Food Additives

Words: 2039
Topic: Health & Medicine


Food additives such as salt, sugar and vinegar have been traditionally used for the preservation of foods. A majority of food additives that are used to preserve foods are believed to be safe but the possibility of carcinogenic and toxic qualities of food additives cannot be ruled out or ignored. Certain food additives are believed to have side-effects in adults and most importantly in children, such as increased hyperactivity, allergies, asthma problems, and migraines.

A food additive is any substance that is used in or added to food in order to preserve its quality, taste, color or any other feature which may be destroyed over a period of time due to preservation (The Food Labeling Regulations, 1980). Food additives may or may not be foods and are sometimes chemical in nature which aid the prevention of the disintegration of the food and improve its shelf life (The Food Labeling Regulations, 1980).

There are three types of food additives, cosmetic food additives, preservatives and the processing aids of foods (The London Food Commission, 1988). Sugar and salt are the two most commonly used additives in foods and the excess use of the two must be avoided. Other commonly used additives are baking soda, yeast and vanilla. Food additives may be natural or artificial depending upon the sources from which they are obtained.

If the additives are obtained from natural sources such as corn or soybean to provide consistency to foods such as soups, then the additives are natural. Even coloring additives may be naturally obtained from vegetables such as beetroots. However, whether an additive has been naturally or synthetically obtained does not validate the safety of the additive.

Additives may be added to foods for several reasons. Not only do they help in increasing the shelf life of foods, they also improve the color, texture and consistency of several foods, for instance soups not only look better but also taste better with the addition of starches, to enhance the thickness and consistency.

In some cases, the additives also improve the nutritional value of the foods, for example, milk is enriched with vitamins and minerals to increase the nutritional content. It is crucial to preserve the foods for later use, if they are not consumed immediately. The use of additives prevents spoilage of foods due to bacterial contaminations, thereby preventing several food-borne diseases.

Although food additives are of crucial importance in today’s world, when there is a reduction in farming related activities and increased emphasis on storage of foods for later use, the several harmful effects of additives in food cannot be ignored.

There are certain additives that do augment the quality of food, but the presence of some chemical additives and colors to food, not only reduces the nutritional content, and in some cases causes several side-effects which to the human body.

There is a long list of food preservatives used currently. These may or may not be safe to use and are listed below.

Acesulfame-K, Alginate propylene glycol alginate, alpha tocopherol commonly termed as Vitamin E (

Artificial colorings blue 1, blue 2, citrus red 2, red 3, red 40, green 3, yellow 5, and yellow 6 (

Artificial and natural flavorings, ascorbic acid or vitamin C, sodium ascorbate, aspartame, benzoic acid, beta carotene, brominated vegetable oil (BVO), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), caffeine, calcium propionate, carmine, carrageenan, casein, sodium caseinate, citric acid, sodium citrate, cochineal extract, corn syrup, cyclamate, dextrose, diacetyl, diacylglycerol, EDTA, Erythorbic acid, Ferrous Gluconate, Food Starch, Modified, Fructose, Fumaric acid, Gelatin, Glycerin, Gums, Heptyl Paraben, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate (HSH), Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP), Invert sugar, lecithin, Lactic acid, Lactitol Lactose, Maltitol, Mannitol, Mono and Diglycerides, Monosodium glutamate (MSG), Mycoprotein, Neotame, Olestra, Olegofructose, Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans fat), Phosphoric acid, Plant sterols and stenols, Polydextrose, Polysorbate 60, Potassium bromate, Propyl galate, Quinine, Quorn, Saccharin, Salatrim, Salt, Sodium Benzoate, Benzoic acid, Sodium Carboxymethyl- Cellulose (CMC), Sodium Nitrite, Sodium Nitrate, Sorbic acid, Sorbitan Monostearate, Sorbitol, Starch, starch modified, Sucralose, Sugar, Sulfites, Tagatose, Thiamine mononitrate, Triacetin, Trans fat, Vanillin, Vegetable oil sterols (

Tartrazine is a colorant that is commonly used in the manufacture of soft drinks and has been a constant cause of debate for its intolerance in several cases (Miller M, 1985; Levy F, Dumbrell S, Hobbes G, Ryan M, et al, 1978; Smith JM, 1991; Weiss B, 1984). The exposure to Tartrazine is likely to cause severe asthmatic reactions (Freedman BJ, 1977), rhinitis (Vendanthan PK, Menon MM, Bell TD, et al), urticaria (Juhlin L, 1981) and hyperactivity among children (Feingold BF, 1981).

The additive commonly used in flour, curcumin, has been known to cause severe problems related to thyroid, in a study conducted on pigs (Miller M, 1985).

The commonly used sunset yellow color in biscuits, showed damaging effects on a study conducted on rats (Miller M and Millstone E, 1987) and showed carcinogenic effects in animals (Miller M, 1985). The preservatives used in jams, carmoisine, were also found to be carcinogen in nature (Miller M and Millstone E, 1987).

Several other colors such as amaranth, ponceau erythrosine, caramel color and brown FK, used commonly to preserve foods have been found to be carcinogen in nature and studies have highlighted the several side effects that they could have on humans especially younger children (Miller M and Millstone E, 1987).

Similar results have been found in preservatives such as benzoates, commonly used in fish preparations, jam fillings, aerated drinks and beer (Miller M and Millstone E, 1987).

Even the preservatives, sulphites, used in syrups, dairy-based deserts, biscuits and beer has yielded similar results when tested (Miller M and Millstone E, 1987). Nitrates and nitrites in common foods such as bacon, ham and cheese are known to cause headaches and several side effects in humans (Miller M and Millstone E, 1987; Taylor G, 1983).

The widespread use of BHA in mixtures of soups and cheese spreads has found to be having tumor producing qualities in rats in addition to the numerous side effects it produces in humans (Miller M and Millstone E, 1987).

The use of monosodium glutamate or MSG is widespread for enhancing the flavor of foods and snacks, especially those popularly consumed by children.

The most popular use is in the preparation of Chinese foods and delicacies, which are gaining popularity world-wide. It has been found that MSG destroys the brain cells of children and also causes several side-effects such as asthma, serious head-aches, heart-burn and many others (Weiss B, 1984; Allen DH and Baker GJ, 1981).

Research has indicated that the artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, cyclamate and aspartame, which are both commonly used as sugar substitutes by diabetic patients as well as the beverage industry, are found to be highly carcinogen in nature (Wynn M and Wynn A, 1981).

These artificial sweeteners are very commonly found in the so called “diet” products including the soft-drinks and beverages. The use of saccharin is known to cause several cancers including those of the urinary bladder, ovaries, skin, blood vessel and many other organs of the human body (National Cancer Institute).

The use of artificial sugars was banned in the year 1977 by an initiative of the FDA, but later removed after the congress proposed that there be a warning notice on products where it is used.

A primary concern relating to food additives is the reduction in the nutrition content of the food. Since it has been found that the most commonly used additives are salt, fat and sucrose, all of which are practically devoid of any nutrition, the nutritional value of preserved foods remains a primary concern.

Although there may be the addition of certain nutrients such as minerals and vitamins to processed foods, these foods which have a high consumption rate among children, are generally low on nutritional value but high on calorie intake, posing a serious threat to the health of the children and all this who consume them.

Whereas all the individuals who consume foods with preservatives are at considerable health risks, the situation is particularly grave for children as they are at crucial stages of mental and physical growth. The intake of additives could then have severe consequences on their present and future health, mental and physical.

The use and consumption of additives to preserve foods and enhance their flavors has dramatically increased in the past few years. Since the Western countries are rank high in the consumption of processed foods, they are at a considerably greater risk to the side-effects resulting from these foods as compared to their other counter parts. Smith JM (1991) notes the severe side-effects following the consumption of these foods, rich in additives.

These include eczema, urticaria, angioedema, exfoliative dermatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, rhinitis, bronchospasm, migraine, anaphylaxis, hyperactivity and other behavioural disorders.

The deterioration in the health of the Western nations has been confirmed by a study conducted by Dr Michael Wadsworth, where it was found that there was a considerable increase in the occurrences of “asthma, eczema, juvenile diabetes and a double increase in the obesity” of adults, especially children (Wadsworth M, 1985).

The report also highlights that a greater number are now hospitalized fro several problems, and that the prime reason of this, according to this study is the reduced levels of nutrition and ‘sub-clinical mal-nutrition’ among children as well as adults.

The study attributes these two factors to the elevated use of the “wide use of non essential food additives” (Wadsworth M, 1985). The research does acknowledge that there is a necessity of additives for the preservation of certain foods, and notes that out of four thousand food additives used currently, three thousand six-hundred and forty are only used to enhance the look and the color of the foods.

Thus, the actual preservatives required for food preservation only amount to two percent of the total preservatives (The London Food Commission, 1988). The others are merely used for cosmetic reasons (The London Food Commission, 1988).

Food additives have been used since times immemorial to preserve the color, flavor and texture of foods, and it is the responsibility of the food and beverage industry to stop using the substances that cause harm in any way to human life.


Allen DH and Baker GJ: Chinese restaurant asthma. New Engl J Med, 305:1154-1155, 1981

Feingold BF: Hyperkinesis and learning disabilities linked to the ingestion of artificial food colors and flavors. J Learn Disabilities, 9:19-27, 1976

Feingold BF: Dietary Management of Behavior and Learning Disabilities. In: Nutrition & Behavior, Ed: SA Miller, p 37 Franklin Institute Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 1981

Food additives list from The Center for Science in the Public Interest

Food Intolerance and Food Aversion: A Joinf Report of the Royal College of Physicians and the British Nutrition Foundation. J Royal Colle~e of Physicians of London, Vol:l8, No:2, April 1984

Freedman BJ: Asthma induced by sulphur dioxide, benzoate and tartazine contained in orange drinks. Clin Allergy, 7:407-415, 1977

Juhlin L: Recurrent urticaria: clinical investigation of 330 patients. Br J Dermatology, 104:369-381, 1981

Levy F, Dumbrell S, Hobbes G, Ryan M, et al: Hyperkinesis and diet: A double-blind crossover trial with a tartrazine challenge. Med J Austr, 1:61-64, 1978

Miller M: Danger! Additives at Work, London Food Commission , London 1985

Miller M and Millstone E: Food Additives Campaign Team: Report on Colour Additives. FACT, 25 Horsell Road, London N5 lXL, June, 1987

Smith JM: Adverse reactions to food and drug additives. European J Clin Nutr, 45,(Suppl.l):17-21, 1991

Taylor G: Nitrates, nitrites, nitrosamines and cancer. Nutrition and Health, 2:1, 1983.

The Food Labelling Regulations (S.I. 1980, No:1849),1980

The London Food Commission: Food Adulteration and how to beat it. Unwin Paperbacks, 1988

Vendanthan PK, Menon MM, Bell TD, et al: Aspirin and tartrazine oral challenge: incidence of adverse response in chronic childhood asthma. J Allergy and Clin Immunol, 60:8-13, 1977

Wadsworth M: Intergenerational differences in child health; Report to British Society for Population Studies Conference, August, 1985

Weiss B: Food Additive Safety and Evaluation: The Link to Behavioral Disorders in Children pp 221-250, Plenum Publishing Corporation, 1984

Wynn M and Wynn A: The prevention of handicap of early pregnancy origin: Some evidence for the value of good health before conception. Foundation for Education and Research in Childbearing. 9 View Road, London N6 4DJ, 1981