The California State Assembly has recently put forward a bill, AB 418, to prohibit several ingredients commonly found in processed foods due to their potential health hazards. While this proposed legislation is a commendable step forward, it is crucial to recognize that our pantry staples often contain numerous other potentially harmful ingredients. This article will shed light on the hazards lurking in processed foods, hiding in our favorite treats, and explore how we can make healthier food choices.
Background Information on Assembly Bill 418
Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel and Democratic lawmaker Buffy Wicks introduced AB 418, aiming to ban the manufacture, sale, or distribution of food products in California that contain certain substances considered harmful. These substances include red dye No. 3, titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, and propylparaben. If passed, the bill would take effect from January 1, 2025.
While these ingredients are permitted for use in the United States, they have been banned in the European Union due to their potential health risks. Scientific studies have linked these chemicals to an increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune systems harm, and behavioral issues in children.
Red dye No. 3, in particular, has drawn significant concern, with an estimated 3,000 products listed on the Environmental Working Group’s Eat Well Guide containing this ingredient. These products range from popular candies like Skittles, Nerds, and Trolli gummies to protein shakes and instant food products.
The Opposition to AB 418
Despite the health concerns associated with these ingredients, there are substantial dissenting voices against the proposed legislation. The National Confectioners Association, a trade organization based in Washington, DC, strongly opposes AB 418, arguing that all the ingredients listed in the bill have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They contend that insufficient evidence warrants a ban on these ingredients.
Notably, these chemicals gain approval through a loophole in the FDA’s Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act called the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) rule. This rule allows certain additives to bypass premarket approval requirements if they meet specific criteria deemed safe for consumption. However, it is essential to acknowledge that the federal levels for safe intake of food dyes like red dye No. 3 might not provide adequate protection, according to a study by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
Despite the National Confectioners Association’s stance, it is evident that further research is necessary to understand the potential long-term health effects of these additives fully. Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that AB 418 only addresses a fraction of the issue, as numerous other potentially harmful ingredients persist in our processed foods.
The Issue with Processed Foods: It’s Not Just Red Dye No. 3
Delving deeper into processed foods, we encounter a host of detrimental substances beyond those mentioned in AB 418. Excessive sugar, trans fats, and vegetable oils, commonly found in these foods, pose significant health risks.[6-8]
High fructose corn syrup, a prevalent sweetener in sodas and candies, has been linked to obesity and diabetes. Similarly, trans fats, present in various baked and fried foods, can elevate levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower levels of good (HDL) cholesterol, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Additionally, the excessive consumption of vegetable oils such as palm oil and soybean oil, often present in processed foods, can contribute to inflammation due to their high omega-6 fatty acid content.
Consider a seemingly innocent box of cookies; it likely contains high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and vegetable oils, among other additives. Now, contemplate how frequently such food items feature in our daily diet—the potential health implications are staggering.
Health Risks Associated with Common Additives in Processed Foods
The health risks associated with common additives are extensive and severe. Excessive sugar intake, particularly high fructose corn syrup, can lead to obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Likewise, chronic consumption of trans fats can heighten the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
Consuming excessive amounts of certain vegetable oils, such as soybean and corn, can also have adverse effects. These oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids but low in omega-3s, resulting in an imbalance that promotes systemic inflammation. Chronic inflammation, in turn, has been linked to an increased risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. Therefore, consistent consumption of processed foods laden with these harmful additives can give rise to various health problems, spanning from metabolic disorders to chronic diseases.
The Problem of Consumption
The prevalence of processed foods in our diets is a significant part of the problem. Statistics indicate that processed foods account for approximately 60% of the average American diet’s total calorie intake. These foods are inexpensive, readily available, heavily marketed, and designed to be appetizing, contributing to their widespread consumption.
However, a diet rich in processed foods entails substantial health risks. Such diets tend to be high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and sodium while low in fiber and essential nutrients. Over time, these dietary patterns can lead to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems. Therefore, it is evident that transitioning towards healthier, less processed foods is crucial for overall well-being.
Choosing Healthier Alternatives
While the task may seem daunting, adopting a healthier diet does not require a sudden change. Small modifications can make a significant difference over time. The first step is to become an informed consumer by learning to read and understand food labels. Ingredients are listed by quantity, from highest to lowest. If sugar or vegetable oils are among the primary ingredients, it is advisable to choose an alternative product.
Try to incorporate more whole foods into your diet. Whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, are rich in essential nutrients and fiber. Consider preparing homemade versions of your favorite processed foods. This is an enjoyable activity, but it also gives you complete control over the ingredients.
The Role of Policy and Regulation
While individual actions are crucial, policies and regulations play a significant role in shaping our food environment. AB 418 represents a step in the right direction, demonstrating that lawmakers are beginning to acknowledge the potential harms of certain food additives. However, there is a need for more comprehensive policies that address the broader issue of unhealthy additives in processed foods.
Policies can encompass various aspects of this issue, ranging from limiting harmful additives in foods to promoting clear and informative food labeling. It is also essential to address the marketing of unhealthy foods, particularly with children, and ensure that healthier food options are affordable and accessible to everyone.
While the proposed ban on certain ingredients in California is a step towards improving the safety of our food, it is crucial to recognize that many other potentially harmful substances exist in our diets. Ultimately, a combination of informed individual choices and supportive policies is necessary to transition towards a healthier, less processed food environment. The dangers concealed in processed foods extend far beyond a single ingredient.
- “California Assembly Passes First-in-Nation Ban on Chemicals in Processed Foods.” Environmental Working Group, 2023,www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/2023/05/california-assembly-passes-first-nation-ban-chemicals-processed.
- “Dangerous Ingredients That Are in Our Food But Shouldn’t Be.” Consumer Reports, 2023,www.consumerreports.org/health/food-additives/dangerous-ingredients-that-are-in-our-food-but-shouldnt-be-a4054710317/.
- “Popular Easter candy Peeps contains additive linked to cancer, Consumer Reports says.” CNN, 2023,www.cnn.com/2023/04/07/health/red-dye-no-3-peeps-wellness/index.html.
- “California bill aims to ban sale of popular candies containing ingredients that may cause health issues.” CNN, 2023,www.cnn.com/2023/03/23/health/red-dye-no-3-bill-cancer-risk-wellness/index.html.
- Miller, Mark D et al. “Potential impacts of synthetic food dyes on activity and attention in children: a review of the human and animal evidence.” Environmental health : a global access science source vol. 21,1 45. 29 Apr. 2022, doi:10.1186/s12940-022-00849-9
- Dhaka, Vandana et al. “Trans fats-sources, health risks and alternative approach – A review.” Journal of food science and technology vol. 48,5 (2011): 534-41. doi:10.1007/s13197-010-0225-8
- Mai, Brandon H, and Liang-Jun Yan. “The negative and detrimental effects of high fructose on the liver, with special reference to metabolic disorders.” Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity : targets and therapy vol. 12 821-826. 27 May. 2019, doi:10.2147/DMSO.S198968
- Mboma, Jean et al. “Effects of Cyclic Fatty Acid Monomers from Heated Vegetable Oil on Markers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Male Wistar Rats.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry vol. 66,27 (2018): 7172-7180. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.8b01836
- Baraldi, Larissa Galastri et al. “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and associated sociodemographic factors in the USA between 2007 and 2012: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study.” BMJ open vol. 8,3 e020574. 9 Mar. 2018, doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020574