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Food Additives List: Listing of Food Additives and What You Need to Know About Their Safety?
List of Common Food Additives and Their Safety
As much as we may not like the idea, food additives play a role in today's food supply. There are both advantages and disadvantages to their use. They do allow a growing urban population to have a variety of foods year-round. And, they make possible an array of convenience foods without the inconvenience of daily shopping. But are they safe?
You can print this list of food additives to take with you to the grocery
Back to the main Food Safety page
Although salt, baking soda, vanilla and yeast are commonly used in foods today, many people tend to think of any additive added to foods as complex chemical compounds. Most food additives are regulated by federal authorities and various international organizations. The purpose of this page is to provide helpful background information about food additives, why they are used in foods and how regulations govern their safe use in the food supply.
Database of Food Additive regulations and Information
: This is an informational database maintained by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) under an ongoing program known as the Priority-based Assessment of Food Additives (PAFA). It contains administrative, chemical and toxicological information on over 2000 substances directly added to food, including substances regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as direct, "secondary" direct, and color additives, and Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and prior-sanctioned substances. In addition, the database contains only administrative and chemical information on less than 1000 such substances. The more than 3000 total substances together comprise an inventory often referred to as
"Everything" Added to Food in the United States
This list of substances contains ingredients added directly to food that FDA has either approved as food additives or listed or affirmed as GRAS. Nevertheless, it contains only a partial list of all food ingredients that may in fact be lawfully added to food, because under federal law some ingredients may be added to food under a GRAS determination made independently from the FDA. The list contains many, but not all, of the substances subject to independent GRAS determinations.
common food additives?
Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame-K)
What is is: A zero calorie artificial
sweetener often used with other artificial sweeteners to mask bitterness.
In which foods is it used: More than 5,000 food products worldwide, including diet soft
drinks and no-sugar-added ice cream
Examples: Edy's Slow Churned No Sugar
Added Vanilla Light Ice Cream
How bad is this food additive: The FDA has approved
it for use in most foods, but some health groups claim that the decision was
based on flawed tests. Animal studies have linked it to lung and breast tumors.
What is is: The type of vitamin E most commonly added to foods
and most readily absorbed and stored in the body. An essential nutrient, it
helps prevent oxidative damage to the cells and plays a crucial role in skin
health and disease prevention.
In which foods is it used: Meats, foods with added fats,
and foods that boast vitamin E health claims; also occurs naturally in seeds,
nuts, leafy vegetables, and vegetable oils
Examples: Campbell's Essential
How bad is this food additive: In the amount added to foods, tocopherols pose no apparent health risks, but concentrated supplements might
bring on toxicity symptoms such as cramps, weakness, and double vision.
What is is: Denotes any of hundreds of allowable chemicals such
as butyl alcohol and phenylacetaldehyde dimethyl acetal. The exact chemicals
used in flavoring are the proprietary information of food processors, used to
imitate specific fruits, butter, spices, and so on.
In which foods is it used:
Common in almost all processed foods
Examples: Coca Cola, Oreo cookies
How bad is this food additive: The FDA has approved every
item on the list of allowable chemicals, but because flavorings can hide behind
a blanket term, there is no way for consumers to pinpoint the cause of a
reaction they might have had.
What is is: Water-soluble vitamin C.
In which foods is it used: Juices and fruit products, meat,
cereals, and other foods with vitamin C health claims
How bad is this food additive: Vitamin C is associated with no
What is: An artificial sweetener made by combining
two amino acids with methanol. Most commonly used in diet soda, aspartame is 180
times sweeter than sugar.
In which foods is it used: More than 6,000 grocery items,
including diet sodas, yogurts, and the tabletop sweeteners NutraSweet and Equal
Examples: Diet Coke
How bad is this food additive: Over the past 30 years,
the FDA has received thousands of consumer complaints due mostly to neurological
symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, memory loss, and, in rare cases,
epileptic seizures. Many studies have shown aspartame to be completely harmless,
while others indicate that the additive might be responsible for a range of
BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated
What is is: widely used antioxidant food additive;
Petroleum-derived antioxidants used to preserve fats and oils.
which foods is it used: potato chips, lard, butter, crackers, cereal,
instant mashed potatoes, preserved meat, beer, baked goods, dry beverage
and dessert mixes, chewing gum, wax food packaging+ and many foods with
Examples: Quaker Chewy Granola Bar Chocolate Chip
How bad is this food additive: BHA is considered the more
dangerous. The Department of Health and Human Services classifies the
preservative as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen
.. They have been extensively
studied for potential toxicities. This review details experimental
studies of genotoxicity and carcinogenicity which bear on cancer hazard
assessment of exposure to humans. But the NIH says " We conclude that
BHA and BHT pose no cancer hazard and, to the contrary, may be
anticarcinogenic at current levels of food additive use."
Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue) and Blue #2 (Indigotine)
What is is: Synthetic dyes that can be used alone or combined with other dyes to make
In which foods is it used: Blue, purple, and green foods such as
beverages, cereals, candy, and icing
Examples: Skittles Original
How bad is this food additive: Both dyes have been loosely linked to cancers in animal
studies, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends that they
See this page for more information about food colorings and food color additives
What is is: Stimulant, naturally occurring in coffee and tea, added to
In which foods is it used: Cola beverages,
"high energy" drinks
Examples: Coca Cola, Red
How bad is this food additive: In moderation, may
even have positive effects. Too much may lead to jitters and
See this page for much more information
What is is: A
thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier extracted from red seaweed; it is used to
create a better texture in low-fat dairy products and dairy alternatives
like soymilk.. Carrageenan helps keep different ingredients in
suspension so they don't separate, eliminating the need to shake the
product before you consume it.
In which foods is it used: soymilk, chocolate milk, sour cream,
creamers, yogurt, ice cream, juices, jellies and jams and whipped topping
& Jerry's Rocky Road Ice Cream
How bad is this food additive: In animal
studies, carrageenan has been correlated to inflammation and been shown to cause ulcers, colon inflammation, and
digestive cancers. While these results seem limited to "degraded" carrageenan (a
form of carrageenan that has been treated with heat and chemicals),
there is a University of Iowa study
that found that even undegraded carrageenan could become degraded in the human
digestive system. See this Rodale News article
What is is: A milk protein used to thicken and whiten
foods and appearing often by the name sodium caseinate. It is a good source of
In which foods is it used: Protein bars, shakes, ice cream, and other frozen
Examples: Healthy Choice Beef Tips Portobello with Gravy
How bad is this food additive: Although casein is a by-product of milk, the FDA allows
it and its derivatives-sodium and calcium caseinates-to be used in "nondairy"
and "dairy-free" creamers. Most lactose intolerants can handle casein, but those
with broader milk allergies might experience reactions.
What is is: A pigment extracted from the dried eggs and bodies of the
female Dactylopius coccus, a beetlelike insect that preys on cactus plants. It
is added to food for its dark-crimson color.
In which foods is it used: Artificial
crabmeat, fruit juices, frozen-fruit snacks, candy, and yogurt
Examples: Tropicana Orange Strawberry Banana
How bad is this food additive: Cochineal
extract is comprised of about 90 percent insect-body fragments. Although the FDA
receives very few complaints, some organizations are asking for a mandatory
warning label to accompany cochineal-colored foods.
What is is: A
liquid sweetener and food thickener made by allowing enzymes to break corn
starches into smaller sugars. The USDA subsidies to the corn industry make it cheap
and abundant, placing it among the most ubiquitous ingredients in grocery food
In which foods is it used: Almost
everything, including bread,
soup, sauces, frozen dinners, and frozen treats
Pop-Tarts Frosted Strawberry
How bad is this food additive: Corn syrup provides
no nutritional value other than calories. In moderation, it poses no specific
threat, other than extra empty calories.
What is is: A corn-derived
caloric sweetener. Like corn syrup, dextrose contributes to the American habit
of more than 200 calories of corn sweeteners per day.
In which foods is it used: Bread,
cookies, and crackers
Examples: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
How bad is this food additive: As with other sugars, dextrose is safe in moderate amounts.
Evaporated Cane Juice
What is is: A sweetener derived from sugarcane, the same
plant used to make refined table sugar. It's also known as crystallized cane
juice, cane juice, or cane sugar. Because it's subject to less processing than
table sugar, evaporated cane juice retains slightly more nutrients from the
grassy cane sugar.
In which foods is it used: Yogurt, soy milk, protein bars, granola,
cereal, chicken sausages, and other natural or organic foods
Examples: Amy's Organic Chunky Tomato Bisque Soup
How bad is this food additive: Although
pristine sugars are often used to replace ordinary sugars in "healthier" foods,
the actual nutritional difference between the sugars is miniscule. Both should
be consumed in moderation.
Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
What is is: Extremely hard, waxlike fat made by forcing as much hydrogen as possible onto
the carbon backbone of fat molecules. To obtain a manageable consistency, food
manufacturers often blend the hard fat with unhydrogenated liquid fats.
In which foods is it used: Baked goods, frozen meals, and tub margarine
Creamy Peanut Butter
How bad is this food additive: In theory, fully hydrogenated
oils, as opposed to partially hydrogenated oils, should contain zero trans fat.
But the process of hydrogenation isn't completely perfect, which means that
trans fat will inevitably occur in small amounts.
What is is: A corn-derived sweetener representing more than 40 percent
of all caloric sweeteners in the supermarket. In 2005, there were 59 pounds
produced per person.
In which foods is it used: Nearly everything: ice cream, chips,
cereal, bread, ketchup, canned fruits, yogurt, and two-thirds of all sweetened
Examples: Wonder Bread Whole Grain Wheat
How bad is this food additive: Since 1980, the US obesity rate has risen proportionately to the increase
in HFCS, and Americans are now consuming at least 200 calories of the sweetener
each day. Still, research shows that the body metabolizes HFCS no differently
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
What is is: A flavor enhancer
created when heat and chemicals are used to break down vegetables-most often
soy-into their component amino acids. HVP allows food processors to achieve
stronger flavors from fewer ingredients.
In which foods is it used: Canned soups and
chili, frozen dinners, beef- and chicken-flavored products
Jim Meat Sticks
How bad is this food additive: One effect of hydrolyzing proteins
is the creation of MSG, or mono-sodium glutamate. When MSG in food is the result
of hydrolyzed protein, the FDA does not require it to be listed on the
What is is: Developed in response to demand
for trans-fat alternatives, this semisoft fat is created by chemically blending
fully hydrogenated and nonhydrogenated oils.
In which foods is it used: Pastries,
margarine, frozen dinners, and canned soups
Examples: Pepperidge Farm
How bad is this food additive: Testing on these fats has not been
extensive, but the early evidence doesn't look promising. A study by Malaysian
researchers showed a 4-week diet of 12 percent interesterified fats increased
the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol, not a good thing. This study also showed an
increase in blood glucose levels and a decrease in insulin response.
What is is: A naturally occurring emulsifier and antioxidant that retards
the rancidity of fats. The two major sources of lecithin as an additive are egg
yolks and soybeans.
In which foods is it used: Pastries, ice cream, and margarine
How bad is this food additive: Lecithin is an excellent source
of choline and inositol, compounds that help cells and nerves communicate and
play a role in breaking down fats and cholesterol. There is some concern,
however, that the naturally occurring estrogens in soy lecithin can cause
hormonal problems in men who consume excessive amounts of it.
What is is: A caloric sweetener and flavor enhancer made from rice,
potatoes, or, more commonly, cornstarch. Through treatment with enzymes and
acids, it can be converted into a fiber and thickening agent.
In which foods is it used: Canned fruit, instant pudding, sauces, dressings, chips, and chocolates
Examples: Cheetos Cheese Snacks
How bad is this food additive: Like other sugars, maltodextrin has the potential to raise blood glucose and insulin levels.
What is is: A sugar alcohol that's 70 percent as sweet as sugar. It
provides fewer calories and has a less drastic effect on blood sugar.
In which foods is it used: Sugar-free candy, low-calorie and diet foods, and chewing gum
Examples: Orbit Peppermint Sugar-Free Gum
How bad is this food additive: Because
sugar alcohols are not fully digested, they can cause intestinal discomfort,
gas, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea. But in small quantities, you should be
safe from any ill effects. We like to call it "crapinol" due to it's laxative
Modified Food Starch
What is is: A catch-all term
describing starches (derived from corn, wheat, potato, or rice) that are
modified to change their response to heat or cold, improve their texture, and
create efficient emulsifiers, among other reasons.
In which foods is it used: Most highly
processed foods, low-calorie and diet foods, cookies, frozen meals
Examples: Kraft Easy Mac
How bad is this food additive: The starches themselves
appear safe, but the nondisclosure of the chemicals used in processing causes
some nutritionists to question their effects on health.
What is is: Fats added to foods to bind liquids with fats. They occur
naturally in foods and constitute about 1 percent of normal fats.
In which foods is it used: Peanut butter, ice cream, margarine, baked goods, and whipped topping
Examples: Dove Unconditional Chocolate Ice Cream
How bad is this food additive: Aside from being a source of fat, the glycerides themselves pose no
serious health threats.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
What is is: MSG is used to enhance the
flavors, especially the savory quality of foods. MSG alone
has little flavor, and exactly how it enhances flavors is unknown.
In which foods is it used: Chili, soup, and foods with chicken or beef flavoring
Examples: Hormel Chili No Beans
How bad is this food additive: Studies have shown that MSG
injected into mice causes brain-cell damage, but the FDA believes these results
are not typical for humans. The FDA receives dozens of reaction complaints each
year for nausea, headaches, chest pains, and weakness.
What is is: A
synthetic fat created by pharmaceutical company Procter & Gamble and sold under
the name Olean. It has zero-calorie impact and is not absorbed as it passes
through the digestive system.
In which foods is it used: Light chips and crackers
Examples: Lay's Light Original Potato Chips
How bad is this food additive: Olestra
can cause diarrhea, intestinal cramps, and flatulence. Studies show that it
impairs the body's ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and vital carotenoids
such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
What is is: A manufactured fat created by forcing hydrogen
gas into vegetable fats under extremely high pressure, an unintended effect of
which is the creation of trans-fatty acids. Food processors like this fat
because of its low cost and long shelf life.
In which foods is it used: Margarine,
pastries, frozen foods, cakes, cookies, crackers, soups, and nondairy creamers
Examples: Honey Maid Graham Crackers
How bad is this food additive: This is one of the very worst.
There is no safe amount to consume as its effects accumulate in the body
over time. Trans fat
has been shown to contribute to heart disease more so than saturated fat. While
most health organizations recommend keeping trans-fat consumption as low as
possible, a loophole in the FDA's labeling requirements allows processors to add
as much as 0.49 gram per serving and still claim zero in their nutrition facts.
New York City, California, and Boston have
approved legislation to phase trans fat out of restaurants, and pressure from
watchdog groups might eventually lead to a full ban on the dangerous oil.
What is is: An antioxidant used often in conjunction with BHA and
BHT to slow the spoilage of fats.
In which foods is it used: Mayonnaise, margarine,
oils, dried meats, pork sausage, and other fatty foods
Examples: Pop-Secret Kettle Corn
How bad is this food additive: Rat studies in the early
'80s linked propyl gallate to brain cancer. Although these studies don't provide
sound evidence, it is advisable to avoid this chemical when possible.
Potassium BromateWhat is is: An antioxidant
In which foods is it used:
How bad is this food additive:
#3 (Erythro-sine) and Red #40 (Allura Red)
What is is: Food dyes that are cherry red
and orange red, respectively. Red #40 is the most widely used food dye in
In which foods is it used: Fruit cocktail, candy, chocolate cake, cereal,
beverages, pastries, maraschino cherries, and fruit snacks
Examples: Yoplait Light Fat Free Strawberry
How bad is this food additive: The FDA has
proposed a ban on Red #3 in the past, but so far the agency has been
unsuccessful in implementing it. After the dye was inextricably linked to
thyroid tumors in rat studies, the FDA managed to have the liquid form of the
dye removed from external drugs and cosmetics
What is is: Another
artificial sweetener. It is 300 to 500 times sweeter than sugar. Discovered in 1879,
it's the oldest of the 5 FDA-approved artificial sweeteners.
In which foods is it used: Diet foods, chewing gum, toothpaste, beverages, sugar-free candy, and Sweet 'N
Examples: IBC Diet Root Beer
How bad is this food additive: Rat studies
in the early '70s showed saccharin to cause bladder cancer, and the FDA,
reacting to these studies, enacted a mandatory warning label to be printed on
every saccharin-containing product on the market. The mandate was removed after
20 years, but the question over saccharin's safety was never resolved. More
recent studies show that rats on saccharin-rich diets gain more weight than
those on high-sugar diets.
Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate, also called Disodium Acetate,
What is is: Preservatives used to prevent bacterial growth and maintain the pinkish color of
meats and fish.
In which foods is it used: Bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and cured, canned,
and packaged meats
Examples: Oscar Mayer Bacon
How bad is this food additive: Under certain conditions, such as
in processed meats, like hot dogs, luncheon meats and sausages, sodium nitrite and nitrate react with amino
acids to form cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines. This reaction can be
hindered by the addition of ascorbic acid, erythorbic acid, or alphatocopherol.
"Organic" manufacturers replace sodium nitrite and nitrate with celery
juice which naturally contains very high eves of sodium nitrite, but the
harmful effects remain the same. When the label says "no added
nitrites" but there is celery juice, food scientists say it still causes
colon cancer just the same.
What is is: A sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in some fruits. It's
about 60 percent as sweet as sugar and used to both sweeten and thicken.
In which foods is it used: Dried fruit, chewing gum, and reduced-sugar candy
Examples: Fudgsicle No Sugar Added
How bad is this food additive: Sorbitol is digested
slower than sugars, which makes it a better choice for diabetics. But like other
sugar alcohols, it can cause intestinal discomfort, gas, bloating, flatulence,
and diarrhea. It's another sweetener we call "crapinol".
What is is: A zero-calorie artificial sweetener made
by joining chlorine particles and sugar molecules. It's 600 times sweeter than
sugar and largely celebrated as the least damaging of the artificial sweeteners.
In which foods is it used: Sugar-free foods, pudding, beverages, some diet sodas, and Splenda
Examples: Coke Zero
How bad is this food additive: After
reviewing more than 110 human and animal studies, the FDA concluded that use of
sucralose does not cause cancer. The sweetener is one of only 3 artificial
sweeteners deemed safe by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Unlike
most artificial sweetener, it can be used in cooking and heat.
What is is: Sulfites are added to foods
as a preservative to halt bacterial action and preserve freshness
In which foods is it used: wine, dried fruits
How bad is this food additive: A small segment of the population, however, has been found
to develop hives, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath or even fatal shock
after consuming sulfites. For that reason, in 1986 FDA banned the use of
sulfites on fresh fruits and vegetables intended to be sold or served raw to
consumers. Sulfites added as a preservative in all other packaged and processed
foods must be listed on the product label.
See this page for more information about sulfites
Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) and Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow)
What is is: The second and third
most common food colorings, respectively.
In which foods is it used: Cereal, pudding,
bread mix, beverages, chips, cookies, and condiments
Examples: Sunny D
How bad is this food additive: Several studies have linked both dyes to
learning and concentration disorders in children, and there are piles of animal
studies demonstrating potential risks such as kidney and intestinal tumors. One
study found that mice fed high doses of sunset yellow had trouble righting
themselves in water. The FDA does not view these as serious risks to humans.
What is is: A common emulsifier (helps oils and water mix) and thickener made from
glucose in a reaction requiring a slimy bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris -
the same bacterial strain that appears as black rot on cruciferous vegetables
In which foods is it used: Whipped topping, dressings, marinades, custard,
and pie filling
Examples: Newman's Own Ranch Dressing
How bad is this food additive: Xanthan gum is associated with no adverse effects.
What is is: A sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in strawberries, mushrooms, and other
fruits and vegetables. It is most commonly extracted from the pulp of the birch
In which foods is it used: Sugar-free candy, yogurt, and beverages
Examples: Trident Spearmint Sugarless Gum with Xylitol
How bad is this food additive: Unlike real sugar, sugar alcohols don't encourage cavity-causing bacteria. They
do have a laxative effect, though, so heavy ingestion might cause intestinal
discomfort or gas.. It's another sweetener we call "crapinol".