It doesn’t cause any symptoms and I’m not going to worry about it.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: But then other things like different additives that we’re going to talk about in a second that I’m not even buying foods that have that kind of stuff, so I’m not really looking for them or looking to avoid them if that makes sense.

Kelsey: Yeah, I think that totally makes sense. I come from the same perspective as well. When I’m grocery shopping, the most processed food I would say that I’m generally buying is stuff like you just talked about. I don’t buy creamer, but I would buy for example coconut milk or sometimes I buy canned beans because I’m too lazy to do it myself if I’m making black bean burgers or something like that. Those are the kind of processed foods that I’m really talking about here. Although I guess I would say I buy things like gluten free pasta occasionally. But in the scheme of things, the processed food or those kinds of things like coconut milk, or canned beans, that kind of thing I would say are slightly processed. I don’t kind of put them in the same category as really processed foods like chips, or cereal, or something like that.

Laura: Mm hmm.

Kelsey: Yeah, I think the best course of action for most people is going to be just to not buy processed food in the first place, which I think most of our listeners are probably at least well on their way to doing that if not already doing better than we are in that regard. I think that’s going to cut down on your additive intake the most of course is just to eat real food that doesn’t need to contain additives to keep it fresh and safe for you to consume.

But beyond that, there are additives that I personally try to avoid as much as I possibly can. Those include things like food colorings, which again, I’m not eating a lot of stuff that would contain food coloring in the first place. Occasionally I would maybe eat, I’m trying to think of something that would have food coloring in it.

Laura: Some kind of dessert.

Kelsey: Yeah, I wouldn’t turn down like if somebody gave me a handful of M&Ms and I wanted some chocolate. I wouldn’t say no, it has food coloring, I’m not going to eat it.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey: Random food coloring exposure I think it’s okay, but in general on my everyday eating habits I am trying to avoid food coloring.

Laura: At least the artificial ones because obviously they occasionally use natural items that could be coloring the food like beets or something like that.

Kelsey: Right, exactly. We‘re talking about when you see on the label like FDC yellow 1, things like that. That kind of stuff I definitely try to avoid as much as possible other than the occasional like you said dessert or like I mentioned M&Ms or it’s something where I’m having it very, very rarely, not a big deal to me. I’m just going to eat it and not worry about it.

MSG is another one that I would generally avoid which is not hard to avoid. I think the most likely case for me getting MSG exposure would be if I was eating out at like a Chinese restaurant actually. I can’t think of a processed food that would have that in that that I would even buy.

Laura: Sometimes they have those bouillon cubes.

Kelsey: Oh, yeah.

Laura: Or that broth kind of stuff. You have to be careful that you’re getting just plain broth and not stuff that’s got the flavor, like the MSG added to it.

Kelsey: Yeah, good point. I think that would be the only place you might find that.

Laura: Right. I personally don’t buy a lot of store bought broth because honestly a lot of that stuff just doesn’t taste good.

Kelsey: No, it really doesn’t, which is unfortunate. It would be nice to get an easy access broth like that. Check out the bouillon cubes or broths. That kind of stuff will tend to be the only place you’d get MSG in your actual grocery shopping.

Laura: Or possibly spice blends like if you’re doing like seasoning salt or something. You might just want to double check those.

Kelsey: Yeah, okay. Then sulfites would be another thing that in general I try to avoid, but that’s included in things like wine and dried fruit. That kind of thing I guess I would put this in a different category of not always avoiding. I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid it necessarily, but I do eat some things that contain sulfites. I’m not going to not drink wine, sorry guys.

Laura: They have sulfite free wine, but I don’t know about you, have you tried that before?

Kelsey: I have. I didn’t really like it.

Laura: I know it doesn’t taste that good. I don’t know what the effect of sulfites is. Maybe it just kind of maintains the flavor better or something.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: You had mentioned you thought that they would mainly be an issue for people with asthma or just sulfite sensitivity.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I actually don’t drink a lot of wine. Lately the only wine I’ve really had is this 100% cherry wine from Michigan that I really like. Other than that, I usually drink beer or whisky. I haven’t really been exposed to a lot of sulfites. I don’t know, wine tends to make me feel more hung over the next day if I have more than a glass of it.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: Maybe it’s the sulfites, I don’t know.

Kelsey: Yeah. I’m trying to think of anything else that has sulfites. Those are the two biggies, dried fruit and wine. I eat dried fruit on occasion. It’s not something I actively avoid either. I’m definitely getting sulfite exposure from that. Not something I choose to worry about. I do have asthma, but I don’t think I’m sulfite sensitive. At least I haven’t noticed any worsening in asthma with eating things that contain sulfites. I would just pay attention to that if you are somebody that has asthma and see if you respond poorly to dried fruits or to wine. If you do, it’s worth experimenting a little bit with that to see if you do better without consuming that additive. But otherwise, I think for most people it’s probably not too terrible to be consuming.

Laura: Well…sorry…

Kelsey: Go ahead, go ahead.

Laura: I didn’t mean to interrupt. WebMD has a list of sulfite containing foods which is maybe 20 different things. A lot of it is stuff that would be needing to use sulfites as a preservative. It’s not really in fresh food. It can be in some cooked and processed foods, things like baked gods, soup mixes, canned vegetables, pickled foods, gravies, potato chips, trail mix. We can link to this if people want to look into which foods that have sulfites. But honestly like we were saying, most people aren’t bothered by small amounts of this.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: As long as you’re not eating your entire diet out of cans, you shouldn’t be getting that much of it and not enough of it to cause a problem in non-sensitive individuals.

Kelsey: Right. That goes back to just in general eating a real food diet, you’re probably not going to be exposed to a whole lot of this. I think I tend to mention the dried fruit just because I think that’s more likely for people who are eating a whole food type of diet, that’s probably where they’d be getting the bulk of their sulfites if they’re eating them.

Next on the list here for me is things like high fructose corn syrup, trans fat, those partially or fully hydrogenated vegetable oils that are sometimes put in foods. Those things I think are fairly straightforward for most of our listeners probably. I’m not even eating things that would really contain that kind of stuff in general, so not really something that I actively think about anymore because I’m just not choosing products that would contain them in the first place. How about you, Laura?

Laura: I think with trans-fat, the most likely source of that in my diet would be the occasional store bought pie crust if I have dessert at somebody’s house or something like that, which honestly is like maybe twice a year or something.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: It’s not something that would be in my diet on a regular basis. We use lard in my family if we’re making pie crusts.

Kelsey: The way to go.

Laura: Woohoo!

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: High fructose corn syrup, I feel like if you’re having a lot of soda, and high fructose corn syrup sweetened beverages, and that kind of stuff, then that’s not a great thing to be doing. But I personally think the concern about high fructose corn syrup is a little overblown, not crazy overblown. I don’t think it should be used if you can use sugar, or honey, or maple syrup, or something like that.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: But I don’t think small amounts of that is going to be the end of the world.

Kelsey: Yeah, I wouldn’t say no to ketchup in a restaurant that has high fructose corn syrup in it or something like that.

Laura: Right. I occasionally will have a soda. If I’m on a flight sometimes I’ll have ginger ale because sometimes I get a little air sick and it settles my stomach. That’s the kind of thing where I’m like I have this a couple times a year, not a big deal.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Again, not something I’m worried about as a short term sensitivity and also not something not something I eat enough of to worry about long term health effects.

Kelsey: Yeah, for sure. Then the other thing to consider, there’s a few more that we’ll talk about, but one other one is natural flavors especially in non-organic foods. Natural flavors can actually contain synthetic chemicals like propylene glycol or BHA which is a preservative. And they can also be derived, these natural flavors, from genetically engineered crops and they might even be labeled natural. It can be a little confusing if you’re not getting organic to know what you’re actually eating even because it can mean a lot of different things. But if you’re getting a certified organic natural flavor, they have to meet more stringent guidelines, so they can’t include synthetic or genetically engineered ingredients.

Personally with natural flavors, I don’t think I eat a whole lot of things that have it in there. The thing that comes to my mind first would be seltzer, flavored seltzer that tends to have natural flavors in it. I mean I don’t think I’m drinking organic seltzer when I’m drinking it, so I image it’s not the organic one. I don’t worry too much about it personally. It’s probably not the best and I probably should be a little bit better about avoiding that. But again, it’s not something that I’m having daily and I’m not having a lot of it, so I don’t get too, too worried about it if I’m having the occasional seltzer with some natural flavors that aren’t organic. But if you can, anything that does include natural flavors, if you can get an organic version, I would definitely recommend doing that.

Laura: Yeah. I’m trying to think if they’re anything that I eat that has natural flavors. I don’t know. It’s weird, I guess I just haven’t really been looking at food labels recently. I have to start doing that perhaps to see where these natural flavors even come in. I’d honestly be surprised if I was eating much that had that kind of stuff in it.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Again, at the end of the day, I don’t eat a lot of packaged foods in general. If you’re not eating packaged foods, there’s not going to be natural flavors in it because you’re just getting the flavor of the whole food itself.

Kelsey: Exactly, yeah. Some other things, and especially because this person brought it up, the coconut milk and almond milk are things like lecithin, and guar gum, and other gums. Personally I don’t get worried about those in general much at all. Lecithin, even if it’s soy lecithin, I don’t think is a big deal. It’s not something I actively avoid. I don’t seek it out either, but if I’m eating a semi processed food that contain soy lecithin, it’s something I would put that back on the shelf because of that ingredient.

Chris Kresser has a good article about that that we can link to as well about soy lecithin and kind of how harmful or harmless it may be. You can imagine it’s probably not all that harmful if we’re talking about like we are here.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey: Then he also has an article about guar gum in the same series where he’s talking about whether it’s harmful or harmless.

I think in general, those things are not problematic. With the guar gum and other types of gums specifically I just want to mention because this person asks which additives might be problematic for people with digestive issues. Gums can definitely fit in that category. Not to say that somebody with digestive issues, or IBD, anything along those lines should definitely avoid those additives. But it’s something I would say if you’re still having symptoms regularly, you might want to check the foods you’re eating, see if they have any gums, try taking them out and then adding them back in and seeing if your symptoms dissipate and then come back because it can cause things like bloating, or altered bowel movements, just kind of general digestive distress for some people especially if you’re prone to that because you have something like IBD. It’s certainly worth taking a closer look if you have digestive issues.

But for most people I wouldn’t say it’s a big deal at all to be consuming those semi regularly in your sort of processed foods because you will find it in a lot of things like almond milk, coconut milk, that kind of stuff.

Laura: Yeah, I mean I don’t think most people that I’ve talked to have an issue with the small amounts that are in those products, but they are prebiotics, which is ironic because is it partially hydrolyzed guar gum in the prebiotic product…?

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: …that they use for people with SIBO and that kind of thing. That’s the reason that it would potentially impact people with gut issues is the way that it changes the gut flora or feeds problematic gut flora if you have an overgrowth of bacteria it can exacerbate that. But the question is how much is in the product and is it something that’s enough to really cause a problem anymore than like a moderate FODMAP containing food would be a problem?

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Definitely an individual situation and even somebody with IBD may not have a huge problem with it and may be okay to have it on occasion, or maybe doesn’t need to avoid that stuff like the plague.

Kelsey: Yeah, exactly. Then other things to consider is just like sugar, which I know I certainly don’t actively avoid that in small amounts in the processed foods that I am eating on occasion. I know Laura, you don’t either.

Laura: Yeah. Honestly, I don’t add tons of sugar to things or I don’t eat a lot of sugary foods, but I definitely don’t avoid sugar and I even eat sugary type things sometimes, but usually kind of go with maple syrup or honey as much as possible.

Kelsey: Right, yeah.

Laura: But I don’t think sugar in general is some evil thing the way that’s it’s been made out to and I don’t think people need to be sugar free 100% of the time.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Some people, like people who are super active can actually benefit from some sugar in their diet. I think we’ve talked about that before.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: If you’re trying to get a lot of carbs into your diet, doing it without using anything would count as sugar can actually be sort of hard sometimes.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I think people tend to be a lot more afraid of it than then need to be. Certainly I don’t think people should be basing the bulk of their diet on sugar and it is an empty calorie that doesn’t provide any nutrition so you don’t want to be getting most of your calories from stuff like that.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: But sugar is one of those thing that at least in the last couple hundred years was a big component of people of people’s diet. I think as long as you’re getting a pretty highly nutrient dense diet and not eating lots of bad fats or you’re not sedentary, then eating sugar is not that big of a deal. That’s my opinion. I’m sure there’s people out there that disagree with me, but I just feel like there’s so much fear around added sugars that people will just not eat stuff. You had mentioned ketchup before. There is like natural ketchups that still have some sugar in it because that’s what ketchup tastes like.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: It needs a little sugar to taste like a normal ketchup. I know I’ve bought Paleo ketchup before and it honestly tastes like BBQ sauce to me. Normal tasting ketchup is going to have some sugar in it and I just feel like people shouldn’t be panicking about that kind of thing.

Kelsey: Yeah, I mean I think the fear from sugar, and even from high fructose corn syrup too is just like we read all these articles with headlines that really relate to the overconsumption of these things. If you’re just eating a small amount of it every once in a while, I think you’re probably fine.

At end the day with food additives in general, I would say it comes down to how often you’re eating the food and if you’re eating a lot of it when you do eat it. That should affect how worried or not you’re getting about the food additives in whatever that product may be. The way that kind of works for me is like…we’ll use the coconut milk for an example again. It’s not something I’m eating every day, when I do eat it, I eat a fair amount of it. Like I said, I was making curry so I think in that meal there’s a full can of it and that maybe makes four servings or something. I’m eating a good amount of coconut milk in there, but I’m not eating curry every week even. I wouldn’t say that I eat coconut milk in any other format every week either. It’s not something I’m eating every day. It’s not something I’m eating a lot of every day. It’s something I’m eating occasionally, but when I do eat it, I’m eating a fair amount of it.

Because I can avoid the additives in coconut milk because I have a place where I can buy coconut milk that doesn’t have additives, I choose to do that. But if I didn’t have access to that, I would have no qualms about choosing a coconut milk at my local grocery store that has some of these additives that this person is asking about. To me it’s just not worth worrying about it and it’s not worth not eating that food because of a few additives in there. You have to think about the frequency that you’re eating and the amount that you’re eating it, and then make your decision based on that.

For a little bit more information on other types of food additives, you can take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s guide. They have a guide on food additives that just kind of goes through a few different things that are in a lot of our food supply. Whether or not they’re truly bad or not I think is still kind of up for debate, but they’re are some of the more controversial additives I guess I would say. Do with that what you will. If I was eating something all the time every day and I was eating a fair amount that contains some of these additives that the EWG is talking about in this guide, I would probably reconsider that and see if I can find other options. But beyond that, like I said it’s kind of a personal decision and it comes down to how often you’re eating it, how much you’re eating of it, and whether that’s worth it for you personally.

Laura: Mm hmm. Yeah, I mean maybe Kelsey and I sound super lazy, but I think we’ve both kind of just come to this place where we feel pretty good about the kind of food that we’re eating and we’re not going to be on constant vigilance about this kind of this stuff.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: At the end of the day, I mean there’s so many things we’re being exposed to in our environment that are toxic. And I’m not saying just throw caution to the wind and don’t care, but I mean at the end of the day a little bit of these things here and things here is probably not going to cause any long term health effects and I think the stress about avoiding things or if you’re skipping meals because you can’t find something without any of these additives in it, that’s potentially a bigger issue in the long run than just eating the food and not worrying it too much.

Now like we said, if you have a really bad reaction to it, then yeah, you don’t want to be eating that kind of stuff because it’s directly impacting your quality of life. But if you feel fine when you eat it and drink it and it’s something that either is the only thing available, or it’s like a pleasure food, or whatever the situation is, having occasional exposure to that kind of stuff is probably okay.

Kelsey: Yeah. I totally agree and this is different for every individual like we’ve talked about, we just don’t really have the information to say whether any of these additives are definitively good or definitively bad. You kind of just have to make your own personal choice as to how much you want to care about this stuff. You can drive yourself crazy worrying about this stuff, so certainly think about how much of an effect it’s having on your mental wellbeing or how much stress causing if you’re worrying about it a lot. Just take that into consideration when you are thinking about how much you’re going to allow this stuff to come into your diet.

Laura: Cool. Well, hopefully that’s helpful and feel free to submit more questions about this kind of stuff. Like Kelsey mentioned, we do always appreciate getting questions that we haven’t covered in previous episodes because I think we tend to have a certain theme with the stuff we talk about, but want make sure that we’re getting you guys the best information about a variety of topics.

If you have any questions about food additives or anything, I mean any question about nutrition, health, exercise, any of that stuff, go to TheAncestralRDs.com. Click the contact tab and you can submit your question there and we may answer it on a future show. But thank you for joining us. We’re always happy to have you here and we will see you here next week.

Kelsey: Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You too, Kelsey.


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