Food Additives : The Good, Bad & Ugly

The Good the Bad and the Ugly of Food Additives
Each and every day there are news bulletins and research findings supporting or warning us against this additive or that coloring. It’s often very difficult to keep it all straight. It can be terrifying to walk down the grocery store aisle where virtually every product is loaded with preservatives. We’ve all heard the rules about shopping around the perimeter of the store for fresh foods, but today’s world often dictates an occasional shortcut down those middle aisles. Here’s a brief summary of the good, the bad and the ugly to watch out for when consuming processed foods.

 Alginate or Propylene Glycol Alginate is a thickening agent used in beer candy and yogurt and are made from kelp.

Alpha Tocopherol is another name for Vitamin E. It is added to oils to prevent them from becoming rancid.

Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C is an antioxidant and color stabilizer used in cereal, fruit drinks and even cured meat. It is also commonly added to “fruit” drinks to increase the vitamin content.

Beta Carotene is a colorant in coffee creamers, margarine and candy. The body naturally converts this nutrient to vitamin A.

Calcium Propionate, Sodium Propionate is a preservative used in breads, cake and rolls. Calcium Propionate prevents mold growth on breads. Because calcium interferes with leavening agents sodium propionate is used for the same purpose in cakes and pies.

Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate, Sodium Stearoyl Fumarate are used as a dough conditioner and a whipping agent in whipped cream, bread dough and processed egg whites. In bread, these additives produce a more uniform grain and greater volume.

Carrageenan is used to stabilize and thicken products like chocolate milk, cottage cheese and jelly and is derived from seaweed.

Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate is a tart flavoring used in candy, soft drinks, ice cream and sherbet and is often added for its antioxidant properties. Sodium citrate buffers acidity in jams, ice creams and candy.

EDTA traps trace metal impurities in foods like shellfish, margarine and salad dressings. These metals if left untouched cause oils to become rancid and can break down artificial colors.

Ferrous Gluconate is a coloring used in black olives and provides iron in foods.

Fumaric Acid adds tartness to gelatins, pie filling, and powdered drinks.

Gelatin is a thickening agent in beverages, cheese spreads, yogurt and powdered dessert mixes.

Glycerin (Glycerol) maintains water content in baked goods, candy and fudge and is a natural part of fat molecules.

Inulin is a fat and sugar substitute and a source of fiber in margarine, baked goods and salad dressings. Because it is a natural soluble fiber, it won’t raise blood sugar and stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the intestine.

Lactic Acid controls acidity in carbonated beverages, balance acidity in cheeses, and keeps olives from spoiling.

Lecithin is an emulsifier in baked goods, chocolate and ice cream that is derived from soybean oil and eggs. It keeps oil and water from separating, reduces spattering and makes cake fluffier.

Maltodextrin is a thickening agent and a sweetener used in canned fruit and instant puddings and is made from starch.

Mono and Diglycerides are emulsifiers in baked goods, candy and peanut butter that make bread softer, and caramels less sticky.

Oat Fiber, Wheat Fiber is used in cereal, crackers, bread and muffins and dependant on whether a soluble or insoluble fiber is used, can help alleviate constipation or lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar.

Oligofructose is a sweetener, bulking agent and emulsifier used in cookies, energy bars and granola bars. Because it is a soluble fiber, it provides only about half the calories of fructose and other sugar additives.

Phosphates, Phosphoric Acid is found in baked goods, cereal, cheese, dehydrated potatoes and soft drinks and is used as a color stabilizer, emulsifier, and chelating agent.

Phytosterols or Phytostanols are used as cholesterol-lowering agents in Margarines, juices and breads. Found naturally in many nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, high doses can lower the absorption rate of cholesterol from food.

Polysorbate 60 is an emulsifier used in baked goods and frozen desserts to keep baked items from becoming stale and creams from separating.

Sodium Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) is a thickening agent used in beer, candy, diet foods, and pie filling and keeps sugar from crystallizing.

Sorbic Acid, Postassium Sorbate prevents mold in cake, cheese, jelly wine, and dried fruit.

Sorbitan Monostearate is used in cake, candy, pudding and icing as an emulsifier to keep oil and water from separating.

Starch, Modified Starch is found in gravy and sous and is used as a thickening agent to keep solids suspended.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener in baked goods, frozen desserts and soda.

Thiamin Mononitrate is a vitamin B-1 additive found in enriched flour and fortified cereal.

Vanillin, Ethyl Vanillin is a substitute for vanilla found in baked goods, candy, frozen desserts and beverages.


Artificial and Natural Flavoring in breakfast cereal, candy and soda often contain additives like MSG or HVP to which some individuals are sensitive.

Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) is a clouding agent and emulsifier in soft drinks used to keep flavor oils in suspension. Small amounts of BVO will remain in body fat.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) is an antioxidant in cereal, chewing gum, and potato chips that keeps oil from becoming rancid. Some research indicates it may increase the risk of cancer.

Caffeine is a flavoring and stimulant in soft drinks, coffee, tea and chocolate. It can interfere with sound sleep and often makes people jittery and high doses have been found to increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

Casein, Sodium Caseinate is a thickening and whitening agent in coffee creamer, ice cream and sherbet and because it is the main protein found in milk my affect milk allergies.

Cochineal or Carmine is artificial coloring found in beverages, candy, ice cream and yogurt. Chocineal is red coloring made from dried pulverized insects and carmine is a more purified coloring made from cochineal. Both may cause allergic reactions including everything from hives to anaphylactic shock.

Corn Syrup is a thickener and sweetener used in beverages, cake, cereal, cookies, and yogurt. It promotes tooth decay and has no nutritional value.

Dextrose (Glucose, Corn Sugar) is a sweetener in bread and soft drinks that provides empty calories and contributes to tooth decay.

Fructose is a sweetener in “health foods” and in large amounts can raise the risk of heart disease and increase obesity.

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) is a flavor inhancer in instant soups and sauces that contains MSG, which can cause reactions in those sensitive to it.

Lactose is used in breakfast pastries, and whipped toppings as a sweetener and should be avoided by those with lactose intolerance.

Maltitol, Mannitol is found in sugar free candies and jams and is not absorbed well by the body. While it has fewer calories than sugar, large amounts of it may cause a laxative effect.

MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is a flavor enhancer in chips, frozen foods and restaurant foods. Some people, who are sensitive to MSG may experience nausea, weakness and headaches.

Polydextrose is a bulking agent in baked goods, candy and frozen desserts and may cause a laxative effect in sensitive people.

Salt (Sodium Chloride) is a flavoring and preservative in most processed foods and contributes to hypertension and heart disease.

Sorbitol maintains moisture in candy and chewing gum and is used as a sweetener and thickening agent. It can have a laxative effect with moderate use.

Sugar (Sucrose) is a sweetener in foods and table sugar that occurs naturally in fruit and sugar cane. It provides no vitamins, minerals or protein and it promotes obesity and heart disease.


Acesulfame Potassium is a sweetener in gum, soda and baked goods has been shown in some studies to cause cancer.

Aspartame (Nutrasweet) is an artifical sweetener in soda, frozen desserts and tabletop sweetener that may increase the risk of leukemia, lymphoma and breast cancer. It is also linked to dizziness, hallucinations and headaches.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) is an antioxidant in gum, oil, and cereal used to inhibit oils from turning rancid. Research indicates in is carcinogenic to humans.

Olestra (Olean) is found in a specific brand of light potato chips. It is a fat substitute that causes severe diarrhea, cramping and flatulence.

Partially Hydrogenated Oil is a fat used in baked goods, fried foods, pie crust, shortening and margarine. This trans fat raises bad cholesterol increasing risk of heart problems.

Saccharin is an artificial sweetener used in no sugar foods that has shown to cause cancer in the bladder, uterus, ovaries and skin.