Spoon holding chemical powder with dice labeled "food additives"

What’s a food additive?
“Any substance used to provide a technical effect in foods,” according to the U.S. Food an Drug Administration (FDA) that regulates food additives. (1)
Food additives are used in a wide variety of foods to:

  • Preserve freshness
  • Enhance flavor
  • Make foods look more appealing
  • Create more ‘convenient’ foods with a longer shelf life

7 common food additives
Did you know the FDA has approved more than 10,000 food additives? (2)
You’ll find food additives in just about every kind of food product that goes through some form of processing to make. Some commonly-used food additives include: (3)

  1. Monosodium glutamate: Used to enhance flavors
  2. Artificial food coloring: Used to improve appearance and presentation
  3. Sodium nitrite: Used to cure meats and increase shelf life
  4. Guar gum: Used as a thickening agent
  5. High-fructose corn syrup: Used to sweeten food and drinks
  6. Artificial sweeteners: Used to sweeten foods and drinks with alternatives to sugar.
  7. Trans fat: Used to enhance taste and texture and increase shelf life.

9 hidden health risks of food additives
There’s hundreds of variations of these, and thousands of other additives used in food. You may be so used to eating foods with additives, you don’t even notice.
However, for some people, food additives can cause negative side effects like: (4)

  1. Headaches
  2. Allergies
  3. Digestive problems
  4. Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder
  5. Heart-related health problems
  6. Certain types of cancer
  7. Asthma
  8. Obesity
  9. Hormone imbalances

5 reasons to rethink what you eat
Sugar and salt have been used as food additives for a long time. But even these pose adverse health effects if consumed in large amounts.
Are food additives harmless or harmful? Here are five reasons to rethink eating foods that contain additives:

  1. Deceptive food appearance: Food additives are often used to make products look more appealing. Colorful dyes, like Red 40 or Yellow 5, are frequently added to candy, drinks, and other treats.
    • However, these artificial colors can be deceiving. When food appears more vibrant than it is, it can lead to unrealistic expectations and overconsumption. (5)
    • It’s essential to recognize that just because a food looks fantastic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier or better choice.
  2. Masking poor food quality: Another reason to be cautious about food additives is that they can be used to mask poor-quality ingredients. (6)
    For instance:

    • Some food companies might use artificial flavors and sweeteners to cover up the taste of subpar or low-cost ingredients.
    • This allows them to produce products that seem tasty but lack real nutritional value.
    • By relying on food additives, they compromise the overall quality of the food they sell.
  3. Food labels with mysterious ingredients: Reading food labels can be a daunting task, especially with the multitude of additives listed on each product.
    • Names like ascorbic acid or monosodium glutamate (MSG) may leave you more confused than informed.
    • These complicated names can make it challenging to decipher what you’re consuming and how it may affect your health.7

    The more additives in your food, the more confusing it becomes to maintain a balanced diet.

  4. Reducing natural flavors & healthy ingredients: Food additives often replace the natural flavors in foods. Instead of savoring the real taste of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, you become accustomed to the artificial flavors added to processed foods. That ever happen? This shift can lead to a diminished appreciation for fresh and whole foods.. Unless you only eat fresh, unprocessed foods, chances are pretty good some of the food you eat contains additives. Are they all bad? No. Just take a moment to read food labels, understand what’s in your food, and choose fresh and whole foods when you can.


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2023). What is a food additive? Ask USDA. From: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-a-food-additive
  2. Maffini, M., et al. (2017). We are what we eat: Regulatory gaps in the United States that put our health at risk. PLOS Biology, 15(12): e2003578. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5737876/
  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2023). Food Additive Status List. From: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/food-additive-status-list
  4. Sambu, S., et al. (2022). Toxicological and teratogenic effect of various food additives: An updated review. Biomedical Research International, 6824909. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9249520
  5. Spence, C. (2019). On the psychological impact of food colour. Flavour, 4: 21. From: https://flavourjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13411-015-0031-3
  6. Neumann, N., et al. (2022). Added flavors: Potential contributors to body weight gain and obesity? BMC Medicine, 20: 417. From: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-022-02619-3
  7. Cooper, K., et al. (2022). Exploring the readability of ingredients lists of food labels with existing metrics. AMIA Joint Summits on Translational Science Proceedings, 159-167. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9285159/

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