Just How Bad is Junk Food?

Today I looked at the label of a bag of Cheddar Jalapeño Cheetos® just for fun. I don't eat them, but a co-worker had some.

The label had all the ingredients that we are told by holistic health professionals are causes of cancer, heart disease, and all kinds of other health problems -- MSG, food dyes, partially hydrogenated oils, natural and artificial flavors, and other scary processed ingredients.

My thought was, "if these ingredients are so bad, why aren't they illegal?" I was planning on researching how bad these ingredients are and then suggesting in my blog that they be banned from the market by the U.S. Gov't. But... in my research I found that there is scant evidence that these ingredients actually cause much harm at all, especially in small doses. The claims about the food dyes are urban legends with no credible research behind them. Search for any of the Cheetos ingredients on the right on <url removed> for a good summary of what I'm talking about.

MSG, I thought, was sure to be linked with cancer, but the research shows that many credible national and international medical organizations have examined the evidence and concluded it poses no health risks. These are smart people and it's not likely they all have hidden agendas. I don't think there's an international conspiracy to prevent the ban of MSG for political reasons. For a good summary of the debate, see <url removed>.

The one thing that I did find scary was this: A 1995 FDA-commissioned report acknowledged that "An unknown percentage of the population may react to MSG and develop MSG symptom complex, a condition characterized by one or more of the following symptoms: burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest; numbness in the back of the neck radiating to the arms and back; tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms; facial pressure or tightness; chest pain; headache; nausea; rapid heartbeat; bronchospasm (difficulty breathing); drowsiness, weakness."

I looked up all of the other ingredients and they seem pretty harmless. So the question is, what is the danger of junk foods like Cheetos? My guess is that it's when people fill up on them and don't eat enough natural foods. It's the lack of proper nutrients because things like Cheetos have a quite weak nutritional value.

The bottom line for me is that as long as we eat fruits and vegetables and a balanced variety of healthy foods every day, the occasional serving of Cheetos, cookies, or processed junk food is okay. Further, all the scarey ingredients aren't as bad as some urban legends make them out to be. The great thing about science is that it's self correcting. If there's no evidence, claims have little power. Even more, when evidence contradicts a persons' claims, their arguments are even weaker until they are able to produce evidence to back up their claims. Often animal studies are used to back up health claims, but as often as not, animal studies have completely different results than human studies and cannot be used to make a claim about what will happen in humans. I like this quote from Carl Sagan: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

I'd be interested to hear from any experts or knowledgeable people out there on whether my thoughts above are valid or not. I'm really not sure because I haven't done enough homework. I just thought it was interesting that the ingredients in Cheetos by themselves haven't been shown to be harmful to the health.





Cheddar Jalapeno Cheetos® List of Ingredients

Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin
8/30/2007 2:38:54 PM

Community Comments

To not understand the dangers of highly processed foods one must be either really ignorant or in denial which is typical of human nature since acknowledging and understanding would hold one accountable to change in their own lives (in this case, their eating habits).There is plenty of scientific evidence supporting the dangers/adverse effects that these chemical laden foods have on the human body. It's people like you who these corrupt food companies rely on to keep buying into their deceit. It's a no-brainer that if one keeps eating toxic "food-like" products (engineered in a LAB) on a regular basis, eventually these toxins will accumulate in one's system and it will manifest in a negative way. Look around—you see it everywhere. We have an epidemic of fat, sick, diseased, and dying people. Why? It's the food (and junk drinks)! And then of course you have big pharma (mainstream medicine) pushing toxic medications to try to camouflage and prevent these health issues which are in turn causing even more damage (compounding the issue). Watch Hungry For Change, Food Matters, and Forks Over Knives, Rethinking Cancer, and Doctored (there are others but this is a good start) to get a better understanding (available via Netflix to rent or stream or available for purchase via Amazon). If you're health is ailing, even in the slightest, if your not at your perfect and healthiest weight, if you get colds and/or the flu come flu season, which you're most likely assuming that is "normal" and you chalk it up to "that's the way life is", well, no, it's NOT how it should be—that's part of the conditioning that our society has been tricked into thinking (by the FDA and Big Pharma). Food for medicine mentality can and will change anyone's life for the better so you can live VIBRANTLY, energetically, never sick and NEVER needing to take toxic drugs for anything. If you don't have that mindset and you have bought into the whole food industry/big pharma lie, well, at least you won't be surprised at the outcome.
Posted 7 months ago by Dana
Hey amac, I'm here 4 years after you posted, but I was just eating some of my kids's Cheetos and searching the 'net to see what paranoid delusions were posted about Cheetos' ingredients when I landed on your excellent post. As a scientist for over 15 years with an interest in food science, it was very refreshing to see your **extremely rare** type of post where someone on the internet 1) has a good question that is put forth very succinctly, 2) researched the question using reputable internet sources instead of quack sites, and 3) came to a rational conclusion amidst the 1000's of crank sites and forwarded conspiratorial emails. Most people propagate the internet myths and non-science-based information until they become a manufactured "common knowledge" that float to the top of the google searches. My hope is that you've continued to spread your rationality on the 'web and have made at least a scant few of the masses give pause to the internet hype regarding popular and sensationalized "science." Cheers from La Costa!
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