Food Additives 101
"Find out what's in the food you eat!"
Lately, many food additives have become a cause for concern. Fear of additives has escalated due to recent research. The findings of a British study reported in The Lancet in 2007 linked hyperactivity in children to artificial dyes and other preservatives they consume, convincing the European Food Standards Agency to discourage food manufacturers from using artificial colorings in their products, Martin Downs, MPH, public health professional writer, relates in a WebMD article.
Though the term “food additive” has become a bad word, believe it or not, there are good food additives. But of course there are also additives that are used simply to enhance the food’s appearance, flavor, or texture. There are many different types of food additives. Here are some of the kinds most frequently found in processed foods:
Artificial Coloring. These are dyes found safe for human ingestion. Some are believed to cause allergies, like Yellow No.5, also called tartrazine.
Artificial Flavorings. University of Minnesota food scientist Gary Reineccius explains in The Scientific American that flavorings are considered artificial if they are not derived from a naturally occurring spice, plant matter, or food product.
Other Flavor Enhancers. Some compounds made from natural ingredients are frequently found in processed foods. Although they are derived from natural substances, these can still be controversial.
Preservatives. These are added to make the food last longer. You can find them in sausages and similar meat products.
Trans Fat. This may be listed as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on the food label, Downs notes. He adds that while some trans fat naturally occurs in meat in small amounts, most trans fat in processed foods is added by the manufacturer.
If you fear allergic reactions, read labels carefully and observe reactions to foods containing certain additives. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, there are mainly seven food additives that are blamed for adverse reactions. These are:
Sulfites. This can bring out asthmatic symptoms and may upset stomachs. Used as preservatives, they may be found in wine, dried fruits, cherries, and some jellies and jams.
Aspartame. This artificial sweetener used for Nutrasweet may possibly cause redness and itching, facial swelling, swelling of the hands, and headaches.
Yellow No. 5. As mentioned earlier, it has been blamed for allergic reactions, but only perhaps two percent of people definitely experience such symptoms from consuming this artificial coloring.
Nitrates and nitrates. A few people may get headaches and skin breakouts from consuming foods with these preservatives.
BHT and BHA. These chemicals are put in grain products like cereal to preserve their color, flavor, and odor.
Benzoates. These preservatives, on rare occasions, can cause allergic reactions.
It can be seen that while some food additives are unhealthy, most appear harmless. There is probably no need to fear food additives if you consume them within the allowable level.