Additives: Useful Or Dangerous?

HealthEnlight Your Daily Health GuidePeople have been using additives to flavor, preserve and color the food for centuries. Some additives extend the shelf life while others improve the taste of the food. But do any of these additives pose a health threat?

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Without additives, many of our favorite foods would taste boring and lack any visual appeal. To give an instance, without additives the bread we eat will rapidly become stale. A jelly will never gel and appear as a liquid without coloring and use of gelatine. Cola drinks get their distinctive color due to coloring and would look like plain water without it. While these foods are incomplete without all their respective additives, some additives have also evidently been proven to trigger allergic reactions. Some also have been claimed to have the potential to cause cancer (carcinogenic).


Processing and storage are the two factors that can lead to losing of natural color in foods. In order to make the food look more appetizing and meet the consumer’s expectations with the look and color of certain foods, manufacturers use color additives which help to retain the natural color of the food.

What harm can they do: Some color additives have been found to cause allergic reactions, such as asthma, hyperactivity in sensitive people, especially children.

Types of colorings: Tartrazine (E102), Quinoline yellow (E104), Sunset yellow (E11o), Beetroot red (E162), Caramel (E150).

Found in: Squashes, processed foods like sweets and confectionery, soft drinks, biscuits, and cakes.


Preservatives are used to extend the food shelf-life and protect it from bacterial contamination.  It is used in fatty foods, where rancidity needs to be prevented. Also in fruit juices to prevent them from turning brown.

What harm can they do: Preservatives like sulphur dioxide, in rare cases, can trigger allergic reactions, such as asthma. Nitrites also have the potential to convert into carcinogenic.

Types of preservatives: Sulphites (E220-28), Nitrates (E249-52), Benzoates (E210-19), Ascorbic acid/ascorbates (E300-4).

Found in: Soft drinks, fruit juices, processed meats, dried fruits, fruit jams, tinned fruits, crisps, biscuits.

Emulsifiers, Stabilizers, and Thickeners:

These are used to improve the texture and consistency of the food. Increase the smoothness, thickness and creaminess.

What harm can they do:  High concentrations of Guar gum can cause flatulence and abdominal pain. Carrageenan is known to have effects on the immune system and have the potential to cause cancer. Foods containing Sorbitol should not be consumed by infants as it may cause diarrhoea.

Types of Emulsifiers, Stabilizers, and Thickeners: Guar Gum (E412), Pectins (E440), Cellulose (E460), Glycerol (E422). You can find the list here.

Found in: bread, biscuits, ice cream, jams, chocolates, cakes, sauces, soups, spreads and frozen desserts.

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