How safe are food additives? For centuries, we have been eating processed foods because there is little to no escape from them. As much we might try to eat healthier, even foods labeled as being natural can and will often contain one or several food additives.

What are we exposing to, why do food additives and unhealthiness go hand in hand and what should we stay away from? We’ll try to get to the bottom of this.

food additives

What Are Food Additives?

In short, the food additives definition refers to the chemicals that are added by food producers to keep the products fresh or to enhance their flavor, color, or texture. Most additives have little to no nutritional value.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they can be defined as

Any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result – directly or indirectly – in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food.

Some are extracted from natural materials, while others are produced by the chemical industry. Nonetheless, all additives are chemicals. The best-known additives are preservatives, artificial flavors, and colors, but sweeteners and gelling agents are also widely popular among food companies.

There are two types of additives: direct and indirect. The direct kind are those that have been added with a purpose (to preserve, to add color and texture, or to improve taste). Indirect additives are those that end up in our foods due to its handling or packaging. This is why food packaging manufacturer must demonstrate to the United States Food and Drug Administration that all materials that come in contact with the food are safe.

There are over 70,000 FDA food additives marked by the federal agency as safe for public use. The list of the approved additives contains every type there is, from the all artificial ingredients to the all-natural and the GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Yet people can’t help but fear the unnatural ingredients that have gained the reputation of “food criminals”.

7 Food Additives You Should Stay Away From

common and dangerous food additives

Now that you know what is a food additive and what types of ingredients have been added to our foods, let’s look into what you should avoid eating. Take a look at our food additives list containing the worst additives we ingest without knowing the health risks we are exposing to. Read the food labels carefully before buying any product.

Mono-Sodium Glutamate

Mono-Sodium Glutamate is one of the most common additives used both to enhance flavor and to preserve most packaged and canned foods. The sneaky additive is not always listed as monosodium glutamate, but it can also be found under the name of “glutamic acid” or even “natural flavoring”.

Studies have shown that MSG can actually grow and spread cancer cells within the body. It is also connected to sudden cardiac death, obesity, and inflammation of the liver.


Cyclamate is another additive suspected of increasing the causes of cancer. This artificial sweetener has been banned in the United States because of its possibly dangerous effects on human health, but it can still be found in many countries of the globe. When traveling, read the food labels carefully and stay away from cyclamate-containing products.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole

Butylated Hydroxyanisole, widely known as BHA, is an additive often found in chips, cereals, and vegetable oil. BHA is considered to be a carcinogen (according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services), as studies in labs have shown it to cause cancer in animals. However, the Food and Drug Administration still allows food producers to use it as an ingredient.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Most of the processed foods in the United States contain the immensely caloric high fructose corn syrup. This artificial sweetener contributes to weight gain like no other. It increases the bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and leads to diabetes and tissue damage, just to name a few dangerous consequences.

Sodium Sulfite

There are great chances you too are sensitive to this additive. According to the Food and Drug Administration, as much as one in a hundred people is susceptible to the sodium sulfite found in wine and dried fruits. Many individuals experience headaches, rashes, or breathing problems after ingesting foods that have been added sulfites.

There have been cases where sodium sulfite caused death by cardiac arrest due to the closing of the airways.

Sodium Nitrate

Sodium nitrate has many purposes ranging from preservation to added flavor. It can be found in ham, hot dogs, bacon, smoked fish, lunch meats, and other preserved meats. Once in the digestive system, sodium nitrate forms nitrosamine compounds that cause damage to the liver and the pancreas, in particular, . It is widely regarded as a toxic ingredient but up until this moment it has not been banned, although it is considered to be carcinogenic.


Aspartame is a common artificial sweetener that can be found in many packed drinks, soft drinks, sugar-free desserts, and other products. The additive is known as the food trigger for migraines. Many people are sensitive to aspartame, the ingredient having the ability to cause neurological problems if consumed on a rare basis. However, extended use of this additive increases the risk of developing cancer.


Although food additives have been used since the early days, what we are eating today can have some deeply worrying effects on our health. As a consequence, moderation is key when it comes to foods that have been added chemical ingredients. Get informed about the risks you are exposing yourself to when purchasing foods with additives and always read the labels carefully before buying your foods.