Food Additives and Preservatives

Anything with non-medical or nutritional value should not be consumed, very simple. But have you taken any consideration into what actually makes it onto your plate? Food production is meant to be well regulated. Most foods are very well labelled with a list of ingredients and nutritional values. It is important that you should read the label because of the negative health effects some ingredients can have on you. Below are some common additives and their effects on your health.


Food acids are added to make flavours “sharper”, and also act as preservatives and antioxidants. Common food acids include vinegar, citric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, and lactic acid. All generally all regarded as safe however in large amounts they can cause complications. Can cause a restless feeling, abdominal pain, black or bloody stools, chest pain, constipation, convulsions, cramps, diarrhea, gastrointestinal inflammation, increased heart rate, increased thirst, itching, mood changes, muscle pain, muscle twitching, nausea, rapid and shallow breathing, severe diarrhea, swelling, vomiting, weakness, or weight gain.

Artificial Colouring

Used to change or enhance food colour. Some are chemical dyes and others are extracted from natural sources. Many artificial colorants cause cancer, increases hyperactivity in children, and aggravate asthma symptoms.

Acidity regulators

Acidity regulators are used to change or otherwise control the acidity and alkalinity of foods. Extreme exposure to these chemicals can cause major side effects. Mostly in small amounts it is regarded as safe. Can cause irritation of eyes, skin; nose, throat; cough, sore throat, eye, skin burns; blisters, skin sensitization; dental erosion; black skin, hyperkeratosis; conjunctivitis; headache, dizziness; shortness of breath, pharyngeal edema; chronic bronchitis; pulmonary edema (may be delayed); loss of vision; abdominal pain, burning sensation, vomiting, diarrhoea; hemolysis, hemoglobinuria, kidney failure; shock or collapse.

Anti-caking agents

Anti-caking agents keep powders such as milk powder from caking or sticking. Certain agents may cause eye, skin, throat and gastrointestinal irritation.

Antifoaming agents

Antifoaming agents reduce or prevent foaming in foods. Mostly silicone based and has yet to shown any marked health effects.


Antioxidants such as vitamin C act as preservatives by inhibiting the effects of oxygen on food, and can be beneficial to health.

Bulking agents

Bulking agents such as starch are additives that increase the bulk of food without affecting its nutritional value. Be cautious of soy based agents.


Emulsifiers allow water and oils to remain mixed together in an emulsion, as in mayonnaise, ice cream, and homogenized milk. Mostly can be non toxic. However lecithin, often from soy, can cause diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain. Although lecithin has been used to treat dementia and other ailments.

Flavour enhancers

Flavour enhancers enhance a food’s existing flavours. They may be extracted from natural sources (through distillation, solvent extraction, maceration, among other methods) or created artificially. MSG (Monosodium glutamate) is the most well-known. Causes weight gain, brain damage and liver inflammation.

Glazing agents

Glazing agents provide a shiny appearance or protective coating to foods. Generally regarded as safe.


Preservatives prevent or inhibit spoilage of food due to fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms. Potassium and/or sodium benzoate can form benzene which is a carcinogen when added with vitamin C (ascorbic acid). BHA (butylated hydroxyanisol) prevents fats from spoiling. However it has been shown as a carcinogen in animals. Sodium nitrates are often used in means but have been shown to cause cancer in some cases. Sodium bisulfite is often found in wines and may result in an allergic reaction of skin rashes and sinus congestion.


Added to bulk food or act as other agents. Soy protein, isolate and oil have been shown to impair fertility and affect estrogen in women, lower sex drive, and trigger puberty early in children. Eating too much can cause a testosterone imbalance in men and negatively affect growth in children. Healthy alternatives are tempeh, miso and natto, made of fermented cooked soybeans. The fermentation allows nutrients to be more easily absorbed into the body, as fermented foods are full of probiotics which help keep your gut flora healthy. Research however is very contradictory when it comes to the health effects of soy.


Stabilizers, thickeners and gelling agents, like agar or pectin (used in jam for example) give foods a firmer texture. While they are not true emulsifiers, they help to stabilize emulsions. Mostly regarded as safe for consumption.


Sweeteners are added to foods for flavouring. Sweeteners other than sugar are added to keep the food energy (calories) low, or because they have beneficial effects for diabetes mellitus and tooth decay and diarrhoea. High Fructose Corn Syrup is used as a sweetening agent or for browning and extending shelf life. Derived from corn and found in many items. Causes cancer, insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dyslipodemia, and pancreatitis. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener. There are isolated reports of aspartame causing seizures, headaches, mood disturbances, and reduced mental performance.


Thickeners are substances which, when added to the mixture, increase its viscosity without substantially modifying its other properties. Most are starch based and generally regarded as safe.

Some particularly gross ingredients make it into your food everyday. Here are some of the more unusual items that end up in your stomach:

  • Ammonia – Fertilizer and oven cleaner. Found in beef, peanut butter and chips. Kills off bacteria and taste. Used to allow food manufacturers to use any part of the animal they wish.
  • Amonium sulphate – Fertilizer. Found in bread, dairy products, wine, carbonated beverages, powdered spices, candy and jams. Used as a firming agent, anti-caking agent or acidity regulator.
  • Antibiotics – Used for medical or preventative treatment in almost every farm animal. Increases risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria and viruses in humans.
  • Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) – Flame retardant. Found in citrus flavoured drinks.
  • Cellulose – Sawdust. Found commonly in shredded cheese, ice cream and chocolate milk. Used to thicken or stabilize foods. Actually cannot be processed efficiently by the body. Cheaper to use and has no nutritional value.
  • Coal tar – Known as food colourant RED #40.
  • Cow bones – listed as char, bone black, ivory black, or abaiser. Used as a decolourizer in sugar. Tricalcium phosphate derived from bones is also used as an anti-caking agent.
  • Gelatin – Pig skin or animal hooves. Found in sweets, cereals, yougurt, and some sour creams. Thickening agent. Often an ingredient missed by vegans and vegetarians.
  • Glyphosphate – Pesticide. Used on corn and soy crops. Often found in food accidentally.
  • Isinglass – Dried fish bladders. Used in yellow beers for the colour.
  • Lanolin – Sheep skin wax secretion. Found in chewing gum. Used to enhance the softness.
  • L-cysteine – Hair from humans or hogs. Sometimes made from duck feathers. Found in many ‘fluffy’ baked goods.
  • Propylene glycol –  Anti-freeze. Found in beer, soda, salad dressing and spices. Used as a mixing agent.
  • Carrageenan – Seaweed. Thickening agent and emulsifier.
  • Rennet – Cow stomach juice. Used in cheese and some dairy products.
  • Salt water – Injected into chicken. Used to sell less product for more money. Listed as “solution, broth or brine. Often not listed at all.
  • Castoreum – Beaver anal sacs. Used as a natural flavourant. Often not listed.
  • Shellac – Secretions from a specific female insect. Found on most hard candies. Used as a polish.
  • Sodium bisulphate – Toilet cleaner. Found in most crinkly foil-packaged items. Extends shelf life.
  • Silicone dioxide – Sand. Anticaking agent.
  • Carmine – Specific boiled insects. Used for colouring.
  • Titanium dioxide – Sunblock. Found in white foods like coffee creamer.




2 thoughts on “Food Additives and Preservatives

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s