Food Additives 101


Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m even reading English these days when I flip over the back of food labels and read the ingredients list. Food additives like guar gum, carrageenan, natural flavors, and soy lecithin, are EVERYWHERE. Let me give you the 101 on food additives so you can be a more informed food sleuth next time you go food shopping!

What are food additives?

Food Additives are chemical ingredients added to foods during manufacturing to help preserve the nutritional quality of food, enhance the quality or maintain the stability of food, and to aid in the packaging or storage of food products.  They may help to modify the color, taste, texture, appearance, or consistency of a food. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates and approves of these ingredients and they are generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Some food additives are derived from natural sources and others from synthetic chemicals. 

What are some examples of food additives?

Food additives have different purposes when added to a packaged food. Some serve multiple purposes, but generally fall into the following categories:

  • Anti-caking agents
  • Antifoaming agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Bulking agents
  • Bleaching agents
  • Colorings or color retention agents
  • Emulsifiers
  • Enzymes
  • Firming agents
  • Flavor enhancers
  • Food acids
  • Flour treatment agents
  • Glazing agents
  • Gelling agents
  • Humectants
  • Mineral salts
  • Preservatives
  • Propellants
  • Stabilizers
  • Thickeners
  • Vitamins

This is quite an extensive list of food additive categories! Making packaged and processed food with desired characteristics is no easy feat.

Are there known adverse effects of consuming food additives?

  • Sulfites
    • Purpose– inhibits browning, antimicrobial, bleaching agent
    • Adverse Effects– May exacerbate asthma symptoms in ~3-10% of asthma sufferers, IgE-mediated allergy
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
    • Purpose– flavor enhancer
    • Adverse Effects– Neuroexcitatory and neurotoxic effects in animals and humans, and neurologically mediated urticaria (hives)
  • Nitrites/Nitrates
    • Purpose– preservative, flavor and color enhancing agent
    • Adverse Effects– acute anaphylactic reaction, with hypotension
  • Guar Gum
    • Purpose– naturally derived emulsifier
    • Adverse Effects– may cause increased gas and digestive upset
  • Food Colors
    • Purpose– coloring agent
    • Adverse Effects– may exacerbate ADHD symptoms

Overall, is it okay to consume food additives?

The jury is still out on the safety of all food additives on human health. Some clinical studies have evaluated their impact in cells (in vivo) and in animals, but not directly in humans. It is unfair to extrapolate the findings from cellular or animal studies to humans and therefore, more research in this area is needed.

The FDA recognizes food additives as generally safe and continues to monitors their impact on human health. As you can see from the list of adverse effects reported above, not all populations tolerate all food additives. The key takeaway is to limit your intake of processed and packaged foods and stick to minimally processed, whole foods as much as possible. This strategy will help you minimize the intake of food additives.

If you find any adverse reaction with any food additive, refrain from it and monitor for symptom improvement. If you need help understanding or identifying problems with food additives, please contact us today to find out how Food Sensitivity Solutions can help you!



Food Allergy : Adverse Reaction to Foods and Food Additives (5). Somerset, GB: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 12 October 2016.
Copyright © 2013. Wiley-Blackwell.

Vally H, Misso NL, Mad V. Clinical effects of sulphite additives. Clin Exp Allergy 2009; 39:1643– 1651.

Nigg, J. T., Lewis, K., Edinger, T., & Falk, M. (2012). Meta-Analysis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms, Restriction Diet, and Synthetic Food Color Additives. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(1). doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2011.10.015


One thought on “Food Additives 101

  1. Rahul Jain January 8, 2018 / 6:04 am

    Informative Post!!! Briefing of food additives with proper example and adverse effect are given in the post. One should avoid food additives like High fructose Corn Syrup, Trans fat, Common food Dyes. — Visit-


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