As we move deliciously into the growing season in all states, you will get a stead diet of “eat fresh,” “eat local,” “eat chemical-free” and “eat your fruits and veggies” here at the DHB (Daily Health Blog). It’s a simple mathematical identification:

Processed foods < whole foods.

That clearly noted, life is not always a bowl of farm-stand cherries. We sometimes buy processed foods at the grocery store. Those cans and bottles and boxes of food will likely contain food additives.

A rule of thumb from holistic nutritionists is don’t buy food products with ingredients you can’t pronounce. Pretty sound advice. But a better approach is to seek out new ratings for food additives compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). This Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group has staked its formidable reputation on fighting for our right to know what’s in our food—whether it’s the unfathomable amount of saturated fat in some franchise meals, sodium content in Chinese cuisine or just what in world it means when your food product has potassium bromate or butylated hydroxytoluence in it.

Food additives as canvassed by the CSPI are artificial. Yet the group’s long-time executive director Michael Jacobson says not all food additives are unsafe.

“That said, the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t done nearly enough to police the preservatives, dyes, emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, sweeteners and other chemicals many of us eat every day,” says Jacobson, who began researching food additives in 1971.

CSPI ranked a number of additives as safe or ones to avoid:


• Artificial sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium, aspartame and saccharin. Poorly tested and not independently studied. Splenda or sucralose is the only non-calorie sweetener to get a “safe” rating from CSPI.

• Partially hydrogenated oils. The most common term to tip consumers to dangerously unhealthy trans fats, linked to heart disease. CSPI, known in some circles as the nation’s food cops, was out front on trans fats awareness and urging the Food and Drug Adminstration to eliminate it from processed foods and fast-food franchises. Even so, some major chains, including Burger King, still cook with it.

• Potassium bromate. A dough strengthener that is said to break down harmlessly. But bromate is nonetheless linked to causing cancer in animal studies.


• Maltodextrin. A thickening agent and sweetener made from starch. Look for it in canned fruit, salad dressings and instant puddings.

• Sodium Carboxymethyl-Cellulose. Hard to pronounce but no pronounced adverse effect. It is a thickener that helps prevent sugar from crystallizing. Common ingredient in ice cream, pie fillings, icings, diet foods, candy and beer.

• Thiamin Mononitrate. Say again?. It’s actually a form of vitamin B-1 used to fortify cereals and flour. Deemed completely safe.

• Sucralose. Don’t believe the hype—that it’s made from sugar or is toxic. Both claims are unfounded. Caution: It’s frequently used with acesulfame.

For more CSPI ratings of food additives, check out or see

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing. He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors’ Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.”