- Food additives are substances introduced to foods and drinks during processing and packaging.
- Not all food additives are harmful, but some, like nitrates, sulfites, and artificial sweeteners, can be.
- To avoid food additives, cook your own food, eat a healthy diet, and limit processed foods.
A food additive is a substance not naturally found in a food or drink but added in processing or preparing it. Additives are used for several reasons, including to help prepare the product, preserve it, make it look more appealing, and/or enhance flavor.
Additives can be either synthetic-based or natural, and some are harmless. But certain additives, especially those common in processed foods, have been linked to health problems.
“There are no food additives in the United States food supply that will harm your health by eating them infrequently,” says Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian nutritionist and co-owner of Lemond Nutrition and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “However, there are some food additives that might pose a risk if eaten on a regular basis.”
Here are four food additives you should consider eating in limited amounts.
1. Artificial food colors
Artificial food colors are found in many foods, from brightly colored frosting to yogurt. They are added to enhance or change color.
Common artificial colors include:
- FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2
- FD&C Green No. 3
- FD&C Red Nos. 3 and 40
- FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies over the last several decades have raised concerns that artificial food colors affect children’s behavior and exacerbate ADHD symptoms.
However, more research is needed to determine which food colorings and to what extent they affect behavior.
What the research says: A 2012 review suggests artificial food colors may be associated with hyperactive behavior in children even if they do not have ADHD.
Kids who have ADHD should avoid artificial food colors, says Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD, MPH, an associate professor of pediatrics and adjunct associate professor at the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.
Children are more vulnerable to the effects of artificial coloring because their bodies are still developing, says Sathyanarayana. According to Sathyanarayana, natural food-based alternatives to artificial coloring include:
- Beta carotenes
- Fruit extracts
2. Nitrates and nitrites
Nitrates and nitrites are often found in cured and processed meats, fish, and cheese, and they are linked to cancer in the digestive and nervous systems.
The World Health Organization classifies processed meats as carcinogenic partially due to added nitrates or nitrites in the curing process. The classification came after reviewing over 800 scientific studies. Studies indicate processed meats with nitrates increase the risk of colorectal cancer in particular.
What the research says: A very large 2017 review analyzing 99 studies found for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily increased – about one hot dog – there was a 16% increase in cancer risk.
Meats like hot dogs and bacon often contain sodium nitrites, but you can look for versions that are nitrite-free, Lemond says. However, nitrate-free versions still contain naturally occurring sources of nitrates so it is unknown if these are actually safer.
Sulfites are naturally occurring in some whole foods, but they are also added as a preservative to slow discoloration. Foods with sulfite additives include packaged gravies, biscuits, and pizza dough, and even dried fruit, Lemond says.
Some people are sensitive to sulfites, which can cause them to experience breathing problems if they have sulfite-sensitive asthma. However, if you are not sensitive to sulfites they pose no known health consequences.
If you have a sensitivity, avoid ingredients that contain sulfites, which sometimes go by names like:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Potassium bisulfite
- Sodium sulfite
- Sodium bisulfite
4. Artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes added to sweeten foods and drinks, most commonly soft drinks, dairy products, jams, and jellies. They are especially found in products labeled “diet” or “sugar-free,” as they add virtually no calories.
Common artificial sweeteners include:
- Saccharin (Sweet and Low)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Although artificial sweeteners were developed to reduce obesity and insulin resistance, a 2017 review found they may actually contribute to the obesity epidemic. That’s because they reduce feelings of fullness, leading to an increase in calorie consumption, and thus, weight gain.
What the research says: A large 2019 study in postmenopausal women, found higher intakes of artificial sweeteners increased the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality.
While some animal studies have found artificial sweeteners can cause cancer, there is no clear association in humans.
You may want to avoid consuming large quantities of artificial sweeteners, but this does not mean you have to cut them out of your diet entirely. Talk with a registered dietitian to determine what is best for you and your health goals.
How to avoid food additives
To limit your intake of these additives, read the ingredients on your food and drink packaging. You can also reduce your intake of additives by:
- Limiting highly processed foods: These include hot dogs, candy, and chips.
- Eating a healthy diet: Focus on whole vegetables and fruits, as well as other plant foods like whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
- Cooking your own food: The ingredients in food you make typically contain fewer additives than premade food. “Learn how to make simple gravies, sauces, and dressings without relying on pre-packaged varieties,” Lemond suggests.
While not all food additives are considered a health risk, some may increase risk for cancer, behavioral problems in children, and obesity when consumed consistently.
More research is needed on the long-term effect of cumulative exposure to food additives, Sathyanarayana says. “You can reduce exposures by having a healthy diet and also really understanding food labels,” she says.
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Source: Thanks https://www.businessinsider.in/science/health/news/4-common-food-additives-that-are-harmful-for-your-health-and-how-to-avoid-them/articleshow/81237683.cms