Please Explain: Food Additives

Friday, December 09, 2011

Food labels often list ingredients like carrageenan, modified food starch, and butylated hydroxytoluene. On this week’s Please Explain we’ll find out what they are, what they do, and why they’re in packaged foods. Michael Jacobson, microbiologist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest a nonprofit health advocacy group that focuses on nutrition and food safety policies, and Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University, explain. Michael Jacobson is the author of Six Arguments for a Greener Diet. Marion Nestle is the author, most recently, of Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, Updated and Expanded and Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.


Michael Jacobson and Marion Nestle

Comments [33]

Many listener written comments seem highly speculative if not misinformed, amounting to the blind leading the blind. It would be very helpful if Dr. Jacobson and Dr. Nestle had time to comment on some of these and if Leonard could announce when their comments have been posted.

Dec. 09 2011 03:11 PM
Kate from Washington Heights


Dec. 09 2011 02:33 PM
Kate from Washington Heights



Dec. 09 2011 02:32 PM
stashy from NYC

Leonard: It is highly misleading for Mr. Jacobson to use the honorific of "Dr." In this country, that tilte is reserved for medical doctors (except for cerain pompous figures on campus).
Jacobson is NOT a medical doctor. He has a PhD in a related field, but neither he nor you should call him "doctor".

Because he makes his living declaiming on health matters, the "Dr." honorific speciously enhances his credibility, as the audience assumes he is a medical doctor.

He regularly called himself "Dr." Jacobson until he was outed by Bob Novak on live TV [CNN] about 15 years ago.

Dec. 09 2011 02:08 PM
pierce from brooklyn

Hello, I noticed that in countries such as the philippines almost all snacks (including tang and nestle products) have sugar and aspertame and tartrazine (and usually also msg) in them.
I heard that aspertame when heated can become dangerous - ie as it is stored in small tropical groceries. Is this true about aspertame, and how could this exposure to tartrazine in all processed foods affect children.

thank you

Dec. 09 2011 01:57 PM
Michele Berman from NYC

I would like it if your guests would mention using maple syrup as a sugar substitute. thank you.

Dec. 09 2011 01:57 PM

What about Stevia? That has become very popular recently

Dec. 09 2011 01:56 PM
Sarah from Brooklyn

I am curious about maple syrup as a sweetener instead of refined sugar, honey, or agave.

Dec. 09 2011 01:56 PM
Marcella from Madrid, Spain

I recently tuned in so maybe you already discussed this, but what about the adding of wood pulp to food products? I read an article recently that it's actually in many products, but I can't remember the technical name used in product content lists. Thanks!

Dec. 09 2011 01:56 PM
Marina Zurkow from Brooklyn

Farmed salmon is colored with petrochemical coloring, using a 'paint chip" fan called a

Dec. 09 2011 01:55 PM
Anne from Manhattan

Do I get a headache from red wine because of additives, or is it something else? Living in France, red wine didn't give me headaches, but drinking wine imported to the USA triggers my migraines.

Dec. 09 2011 01:55 PM
david from NJ

Can your guests talk about the claims made for additives or treatments intended to 'alkalinize' water and raise the body's pH to an alkaline state (usually targeted at pH 7.0 - 10.0)?

Dec. 09 2011 01:54 PM
Opal from NYC

Aspartame contains formaldyhide. I was trying to quit smoking and overused a lozenge with aspartame and developed breast cancer. Fortunately I quit both smoking and lozenge and am a 15 1/2 survivor.

Dec. 09 2011 01:53 PM

What about BPA?

Dec. 09 2011 01:53 PM
Delora from Brooklyn

Can you talk about sodium nitrates? FDA rendered unsafe for human consumption but it's in everything??

Dec. 09 2011 01:51 PM
Michelle from Brooklyn

My mother grew up on what I call "Bomb Shelter Food". She still consumes the most disgusting diet and is obese. When I go to the local grocery store, I am disgusted by the assortment of processed foods.
I just don't understand how the FDA can allow food manufacturers to get away with poisoning our population,
In the end, the tax payers and heath insurance companies have to flip the bill for all of these unhealthy Americans.
What's up with that?

Dec. 09 2011 01:50 PM
Kate from Washington Heights

"Diet" soda:
I noticed when I was in junior high school (that's the 1970's) that the people who drank diet soda were fat. I concluded that diet sodas at best didn't work and at worst made you fatter, so I've never drunk any. Not sure why a 12 year old was able to figure this out so much faster than the "experts."

Dec. 09 2011 01:50 PM
Dan Coven from New Jersey


I am a cancer patient now being treated for Non- Hodgkins Lymphoma. NHL is one of those diseases that they DO NOT know what the cause is-other than to say that it "has something to do with the environment". I personally believe it has a lot to do with our diets. Please ask your guests to speak about the links between food additives and cancer. Thanks. Love your show!

Dec. 09 2011 01:49 PM
S. McNamara

Everything in moderation, as they say. What
do you consider too much, too little or just

Dec. 09 2011 01:47 PM
Denman from Monsey NY

What does "natural flavors" mean on a food label?

Dec. 09 2011 01:44 PM
Debbie from Woddmere, LI

Your guests mentioned that if color is added to food that means something is missing - I noticed that color has been added to fresh Atlantic Salmon & frozen. What is then missing? Why is color added? How does this affect us?

Dec. 09 2011 01:44 PM
Louis Friedman, DO from Woodbridge, NJ

As a physician concerned about nutrition, I am happy to see the you continue to have Marion Nestle on your show. I have read all her books and also get Michael Jacobson's newsletter and think the work they both do is excellent!

Dec. 09 2011 01:40 PM
Greta from Norwalk, CT

What about BPA? Do you think that manufacturers will ever have to label the foods that contain BPA in packaging?

Dec. 09 2011 01:39 PM
Maria from Brooklyn

Michael notes soda pop as the one food linked to obesity. Baby formula has also been proven to be linked to obesity through numerous studies. Why does our gov't still send this out to poor neighborhoods?

Dec. 09 2011 01:36 PM

I'm finding more and more meat products containing high levels of sodium (added, not natural to the product). Chicken breasts can range from 110mg to 550mg!!!

Why is this happening?

Can anything be done to prevent this overuse of sodium?

Dec. 09 2011 01:36 PM
Jeffrey Silverstein

The can't pronounce rule would lead one to believe that the more intelligent you are, the worse you can eat. Folks who are smart enough to know what's in their food should know better. Ignorance is not a great guide to good eating.

Jeff Silverstein
Professor of Anestheisology, Surgery and Geriatrics
Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Dec. 09 2011 01:35 PM

"In late February, the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior published an interesting study from Princeton psychology professor Bart Hoebel’s lab: Over an eight-week period, rats that consumed high-fructose corn syrup, dissolved in water, gained significantly more weight than rats that consumed a regular sugar-and-water solution, even though they had the same calorie intake. In a longer version of the experiment, rats fed high-fructose corn syrup also had more abdominal fat and elevated levels of triglycerides, two symptoms associated with obesity."

Please ask your guests about these Princeton studies. If one-half the amount of HFCS found in soda causes more weight gain and metabolic syndrome than the whole amount of sugar used to sweeten soda, why do they say HFCS is just like sugar???

Dec. 09 2011 01:34 PM
Andy from Greenboro, NC

What about sweetners such as Sweet and Low, especially, Splenda?

Dec. 09 2011 01:33 PM
Steve from Rockville Centre, NY

I think BHA & BHT are some of our most valuable additives. They might have a negative effect on our bodies, but that pales in relation to the huge quantities of food they manage to prevent from going bad. If all that food was to go bad, we'd be burning that much more fuel and packaging that much more food. The overall efect would be worse.

Dec. 09 2011 01:32 PM
Scott from Brooklyn

Is it true labeling is allowed to say "0% of Transfat" and still contain Transfats?

Dec. 09 2011 01:29 PM
Derek from Long Island

I'm so glad to be eating my lunch right now !!

Dec. 09 2011 01:29 PM
Anne from New York City

Why is Aspartame footnoted with "Phenketonurics: Contains phenylalinine"? I drink a lot of diet drinks and this sounds like a warning to me.

Dec. 09 2011 12:43 PM
sergei wiszniewski from Demarest, Nj

I am led to believe that there is no legal definition, but, What actually are 'natural flavours' that we find written in the ingredient section of food labels & if there is no 'legal definition' what could they possibly be if they are not just the 'natural flavour' of the product itself?

Dec. 09 2011 11:37 AM

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