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