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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 store.

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 (EAFUS).

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.

What are 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.

  • Alpha-Tocopherol

    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 Antioxidants V8

    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.

  • Artificial Flavoring

    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.

  • Ascorbic Acid

    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

    Examples: Kellogg's Special K

    How bad is this food additive: Vitamin C is associated with no known risks.

  • Aspartame (aka, Nutrasweet)

    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 cancers.

  • BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene)

    What is is: widely used antioxidant food additive; Petroleum-derived antioxidants used to preserve fats and oils.

    In 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 added fats

    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 different colors.

    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 be avoided.

    See this page for more information about food colorings and food color additives

  • Caffeine

    What is is: Stimulant, naturally occurring in coffee and tea, added to colas.

    In which foods is it used: Cola beverages, "high energy" drinks

    Examples: Coca Cola, Red Bull

    How bad is this food additive: In moderation, may even have positive effects. Too much may lead to jitters and disrupted sleep. See this page for much more information .

  • Carrageenan

    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

    Examples: Ben & 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 .

  • Casein

    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 amino acids.

    In which foods is it used: Protein bars, shakes, ice cream, and other frozen desserts

    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.

  • Cochineal Extract or Carmine

    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.

  • Corn Syrup

    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 products.

    In which foods is it used: Almost everything, including bread, soup, sauces, frozen dinners, and frozen treats

    Examples: Kellogg's 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.

  • Dextrose

    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

    Examples: Jif 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.

  • High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

    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 beverages

    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 than sugar.

  • 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

    Examples: Slim 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 packaging.

  • Interesterified Fat

    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 Milano Cookies

    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.

  • Lecithin

    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

    Examples: Nutella

    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.

  • Maltodextrin

    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.

  • Mannitol

    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 effects.

  • 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.

  • Mono- and Diglycerides

    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.

  • Olestra

    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.

  • Partially 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.

  • Propyl Gallate

    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 Bromate

    What is is: An antioxidant used

    In which foods is it used:


    How bad is this food additive:

  • Red #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 America.

    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

  • Salicylates

  • Saccharin

    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 Low

    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, Sodium Lactate

    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.

  • Sorbitol

    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".

  • Sucralose

    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.

  • Sulfites

    What is is: Sulfites are added to foods as a preservative to halt bacterial action and preserve freshness and color.

    In which foods is it used:
    wine, dried fruits

    White wines

    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 Original

    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.

  • Xanthan Gum

    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 like broccoli.

    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.

  • Xylitol

    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 tree.

    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".

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Interesting Reads:

THE PREPPER'S CANNING & PRESERVING BIBLE: [13 in 1] Your Path to Food Self-Sufficiency. Canning, Dehydrating, Fermenting, Pickling & More, Plus The Food Preservation Calendar for a Sustainable Pantry

The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre! Paperback

The Citizens' Guide to Geologic Hazards: A Guide to Understanding Geologic Hazards Including Asbestos, Radon, Swelling Soils, Earthquakes, Volcanoes

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

Book: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History Paperback

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