Here Are Some of the Top Food Additives to Avoid


You may be surprised to learn most processed foods are loaded with food additives and preservatives.

Food additives help extend shelf life, enhance flavor, and improve the appearance and/or texture of food. Preservatives serve as antimicrobial agents, protecting against the growth of molds and bacteria.

Even though the FDA has approved 3,000 different food additives generally recognized as safe (GRAS), there are documented harmful effects of food additives and preservatives.

As a consumer, it’s up to you to educate yourself about food additives and examine ingredient lists for the ones that may cause trouble.

So, which food additives are most concerning?

Good question!

Though the list is quite extensive, here are several of the most common food additives that you should avoid…

5 Harmful Food Additives and Preservatives to Avoid

Food Additives 2 1. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

One of the best-known additives, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a manufactured, low-cost flavor enhancer that’s in many foods including: broths, seasonings, salad dressings, packaged foods, canned and instant soups, instant noodles, fast foods, processed meats, and snacks.

It also goes by these names: maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, autolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, and even citric acid.

Here’s why it’s a concerning additive.

Consuming a generous amount, especially on an empty stomach, has been associated with a host of symptoms, referred to as “MSG symptom complex.” A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study found that some participants were MSG sensitive.

They noted several unpleasant reactions such as numbness, tingling, headache, muscle tightness, general weakness, and flushing. These are hallmark reactions of MSG symptom complex.

Here are several other symptoms that may indicate this condition:

  • Burning sensation in the face and neck
  • Profuse sweating
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain, heart palpitations

Although more research is needed, some studies hint that MSG is associated with weight gain, metabolic issues, neurotoxic effects, and detrimental effects on the reproductive organs. MSG is also a type of excitatory neurotoxin (excitotoxin), which can affect neuron firing and neuronal death. Excitotoxin effects are associated with temper outbursts, low mood, feelings of panic, distractibility, and confusion.

2. Sodium Nitrite

You might want to think twice about a charcuterie board. Cured meats, such as salami, ham, pepperoni (as well as bacon, sausages, and hot dogs), may be preserved with sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite blocks the growth of botulism-causing bacteria and prevents spoilage. It also gives cured meats their distinct color and flavor.

The problem with nitrites in cured meats is that they can be unstable and can react with naturally occurring components of protein to form nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. Nitrosamines can form in the meat or in the digestive tract after you consume it.

But that’s not all. Some research indicates that sodium nitrite may negatively impact thyroid function, blood vessels, blood sugar, and heart health.

3. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium (Ace K), aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose may provide sweetness without calories, but they come at a price!

Research suggests that artificial sweeteners may be associated with an increased risk of heart health issues, blood sugar instability, and may cause harmful changes in the gut microbiome.

Ironically, one study found that consuming diet soda containing sucralose and Ace K may lead to the creation of more fat cells. Another study indicated that long-term saccharin consumption may increase the risk of weight, blood sugar, and liver health issues.

Artificial sweeteners may cause feelings of anxiousness, disrupt normal nervous system function, and adversely impact the microbiome.

If you must have a low-cal sweetener, consider trying stevia, which is a much safer option!

4. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

BHA is a commonly used chemical food additive that slows the rate of autoxidation in food, which prevents changes in color, smell, and taste. It’s frequently added to butter, lard, meats, cereals, baked goods, sweets, beer, vegetable oils, potato chips, snack foods, nuts and nut products, and dehydrated potatoes.

The National Toxicology Program recognizes BHA as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Consistent evidence indicates that BHA causes growths in animals, but it isn’t clear yet if these findings apply to humans.

The European Union classifies BHA as an endocrine disruptor, as evidenced in animal studies, yet more research is needed for this to be conclusive.

5. Artificial Colors

The food industry dumps 15 million pounds of artificial dyes into our food every year! Sadly, foods that require artificial colors for visual appeal are almost always low-quality foods with little nutritional value, such as cereals, pop tarts, soft drinks, baked goods, and ice cream.

While nine synthetic colors are generally recognized as safe by the FDA, research indicates otherwise.

A UCLA study found that “all of the nine currently US-approved dyes raise health concerns of varying degrees,” citing several artificial colors as carcinogenic or contaminated with carcinogens (Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6). It also noted that at least four colors (Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) cause hypersensitivity reactions.

A number of studies in reputable medical journals indicate that some children with ADD/ADHD may be adversely affected by artificial food dyes. Mixtures of these artificial colors and sodium benzoate (a preservative) may be associated with hyperactivity and attention issues in children according to some research, but other studies indicate it isn’t. More research is needed.

Keep Looking

Especially if you have issues with digestion or general food sensitivities, be sure to check ingredient labels to avoid problematic food additives.

At BrainMD, we’re dedicated to providing the highest purity nutrients to improve your physical health and overall well-being. For more information about our full list of brain healthy supplements, please visit us at BrainMD.


Kim Henderson