Worst Food Additives

  • When a substance is added during a refined food’s production, the substance is called a “food additive.”
  • Some additives are added to increase shelf stability and retard bacteria growth, prevent caking, or improve the taste.
  • Unlike herbs, salts, or other spices, the most worry comes from consumers concerned about man-made additives such as antibiotics given to animals used for meat. Artificial antioxidants, artificial sweeteners, Benzoic acid, emulsifiers, dyes, Monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates and nitrites, and sulfites in meat products are also things to consider.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests any substance proposed to become a food component or coloring before it does to market unless the additive is already on a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list.
  • Some substances allowed on the GRAS list can be harmful to people and animals; they are allowed at the level of 1/100th the amount considered harmful.
  • Individuals may have allergies and food intolerances to additives that range from mild to severe.
  • The National Institutes of Health encourages consumers to research additives for themselves and report adverse reactions to additives to the FDA via phone or website.
  • American Dietetic Association, Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, recommends, “You’re going to get more nutrient bang for your buck to eat less refined foods when you can.”


Additives to Avoid…

  • Artificial Sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) but also including Sucralose (Splenda) and others should be avoided. Worldwide studies on aspartame find it a possible carcinogen, although the U.S. FDA refutes these findings. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to neurotoxicity, short-term memory erosion, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, migraines, kidney tumors, and more.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is highly-refined. It is now the number one source of calories in America and is present in many processed foods. HFCS can contribute to overweight and obesity, diabetes, as well as increasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and can cause tissue damage
  • Sodium Benzoate: This preservative is often found in food colorants, but can be used alone. It has been linked in peer-reviewed studies to hyperactivity in children and may become cancer-causing when added to Vitamin C. The FDA admits that it is unknown how much benzene consumers could be exposed to from beverages that include Sodium Benzoate and Vitamin C.
  • Trans Fat: Trans fat extends the shelf life of processed foods. Many deep-fried foods utilize trans fats in the cooking process. Trans fats are often referred to in products as “partially hydrogenated oils.” Trans fat increases LDL cholesterol levels (“bad cholesterol”) and decreases HDL (“good cholesterol”). Trans fats are linked to heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, inflammation, diabetes, and obesity. The FDA has limited trans fat usage in products, but it is not yet banned outright.
  • Artificial Dyes and Colorants: British Journal The Lancet linked artificial food color to hyperactivity in children. Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine) has been linked to asthma symptoms. In the 1970s, the FDA banned Red Dye No. 2 after large doses caused cancer in rats. However, other dyes are on the market including FD&C Blue No. 1 (brilliant blue FCF), FD&C Blue No. 2 (indigotin), FD&C Green No. 3 (fast green FCF), FD&C Red No. 40 (allura red AC), FD&C Red No. 3 (erythrosine), FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow), Orange B (hot dog and sausage casings).
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): MSG is an amino acid, but it is not without concern. It is used as a flavor enhancer but is known as an excitotoxin, which can damage or kill cells. MSG is linked to depression, fatigue, headaches and migraines, eye damage, and obesity due to its ability to override the brain’s feelings of satiety.
  • Nitrates and Nitrites: Sodium nitrate and nitrite is a preservatives and coloring typically found in processed meats. It also adds a salty flavor. The additive causes the meat to maintain a fresh, red color. This additive was nearly banned in the 1970s, but food manufacturers decried the ban, pleading they had no other means of preservation. When this ingredient enters the body and digestive system, it becomes cancer-causing. The liver and pancreas are affected as well.
  • Sodium Sulfite (“Sulfites”): Sulfites are preservatives used primarily in winemaking, but also in beers and other processed foods. One in every 100 people has an intolerance to sulfites. Sulfites are linked to asthma, headaches, rashes, and other breathing problems. Some sensitive individuals have experienced severe reactions that shut down the airways and cause suffocation and heart attack.






  1. Downs, M. M. (2008, December 17). The Truth About 7 Common Food Additives. Retrieved August 11, 2014, from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-seven-common-food-additives?page=1
  2. Ten Bosch, L. (n.d.). Top 10 Food Additives To Avoid. Retrieved August 11, 2014, from Food Matters: http://www.foodmatters.tv/articles-1/top-10-food-additives-to-avoid
  3. S. Food and Drug Administration. (2013, March 21). Food: Determining the Regulatory Status of a Food Ingredient. Retrieved August 11, 2014, from U.S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm228269.htm
  4. Zieve, M. M., & Henochowicz, M. F. (2012, June 17). Food Additives. Retrieved August 11, 2014, from MedlinePlus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002435.htm