It is hard to find foods that do not contain additives these days. Some additives are unhealthy, but some do provide health benefits. A food additive is a substance that is added to a food during production, processing, or storage to either enhance its nutritional value or physical appearance. Additives include items such as vitamins or minerals, fat replacements, and colors or dyes. Regardless of what the additive is being used for, it needs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first.
Although the FDA must approve every additive before it is used, this does not mean that down the road, an additive that was once deemed safe can later be considered a health hazard. Just like every other science, food science in constantly evolving. This is why laws, regulations and labeling are continuously changing. An example of an additive that was once considered safe, but is no longer used due to health risks includes sulfite. Sulfite previously was used for preventing spoilage and discoloration in fresh produce. After a while, it became clear that the sulfites used were causing harmful allergic reactions and even deaths, in severe cases. Today, using sulfite on food is generally not permitted. Those who do use sulfite on produce need to make it aware to customers by stating the important information on their food labels.
Other additives that should be avoided include salt and sugar. High intakes of salt can cause high blood pressure and increases the risk of heart disease. Consuming too much sugar in your diet causes tooth decay, obesity, and sometimes heart disease. Nutritionists believe additives such as, sodium nitrite, saccharin, caffeine, olestra, acesulfame K, along with all artificial coloring should be avoided. All of these have been approved by the FDA, but further testing on some of these additives have some experts questioning their use, explained by the consumer advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Not all additives are unhealthy, however. For instance, ascorbic acid, which is used to enhance color in meat and add extra nutrition benefits in beverages, can reduce the severity of colds. Due to the fact that this particular additive it is composed of mainly vitamin C., Alpha-tocopherol, is another example of a healthy additive. This is used to prevent oils from going rancid. The vitamin E found in this additive may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Due to the increase of additives in today’s food supply, it is more critical than ever to read food labels carefully, evolving into an informed consumer.