Diet and exercise alone are no longer enough to keep you healthy and slim. Certain chemicals found in food may contribute to weight gain. These chemicals, called “obesogens,” may alter human metabolism and predispose some people to weight gain. Exposure to obesogens at a young age, even in the fetus, may alter metabolism and fat-cell makeup for life. Other exposures take effect during adulthood.
Jerry Heindel of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) states that there are between 15 and 20 chemicals that have been shown to cause weight gain, mostly from developmental exposure. Chemical exposure is strongly linked with obesity even during fetal and infant development. These chemicals can be found in food and water. The following five chemicals are a few examples of what to look out for.
1) Growth hormones and Antibiotics
Unless the meat you consume is organic/hormone and antibiotic free, there’s a good chance it is full of chemicals. Hormones and antibiotics are given to livestock to promote growth and prevent disease. These hormones include naturally occurring steroids such as estradiol-17, progesterone, and testosterone, as well as synthetic compounds such as zeranol. Most chemicals are processed in the gut and liver, where 70 percent of the immune system lives. These chemicals succeed at killing off good gut bacteria, which increases the risk for digestive symptoms and immune disorders.
To avoid antibiotics and growth hormones, look for animal products that are organic, raised without antibiotics and hormones, and grass-fed. Most organic labels will proudly display this information on their packaging. Hormone use in poultry hasn’t been banned in the UK like it was in the 1950’s in America. Also, organic doesn’t always mean antibiotic free. Check to make sure you see the words “raised without antibiotics” on the package labelling. Grass fed animal products are best as they are pasture raised and high in CLA, DHA and other essential omega fatty acids.
2) Natural and Artificial Flavors
Don’t be fooled by the claim that a food product is “natural.” If it were truly natural, it wouldn’t need an ingredient list. This includes MSG, an additive to food to make it taste better and extend shelf life. MSG is a salt of the amino acid Glutamic Acid. It is often found in canned food.
MSG tricks the tongue into thinking certain foods taste better, which stimulates the sensory effect to eat more. Consumption of MSG stimulates the pancreases to produce insulin. Blood sugar levels drop, even without the presence of carbohydrates, and a person feels hungry shortly after eating a meal with MSG. To avoid MSG and other artificial chemicals such as natural flavors, monosodium glutamate, autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed proteins, stick with non- processed foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
3) Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, may cause serious health risks, including severe digestive disorders, weight gain, diabetes, lymphomas, leukemia, cancers of the bladder and brain, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and systemic lupus.
Artificial sweeteners may have negative effects on glucose regulation. To avoid, use natural sugars instead, such as raw honey, maple syrup, and coconut and date sugars. Or better yet, replace all added sugars with the real thing: whole fruit.
Pesticides are used to maintain health of a plant or crop from anything that might be threatening to it, such as other plant and animal life. Most studies on non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and other cancers showed positive associations with pesticide exposure. Organophosphate pesticides are known to cause neurological problems in children when exposure is too high. Half of all foods often eaten by children contain organophosphate pesticides, including apples, apple juice, bananas, carrots, green beans, oranges, orange juice, peaches, pears, potatoes, and tomatoes. Side effects from pesticide exposure may include paralysis, seizures, tremors, and weight gain.
The latest reports show that about 19 percent of all fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain organophosphate pesticides, which is down 10 percent from the highest levels in 1996. To avoid, choose foods that are certified organic and be sure to wash them well before eating.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a synthetic chemical used in the production of plastics since the 1950s and a known endocrine disruptor. An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that could interfere with the production, processing, and transmission of hormones in the body and disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system (Vogel 1999).
In humans, BPA may cause developmental problems, breast and prostate cancer, metabolic disease, obesity, neurobehavioral problems, and reproductive abnormalities. To avoid the chemicals in plastic, look for containers that are BPA free or use glass for food storage purposes.
Vogel, S. (1999). The Politics of Plastics: The Making and Unmaking of Bisphenol A “Safety”. American Journal of Public Health, S559-S566.