10 Food Additives I Hope You Can Avoid

Food additives have some great intentions.  They can help prevent terrible afflictions like botulism, enhance the appearance of our food and ensure availability for a greater period of the year.  Though, for all of their good intentions, many food additives have some serious drawbacks; the big one we’re focusing on here is your health.  Let this be a jumping off point for further research if it sparks your interest.  You are the judge and the gatekeeper to your own health.

10. Propylene Glycol


Propylene glycol is used as a humectant (E1520), solvent,[8] and preservative in food and for tobacco products. It is also one of the major ingredients (10–92%), along with vegetable glycerin, of the “e-liquid” and cartridges used in electronic cigarettes (as well as liquid nicotine),[9][10] where it is aerosolized in the atomizer.[11] Propylene glycol is also used in various edible items such as coffee-based drinks, liquid sweeteners, ice cream, whipped dairy products and soda.[12][13] Vaporizers used for delivery of pharmaceuticals or personal-care products often include propylene glycol among the ingredients.[5] Propylene glycol is used as a solvent in many pharmaceuticals, including oral, injectable and topical formulations, such as for diazepam and lorazepam which areinsoluble in water.[14]

Like ethylene glycol, propylene glycol is able to lower the freezing point of water, and so it is used as aircraft de-icing fluid.[5][15] Water-propylene glycol mixtures dyed pink to indicate the mixture is relatively nontoxic are sold under the name of RV or marine antifreeze. Propylene glycol is frequently used as a substitute for ethylene glycol in low toxicity, environmentally friendly automotiveantifreeze. It is also used to winterize the plumbing systems in vacant structures.[16] The eutectic composition/temperature is 60:40 propylene glycol:water/-60 °C.[17][18] The −50 °F/−45 °C commercial product is, however, water rich; a typical formulation is 40:60.[19]

9. Propyl Gallate


Propyl gallate, or propyl 3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoate is an ester formed by the condensation of gallic acid and propanol. Since 1948, this antioxidant has been added to foods containing oils and fats to prevent oxidation.[1] As a food additive, it is used under the E number E310.

Propyl gallate is used to protect oils and fats in products from oxidation; it is used in foods, cosmetics, hair products, adhesives, and lubricants.

It is used as a triplet state quencher and an antioxidant in fluorescence microscopy.[2]

A 1993 study in rodents found a correlation between ingestion of propyl gallate and carcinogenesis.[3]

A 2009 study found that propyl gallate acts as an estrogen antagonist.[4]

8. Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)


In the United States, BVO was designated in 1958, as generally recognized as safe (GRAS),[2] but this was withdrawn by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1970.[3] The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations currently imposes restrictions on the use of BVO as a food additive in the United States, limiting the concentration to 15 ppm,[4] limiting the amount of free fatty acids to 2.5 percent, and limiting the iodine value to 16.[5] BVO is used in Mountain Dew, manufactured by PepsiCo;[6] Powerade, Fanta Orange and Fresca made by Coca-Cola; and Squirt, Sun Drop and Sunkist Peach Soda, made by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.[7] Numerous generic citrus sodas also use it, including “Clover Valley”/Dollar General sodas and Stars & Stripes.[citation needed] On May 5, 2014, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo said they will remove BVO from their products.[8]

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is a complex mixture of plant-derived triglycerides that have been reacted to contain atoms of the element bromine bonded to the molecules. Brominated vegetable oil is used primarily to help emulsify citrus-flavored soft drinks, preventing them from separating during distribution. Brominated vegetable oil has been used by the soft drink industry since 1931, generally at a level of about 8 ppm.[1][2]

BVO is one of four substances that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has defined as interim food additives;[9][10] the other three are acrylonitrile copolymers, mannitol, and saccharin.[11]

In the European Union, BVO is banned from use as a food additive.[13] In the EU, beverage companies commonly use glycerol ester of wood rosin or locust bean gum as an alternative to BVO.

7. Azodicarbonamide


As a food additive, azodicarbonamide is used as a flour bleaching agent and a dough conditioner.[3] It reacts with moist flour as an oxidizing agent.[4]

In the United States, azodicarbonamide has generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status and is allowed to be added to flour at levels up to 45 ppm.[5][6] Azodicarbonamide has not been authorized for use in Australia and the European Union as a food additive.[6][7]

In 2014, amid public discomfort with the dual uses of azodicarbonamide, the sandwich franchise Subway announced that it would no longer use it as a dough conditioner.[8]

Center for Science in the Public Interest stated azodicarbonamide “has been poorly tested” and advocates for reducing the amount of azodicarbonamide that is allowed to be used in food.[8]

n the UK, the Health and Safety Executive has identified azodicarbonamide as a respiratory sensitizer (a possible cause of asthma) in workplace settings and determined that containers of it should be labeled with “May cause sensitisation by inhalation.”[10] In a 1999 report, the World Health Organization linked azodicarbonamide to “respiratory issues, allergies and asthma” for individuals at workplaces where azodicarbonamide is manufactured or handled in raw form. The available data are restricted to these occupational environments. Exposure of the general public to azodicarbonamide could not be evaluated because of the lack of available data.[11] The WHO concluded, “The level of risk is uncertain; hence, exposure levels should be reduced as much as possible”.

6. Partially Hydrogenated Oil

In 2013, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (which contain trans fats) are not “generally recognized as safe“, which was expected to lead to a ban on industrially produced trans fats from the American diet.[2] On 16 June 2015, the FDA finalized its determination that trans fats are not generally recognized as safe, and set a three-year time limit for their removal from all processed foods.[19]

A side effect of incomplete hydrogenation having implications for human health is the isomerization of some of the remaining unsaturated carbon bonds, resulting in the trans isomers, which have been implicated in circulatory diseases including heart disease.[22]

5. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)


High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) (also called glucose-fructose,[1] isoglucose and glucose-fructose syrup[2][3]) is a sweetener made from corn starch that has been processed by glucose isomerase to convert some of its glucose into fructose. HFCS was first marketed in the early 1970s by the Clinton Corn Processing Company, together with the Japanese research institute where the enzyme was discovered.

Recent studies have suggested that the short term effects of HFCS are minimal, however the intergeneration effects of HFCS consumption during pregnancy on the offspring may be of greater consequence.[48] Early evidence shows that female offspring weight at birth is reduced compared to that of males and that plasma NEFA concentrations are reduced independent of offspring sex.[48]

Numerous agencies in the United States recommend reducing the consumption of all sugars, including HFCS, without singling it out as presenting extra concerns. The Mayo Clinic cites the American Heart Association‘s recommendation that women limit the added sugar in their diet to 100 calories a day (~6 teaspoons) and that men limit it to 150 calories a day (~9 teaspoons), noting that there is not enough evidence to support HFCS having more adverse health effects than excess consumption of any other type of sugar.[49][50] The United States departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommendations for a healthy diet state that consumption of all types of added sugars be reduced.[51]:p.27

People with fructose malabsorption should avoid foods containing HFCS.[52]

4. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)


MSG is used in the food industry as a flavor enhancer with an umami taste that intensifies the meaty, savory flavor of food, as naturally occurring glutamate does in foods such as stews and meat soups.[3][4]

MSG is one of several forms of glutamic acid found in foods, in large part because glutamic acid (an amino acid) is pervasive in nature. Glutamic acid and its salts may be present in a variety of other additives, including hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast,hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, which must be specifically labeled. Since 1998, MSG cannot be included in the term “spices and flavorings”. The ribonucleotide food additives disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate are usually used with monosodium glutamate-containing ingredients. However, the term “natural flavor” is used by the food industry for glutamic acid (chemically similar to MSG, lacking only the sodium ion). The Food and Drug Administration does not require disclosure of components and amounts of “natural flavor.”[Gov. 8]

The FDA considers labels such as “no MSG” or “no added MSG” misleading if the food has ingredients which are sources of free glutamate, such as hydrolyzed protein. In 1993, it proposed adding “contains glutamate” to the common names of certain hydrolyzed proteins with substantial amounts of glutamate.[citation needed]

3. Artificial Sweetener

Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are displayed, on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, in New York. Artificial sweeteners may set the stage for diabetes in some people by hampering the way their bodies handle sugar, according to results of a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

In the United States, seven intensely sweet sugar substitutes have been approved for use. They are stevia, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), saccharin, and advantame. Cyclamates are used outside the U.S., but have been prohibited in the U.S. since 1969. Others, which may or may not be approved, include Allulose (psicose), and monk fruit.

A 2007 animal study indicated that a sweet taste induces an insulin response in rats.[34] However, the extension of animal model findings to humans is unclear, as human studies of intragastric infusion of sucralose have shown no insulin response from analogous taste receptors.[35]

A 2014 study by a collaboration of seventeen scientists from nine Israeli research institutes presented experimental evidence that artificial sweeteners may exacerbate, rather than prevent or mitigate, metabolic disorders such as Type 2 diabetes.[36] They reported that artificial sweeteners increase the blood sugar levels in both mice and humans by altering the composition and function of the gut flora.[37] Mice given drinking water supplemented with artificial sweetener (commercial formulations of saccharin, sucralose or aspartame) developed greater glucose intolerance than mice drinking pure water, or water with only sugar added. The effect occurred both in mice fed standard food and those on a high-fat diet. Changes in the composition of the gut flora were observed by sequencing a ribosomal RNA gene. When antibiotics were then used to kill off gut bacteria, the degree of glucose intolerance in mice fed either diet was restored to normal levels present before artificial sweetener was introduced. Human subjects were also studied; the gut bacteria from 381 non-diabetics averaging age 43 were analyzed, revealing differences in the gut bacteria between those subjects who habitually consumed artificial sweeteners and those who did not, as well as “markers” for diabetes, such as raised blood sugar levels and glucose intolerance. In a journal commentary, two researchers opined that artificial sweeteners “may contribute to, rather than alleviate, obesity-related metabolic conditions, by altering the composition and function of bacterial populations in the gut.”[38]

As of 2015 it is unclear if artificial sweeteners affect the risk of cancer.[39]

2. Artificial Coloring


In the US, the following seven artificial colorings are generally permitted in food (the most common in bold) as of 2016. The lakes of these colorings are also permitted except the lake of Red No. 3.[22]

Two dyes are allowed by the FDA for limited applications:

  • Citrus Red 2 (orange shade) – allowed only to color orange peels.
  • Orange B (red shade) – allowed only for use in hot dog and sausage casings (not produced after 1978, but never delisted)

After concerns were expressed that food colorings may cause ADHD-like behavior in children,[30] the collective evidence do not support this assertion.[32] The US FDA and other food safety authorities to regularly review the scientific literature, and led the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) to commission a study by researchers at Southampton University of the effect of a mixture of six food dyes (Tartrazine, Allura Red, Ponceau 4R, Quinoline Yellow WS, Sunset Yellow and Carmoisine (dubbed the “Southampton 6”)) on children in the general population. These colorants are found in beverages.[30][33] The study found “a possible link between the consumption of these artificial colours and a sodium benzoate preservative and increased hyperactivity” in the children;[30][33] the advisory committee to the FSA that evaluated the study also determined that because of study limitations, the results could not be extrapolated to the general population, and further testing was recommended”.[30] The U.S. FDA did not make changes following the publication of the Southampton study, but following a citizen petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 2008, requesting the FDA ban several food additives, the FDA reviewed the available evidence, and still made no changes.[30]

1. Preservatives (BHA, BHT, TBHQ, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Benzoate, Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate)


The increasing demand for ready-to-eat fresh food products has led to challenges for food distributors regarding the safety and quality of their foods. Artificial preservatives meet some of these challenges by preserving freshness for longer periods of time, but these preservatives can cause negative side-effects as well. Sodium nitrite is a preservative used in lunch meats, hams, sausages, hot dogs, and bacon to prevent botulism. It serves the important function of controlling the bacteria that cause botulism, but sodium nitrite can react with proteins, or during cooking at high heats, to form carcinogenic N-nitrosamines.[6][unreliable medical source?] It has also been linked to cancer in lab animals.[14] The commonly used sodium benzoate has been found to extend the shelf life of bottled tomato paste to 40 weeks without loss of quality.[7] However, it can form the carcinogen benzene when combined with vitamin C.[citation needed] Many food manufacturers have reformed their products to eliminate this combination, but a risk still exists.[14] Consumption of sodium benzoate may also cause hyperactivity. For over 30 years, there has been a debate about whether or not preservatives and other food additives can cause hyperactivity. Studies have found that there may be increases in hyperactivity amongst children who consume artificial colorings and benzoate preservatives and who are already genetically predisposed to hyperactivity, but these studies were not entirely conclusive. Hyperactivity only increased moderately, and it was not determined if the preservatives, colorings, or a combination of the two were responsible for the increase.[15]

The U.S. National Institutes of Health report that BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In particular, when administered in high doses as part of their diet, BHA causes papillomas and squamous cell carcinomas of the forestomach in rats and Syrian golden hamsters.[5]

TBHQ is a highly effective antioxidant.[1] In foods, it is used as a preservative for unsaturated vegetable oils and many edible animal fats.[2] It does not cause discoloration even in the presence of iron, and does not change flavor or odor of the material to which it is added.[1] It can be combined with other preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). As a food additive, its E number is E319. It is added to a wide range of foods, with the highest limit (1 gram/kg) permitted for frozen fish and fish products. Its primary advantage is extending storage life.  It is used industrially as a stabilizer to inhibit autopolymerization of organic peroxides. It is also used as a corrosion inhibitor in biodiesel.[3] In perfumery, it is used as a fixative to lower the evaporation rate and improve stability. It is also added to varnishes, lacquers, resins, and oil-field additives.


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