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From Artificial Food Colours To MSG, Here Are Common Food Additives You Should Avoid

Making your own meals is always better, rather than buying processed food from outside. But, sometimes, due to your hectic schedule, you often don't have time to cook food for yourself. The processed foods that you end up buying from the grocery store have been altered in some way from its natural state. These foods contain food additives designed to increase its shelf life and to improve its flavour and texture [1].

The next time when you go shopping, read the labels of the food products carefully and you will notice the common food additives which have been linked to adverse health effects and should be avoided [2], [3].

We've listed down the common types of food additives which you should avoid including in your diet.


1. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweetener is a food additive added to some foods and beverages to make them taste sweet while reducing calorie content. Animal studies have shown that artificial sweeteners cause adverse health effects. A study showed that consumption of diet soda increases the risk of weight gain than naturally-sweetened soda [4].

• The common artificial sweeteners are acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, advantame, saccharin, and sucralose which are used in soft drinks, baked goods, jams and jellies and canned foods.

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2. Artificial food colouring

Artificial food colourings which are used to brighten and improve the appearance of food products have been shown to cause harmful effects. Specific food dyes such as Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 have been shown to cause allergic reactions. Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are other food dyes that have been found to be carcinogenic [5].

• Artificial food colouring is found in cereals, beverages, chips and bread mix.

Tip: Instead of using artificial food colouring, use natural sources of colour like beetroot juice, red cabbage or purple cabbage, and paprika.


3. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium glutamate is another common food additive that you should avoid. It is used to enhance the flavour and texture of processed foods. Many human and animal studies have shown the harmful effects of MSG, which include obesity, reproductive malfunctions and CNS disorder [6].

• MSG is found in packaged soups and noodles, diet beverages, packaged sausages, salad dressing, and some packaged vegetarian foods.

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4. High-fructose corn syrup

High-fructose corn syrup is an artificial sweetener and food thickener made from corn starch. It is rich in fructose, a type of simple sugar which can cause serious health problems. Excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has been associated with health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes [7], [8].

• High-fructose corn syrup is found in almost all processed foods like frozen junk foods, flavoured yogurts, salad dressings, cereals and canned vegetables.


5. Trans fats

Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat that has gone through hydrogenation, which improves consistency and gives a longer shelf life to food products. According to a study, consumption of trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease [9]. And the FDA has also banned trans fats in foods due to its potential harmful effects [10].

• Trans fats are found in margarine, cakes, cookies, soups, pastries and other packaged foods.

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6. Artificial flavouring

Artificial flavours are chemicals designed to mimic the taste of natural flavours [11]. Animal studies have shown that artificial flavours have a toxic effect on bone marrow cells of mice [12]. However, further research is needed to determine what amount of artificial colours found in foods may affect humans.

• Artificial flavours are found in fruit juices, salad dressing, flavoured yogurt, baked goods and snacks.


7. Guar gum

Guar gum is another food additive that is used to thicken and bind food products. It is high in soluble fibre and low in calories. The FDA considers guar gum safe for consumption in limited amounts in various food products. However, consuming high amounts of guar gum may have adverse health effects.


8. Sodium nitrite

Sodium nitrite is used as a preservative and colouring agent in processed meats and sausages to prevent the growth of bacteria and gives it a reddish-pink colour. But, when meat is heated at high temperatures or comes in contact with the acidic juices in the stomach, sodium nitrite is converted into nitrosamine, a compound that can cause negative health effects.

Studies have shown that high intake of processed meats can elevate the risk of colorectal and breast cancer [13], [14].

• Sodium nitrite is found in processed meats like ham, hot dogs, salami, bacon and sausage.


9. Sodium benzoate

Sodium benzoate is widely used as a preservative in processed foods and beverages to increase their shelf life. A study showed that excessive consumption of beverages containing sodium benzoate was linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in college students [15].

• Sodium benzoate is added to carbonated drinks, pickles, fruit juices and salad dressing.


10. Xanthan gum

Xanthan gum is used to thicken and stabilise food products. This food additive, when had in excess amounts, can cause digestive problems. So, limit consumption or consider eliminating xanthan gum from your diet.

• Xanthan gum is used in sauces, soups, and syrups.


To Conclude…

In order to stay healthy and safe, it is important to choose foods that are in their natural state and colour as they won't do your body harm. Minimise the consumption of processed and precooked foods and opt for natural foods. And read the label carefully before you buy food products from the grocery store.

Common FAQs

Q. What is the most common food additive?

A. The most common food additives are artificial sweeteners, MSG, artificial colouring and trans fats.

Q. What are natural food additives?

A. Natural additives are substances found naturally in foods and are extracted from them to be used in other foods. For e.g. - beetroot juice, ground turmeric, red cabbage juice, etc.

Q. How do you identify food additives?

A. Check the labels of food products and you will identify the food additives with a number listed on it.

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