What Are Food Additives?

Food Additive Awareness

Food additives are substances that preserves the flavour of the food or improve its taste and appearance. Food additives have been used by mankind for centuries. Salt, sugar and vinegar were among the first and used to preserve foods.

With the advent of processed foods, many more additives have been introduced, of both natural and artificial origin. Considerable controversy have been associated with the potential threats and possible benefits of food additives.

Most food additives are cosidered safe. However, some are known to be carcinogenic or toxic. Some of human’s illnesses  are often associated with adverse reactions to food additives.

Here are some food additives that we should be aware of:

Sodium Nitrate

A preservative, coloring, and flavoring used with meat products, sodium nitrate is commonly added to bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, smoked fish, and corned beef to stabilize the red color and add flavor. Sodium nitrate prevents growth of bacteria, but studies have linked it to various types of cancer.


Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydrozyttoluene are used to preserve common household foods. Both keep fats and oils from going rancid and are found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils.

Propyl Gallate

Propyl gallate is used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling and is often used in conjunction with BHA and BHT. This additive is sometimes found in meat products, chicken soup base, and chewing gum. Propyl gallate has not been proven to cause cancer, but studies done on animals have suggested that it could be linked to cancer.

Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium glutamate is an amino acid used as a flavor enhancer in soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees, and restaurant food. It is commonly associated with Asian foods and flavorings. MSG can cause headaches and nausea in some people, and animal studies link it to damaging nerve cells in the brains of infant mice. MSG can cause migraine-like headaches and create other adverse affects for certain people. It is a flavor enhancer, but you’d be better of putting in a few grains of salt.

Trans Fats

Trans fat leads to heart disease. Trans fats are proven to cause heart disease, and make conditions perfect for stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and limb loss due to vascular disease. Manufacturers have modified product ingredients lists to reduce the amount of trans fats, and are required to label trans fats amounts, but restaurant food, especially fast food chains, still serve foods laden with trans fats. Experts recommend we consume no more than 2 grams of trans fat per day, an amount easily accounted for if you eat meat and dairy.


Aspartame, also known by the brand names Nutrasweet and Equal, is an additive found in so-called diet foods such as low-calorie desserts, gelatins, drink mixes, and soft drinks. It also comes in individual packages used in place of sugar as a sweetener. Aspartame is a combination of two amino acids and methanol that may cause cancer or neurological problems, such as dizziness or hallucinations. Studies shows that lifelong consumption may increase a person’s risk of cancer.


This is a relatively new artificial sweetener, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1998 for use in soft drinks. It is also found in baked goods, chewing gum, and gelatin desserts. Acesulfame-K—the “K” is the chemistry symbol for potassium—is considered 200 times sweeter than sugar. Studies showed the additive may cause cancer in rats. Further study is needed to conclude whether or not acesulfame-K is harmful.

Food Colorings: Blue 1, 2; Red 3; Green 3; Yellow 6

You may think that all dangerous artificial food colorings were banned by the FDA long ago, but there are five still on the market that are linked with cancer in animal testing. Always opt for the product without the color, if you have a choice. Many are made from natural sources. But some specific dye colors do promote tumor formation, in the right combination and conditions. Blue 1 and 2, found in beverages, candy, baked goods and pet food are considered low risk but have been linked to cancer in mice. Red 3, used to dye cherries, fruit cocktail, candy, and baked goods, has been shown to cause thyroid tumors in rats. Green 3, added to candy and beverages, though rarely used, has been linked to bladder cancer. Studies have linked the widely used yellow 6—added to beverages, sausage, gelatin, baked goods, and candy—to tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney.


Olestra, a synthetic fat known as the brand name Olean and found in some potato chip brands, prevents fat from getting absorbed in your digestive system. This often leads to severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and gas. Olestra inhibits healthy vitamin absorption from fat-soluble carotenoids that are found in fruits and vegetables and thought to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. It blocks fat absorption, but it also blocks vitamin absorption.

Potassium Bromate

Potassium bromate is rare, but still used as an additive to increase volume in white flour, breads, and rolls. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to an innocuous form, but it is known to cause cancer in animals—and even small amounts in bread can create a risk for humans.

White Sugar

Some foods, such as fruits and carrots, naturally contain sugar, but watch out for foods with added sugars, such as baked goods, cereals, crackers, even sauces and many other processed foods. Simple sugars shouldn’t take up more than about 10 percent of the total calories you consume daily. Too much sugar not only leads to problems with weight control, tooth decay and blood sugar levels in diabetics; it also replaces good nutrition.

Sodium Chloride

A dash of sodium chloride, more commonly known as salt, can certainly bring flavor to your meal. But salt is another hidden food additive that can lead to health issues. Small amounts of salt are needed by the body and are beneficial in preserving food. Excessive amounts of salt can become dangerous for your health, affecting cardiovascular function, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

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