It would seem food additives are a necessary evil. They are frequently used to enhance the flavor, appearance or texture of a product, while also working to extend its shelf life. The issue is several of these additives have been proven to contribute to adverse health conditions while others have been found to be harmless. The key is to understand which are which so you can live an optimal life.
Top 12 Food Additives & Preservatives
1.) Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG, is a common food additive used to intensify and enhance the flavor of savory dishes. You can find it in a wide variety of frozen dinners, salty snacks, and canned soups.
MSG has been the center of heated debated since 1969 when researchers discovered that large quantities caused harmful neurological effects, such as impaired growth and development, in mice. However, this additive is likely to have little to no effect on human brain health as it’s unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. Still, discretion is advised.
2. Artificial Food Coloring
Artificial food coloring is used to brighten and improve the appearance of everything from candies to condiments. Over the past several years, there has been concerns about the potential side-effects. For example, food dyes like Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have been associated with allergic reactions in some people.
In addition, one review reported that artificial food coloring may promote hyperactivity in children. Concerns regarding potential cancer-causing effects of certain food dyes have also been raised.
Having said that, more research is required to adequately determine the safety of food dyes. Thus, play it safe by always opting for whole foods, which are higher in important nutrients and naturally free of artificial food coloring.
3.) Sodium Nitrite
Frequently found in processed meats, sodium nitrite acts as a preservative to prevent the growth of bacteria while also adding a salty flavor and reddish-pink color. When exposed to high heat in combination with the presence of amino acids, nitrites often turn into nitrosamine, a compound that can have many negative effects on your health.
One study found a strong link between an excessive intake of nitrites/nitrosamine and an increased risk of stomach cancer. Many other harmful sides-effects have been proven so it’s best to minimize your consumption of sodium nitrite by exchanging processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and ham for unprocessed meat and healthier sources of protein, such as chicken, beef, fish, pork, legumes, nuts, eggs, and tempeh.
4.) Guar Gum
Guar gum is a long-chain carbohydrate used to thicken and bind foods. It’s widely used in the food industry and can be found in ice cream, salad dressings, sauces, and soups. Guar gum is high in fiber and has been associated with a multitude of health benefits. For example, it can help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as bloating and constipation.
Moreover, a study found people who consumed Guar Gum with a meal had increased feelings of fullness and ate fewer calories. Additional studies have concluded that Guar Gum can lower levels of blood sugar and cholesterol.
However, moderation is wise because high amounts of guar gum may have adverse effects on your health.
5.) High-Fructose Corn Syrup
This additive is a BIG NO-NO! High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn. It’s most often found in the treats we love including soda, juice, candy, breakfast cereals, and snack foods. It’s rich in a type of simple sugar called fructose, which can cause serious health issues when consumed in high amounts.
In particular, it has been linked to weight gain and diabetes.
Additionally, high-fructose corn syrup has been proven to contribute to empty calories without offering any of the important vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Therefore, it’s best to skip sugary snacks and foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
6.) Additional Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are used in many diet foods and beverages, such as diet coke, to enhance sweetness while reducing calorie content. The most common types of artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium.
Studies show that artificial sweeteners can aid in weight loss and help manage blood sugar levels. Generally, artificial sweeteners are considered safe for most people when consumed in moderation. However, I would urge you to exercise caution and minimize your intake of artificial sweeteners as they can potentially cause negative side-effects such as cancer and depression. Instead, stick to the natural, organic sweeteners.
Derived from red seaweed, carrageenan acts as a thickener, emulsifier, and preservative in many different food products. Common sources of carrageenan include almond milk, cottage cheese, ice cream, coffee creamers, and dairy-free products like vegan cheese. Over the past several decades, there have been concerns about the safety of this common food additive and its potential effects on your health.
Unfortunately, current research on the effects of carrageenan is still very limited and more studies are needed to understand how it may affect people. Having said that, it is smart to avoid this additive altogether until science can provide a more definitive answer.
8.) Sodium Benzoate
Sodium benzoate is a preservative often added to carbonated drinks and acidic foods like salad dressings, pickles, fruit juices, and condiments. It has been generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but several studies have uncovered potential side effects that should be considered harmful.
For instance, consumption of sodium benzoate has been linked to hyperactivity, ADHD, and cancer development.
The best way to avoid sodium benzoate is to double-check the ingredient label.
9.) Trans Fat
This is another additive that you need to make a priority avoiding at all costs. Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that have undergone hydrogenation, which increases shelf life and improves the consistency of products. It can be found in many types of processed foods like baked goods, margarine, microwave popcorn, and biscuits.
A number of potential health risks have been associated with trans fat intake, and the FDA recently decided to revoke their GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status.
In particular, researchers have found a strong link between trans fat and heart disease. In addition, studies have found that trans fats can lead to an increased risk of diabetes.
10.) Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a common additive that’s used to thicken and stabilize many types of food, such as salad dressings, soups, syrups, and sauces. It has been associated with several health benefits, such as low levels of blood sugar and cholesterol and increased feelings of fullness.
However, recent research on the potential benefits of xanthan gum is still limited. Furthermore, consuming large amounts of xanthan gum may be linked to digestive problems, such as increased stool output, gas, and soft stool.
11.) Additional Artificial Flavorings
Artificial flavors are chemicals designed to mimic the taste of other ingredients. They’re often used to imitate a variety of different flavors, from popcorn and caramel to fruit and beyond.
Potential side-effects include reduced red blood cell production, toxic bone marrow, and inhibited cell division.
12.) Yeast Extract
Finally, yeast extract, also known as autolyzed yeast extract or hydrolyzed yeast extract, is added to certain savory foods like cheese, soy sauce, and salty snacks to boost the flavor. It’s made by combining sugar and yeast in a warm environment, then spinning it in a centrifuge and discarding the cell walls of the yeast. As a result, yeast extract contains glutamate, which is a type of naturally occurring amino acid found in many foods.
Much like monosodium glutamate (MSG), eating foods with glutamate may cause mild symptoms like headaches, numbness, and swelling in people who are sensitive to its effects.
Additionally, yeast extract is relatively high in sodium, which is cause for concern because excessive sodium has been shown to increase blood pressure. However, as of 2017, yeast extract is still recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.
In the End
While certain food additives have been linked to some pretty dangerous side effects, there are plenty of others that can be safely consumed as part of a healthy diet.
One thing to keep in mind is reading the ingredient labels when grocery shopping to take control of your diet and determine what’s really being added to your favorite foods.
Additionally, work on cutting back on processed and packaged foods and incorporating more fresh ingredients into your diet to minimize your intake of food additives.