Sometimes the list of ingredients on a food label sounds more like a chemistry experiment than food. One popular brand of peanut butter lists 17 ingredients. Roasted peanuts are listed first, followed by 16 different additives with really long names. What are all those additives doing there? back to top
Why are there so many food additives?
There are about 3,000 different food additives. The most common are sugar, salt, and corn syrup. There are also many mysterious-sounding additives like diglycerides, zinc oxide, and pyridoxine hydrochloride. Additives serve many different purposes. Without them, hot dogs would look gray, ice cream would form crystals, the oil and vinegar in mayonnaise would separate, and bread would get moldy sooner. And some additives, like the iodine
in table salt and the vitamins and minerals in fortified bread and milk, can actually help keep you healthy. back to top
Are additives and preservatives safe?
Before anything is added to a food, it is tested to see if it is safe to eat. But just because an additive have been proved to be safe doesn't mean everyone can eat it. Some girls may not be able to tolerate certain additives and preservatives, including:
- monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer in soup, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees, and some Chinese food and other restaurant foods
- sulfites, which are used to preserve and bleach dried fruit, wine, and processed potatoes
- yellow dye #5, an artificial coloring found in gelatin desserts, candy, and baked goods
Other additives that bother some girls are artificial colorings, acesulfame, potassium, artificial sweeteners, fat substitutes like Olestra, potassium bromate, propyl gallate, and sodium nitrite and nitrate. back to top
What other kinds of additives are there?
Additives can be more than just ingredients added to a food. For example, a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables are coated with wax to keep them moist. Some foods are irradiated (treated with gamma rays) to reduce the growth of bacteria
. Other foods are genetically altered
to improve their appearance, shelf-life, or nutritional value. Some produce is genetically altered to protect it from insects or weather damage. Although the government has determined that all of these are safe, many people have questions about their long-term use. back to top
How can I find out if the food I'm eating has additives?
If you are concerned about eating foods with additives and preservatives, get into the habit of reading food labels. Generally, the fewer additives, preservatives, and dyes you find in the ingredient list, the healthier the food. If you don't recognize the word, it's probably an additive. And washing fruits and vegetables with a soft brush and water (no soap!) before you eat them will remove that wax coating. back to top