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Food Additives: Friends or Foes?
What Are Food Additives?
|Vitamins||Variety of chemicals||High fructose corn syrup|
|Synthetic and natural colorings||Baking powder and soda||Hydrogenated vegetable oil|
Why Are These Added to Foods?
- Providing flavoring and/or sweetness
- Preserving foods
- Slowing spoilage
- Leavening baked goods
- Preventing fats from separating
- Preventing caking of powdered or granulated substances
- Increasing the food’s nutritional value
- Preventing fresh fruits from turning brown
- Sharpening flavors or colors
- Controlling the acidity or alkalinity of foods
So Food Additives Are Not All Bad?
Are Some People Sensitive or Allergic to Food Additives?
Are Some Food Additives Worse Than Others?
|Name of Additive||Foods It Is Found In||Possible Risk||Recommendation From CSPI||FDA information|
|Acesulfame K (artificial sweetener)||Packets or tablets, beverage mixes, coffee or tea beverages, desserts (gelatins, puddings)||Artificial sweeteners, like acesulfame K, have been linked to cancer in rats.||Avoid||There is not enough evidence to conclude that artificial sweeteners are unsafe.|
|Artificial colorings||Numerous||While this is very controversial, some dyes are suspected of being cancer-causing.||Avoid Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6||The FDA has a list of approved dyes. Yellow 5 can cause hives in a some people.|
|Aspartame (artificial sweetener)||Packets or tablets, beverage mixes, coffee or tea beverages, desserts (gelatins, puddings), yogurts, a myriad of “sugar-free” products||Like other artificial sweeteners, this has been linked to cancer in rats.||Avoid||People with phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid sweeteners with aspartame.|
|BHA/BHT (preservative)||Added to foods that contain oil to prevent them from oxidizing and becoming rancid||These additives have also been linked to cancer in rats.||Avoid||BHA and BHT are approved for use in food.|
|Monosodium glutamate or MSG (flavor enhancer)||Often added to certain seasonings, especially in Chinese food, in order to boost the overall flavor||This is another controversial issue. MSG may cause migraines, chest tightness, wheezing, and asthma attacks in certain people.||Avoid if sensitive||MSG is "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS), but the additive must be clearly labeled on the product.|
|Nitrites and nitrates (meat preservatives)||Processed meats||There are claims that these preservatives increase the risk of certain cancers, including stomach cancer.||Avoid||Nitrites and nitrates are recognized as safe.|
|Olestra (synthetic fat replacement)||Potato chips, snack foods||Olestra can affect the gastrointestinal tract, causing diarrhea and loss of important fat-soluble vitamins.||Avoid||The FDA has approved this fat substitute.|
|Potassium bromate||Bread products||This additive may increase the risk of cancer.||Avoid||The FDA has not banned this additive, but it is not used as often anymore.|
|Saccharine (artificial sweetener)||Packets, diet beverages||This artificial sweetener has also been linked to cancer in rats.||Avoid||There is not enough evidence to conclude that artificial sweeteners are unsafe.|
|Sulfites||Dried fruits, shrimp, wine||Sulfites may cause asthma attacks or even anaphylactic shock in vulnerable people.||Avoid if sensitive||Sulfites can be used in products, but they must be listed on the label.|
|Sucralose (artificial sweetener)||Baked goods, frozen desserts, ice cream, soft drinks||None||Avoid||This sweetener is approved by the FDA.|
So What Can I Do to Keep Myself and My Family Safe?
- Water instead of diet soda
- A whole banana instead of a fruit snack bar
- Old fashioned oatmeal instead of a sweetened oat cereal
- Extra additives like dyes can be avoided. If your food is not a color found in nature, you might want to consider avoiding it.
- Limit your intake of processed snack foods like chips and cookies. They can be heavy in salt, sugar, food coloring, and preservatives, and low on nutrition.
- Be aware of which processed meats are likely to contain nitrites and nitrates.
- Scan the list of ingredients before choosing a food, and if it contains too many unfamiliar ingredients, pass on it.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Update Date: 07/25/2016