Whenever I read a food’s ingredient list, it seems there is always some chemical that I can’t pronounce! How can I avoid chemicals?
The simple answer: You can’t.
The International Food Additives Council (IFAC) defines the term chemophobia as “an aversion to or prejudice against chemicals or chemistry. It also refers to an exaggerated or irrational distrust of certain foods, including food ingredients or food additives.”
Similarly, the phrase “chemicals in food” is largely associated with negative feelings and a sense of avoidance. But can we ever avoid chemicals? The simple answer is a resounding “No.” After all, chemistry explains biology; that is, without chemicals, food would not exist!
But to be fair, it’s not quite as simple as that. What it really comes down to is a lack of knowledge and appreciation for the ingredients that manufacturers use that may be difficult to pronounce. Every ingredient has a purpose, e.g., to extend the shelf life of the food, impart flavor, etc. Further, the use of any ingredient in a food requires robust safety reviews before they may be used. There are, however, some non-ingredient chemicals, such as pesticides, that can be a risk at higher levels. So while presence is not an issue, presence at harmful levels is.
Many consumers gravitate toward foods that are “organic,” “natural,” or “whole” because they are thought to contain fewer chemicals than their conventional counterparts. However, these descriptions do not automatically mean that the product is safe, more nutritious, or free from chemicals. In fact, in some cases, the opposite is true.
At the end of the day, exposure to chemical ingredients should not be seen as scary. While consumer choice is a luxury we have in many parts of the world, having a healthy understanding of chemicals and their role in the food we eat will help consumers make healthier choices; alleviate concerns; and demystify preconceived, negative beliefs about chemicals in our food.