food additives

Food Additives: How Can a Trip to the Grocery Store Be Hazardous?

Are you running late for office? Have no time to cook? Why don’t you just add some hot water to cup noodles? There you have it, sorted for breakfast! After a hectic day, there is no energy left to make dinner; just pop out a can of meat from the refrigerator and enjoy a hearty meal! 

Think again! This might be the reason behind your persistent bloating and constipation, which might damage your health in the long run. Have you ever wondered why there are more convenience stores than hospitals? Convenience comes at a hefty price, and all the foods that I’m talking about have one thing in common: food additives.

Food additives are any substances intentionally added to food during processing, packaging, storage, or transportation to perform a specific function. 

Let us understand food additives better. They are natural and artificial additives. They are broadly divided into four types: preservatives, flavourings, colourings, and sweeteners.

Natural Additives

Preservatives: Salt (Sodium chloride), Vinegar (Acetic acid), Sugar (Sucrose), Spices (e.g., cinnamon, cloves, rosemary)

Flavourings: Vanilla extract, Fruit extracts and juices, Spices 

Colourings: Caramel, Turmeric, Beet juice.

Sweeteners: Honey, Stevia

Artificial Additives


Nitrites and nitrates 249, 250, 251, 252

Sulfites BHA(butylated hydroxy anisole) and BHT(butylated hydroxytoluene, 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225, and 228 are synthetic antioxidants that are used in fats and oils to prevent rancidity, with some potential health concerns under investigation.

Sodium Benzoate 210, 211, 212, 213.

Flavourings: Artificial flavours are synthetically produced to mimic natural flavours or create new ones. E.g., Monosodium glutamate (MSG) 621.

Colourings: Food dyes are synthetically produced colours used for aesthetic appeal. E.g., tartrazine 102; yellow 2G107; sunset yellow FCF110; cochineal 120.

Sweeteners: Aspartame 951, sucralose.


Food additives and preservatives find extensive use in processed foods, serving various purposes to enhance shelf life, appearance, and flavour. One prevalent category where these additives are found is in pre-packaged meats. These meats often include nitrites and nitrates, employed to cure meats to prevent botulism. They are also used to prevent browning in dried fruits and wines.


Nitrates and nitrites have been linked to adverse health effects such as cancers, interference with thyroid function, and the body's ability to deliver oxygen. They may trigger asthma attacks in sensitive individuals.


Another common application of food additives and preservatives is in canned goods. These products frequently utilise preservatives such as sodium benzoate to prevent spoilage and maintain freshness over extended periods of storage. 


Research indicates that sodium benzoate could elevate the risk of inflammation, oxidative stress, obesity, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and allergies. It might also become benzene, a possible carcinogen, though the minimal amounts detected in drinks are considered safe.   


In baked goods, additives like calcium propionate (E282) impede mould growth, thus ensuring the product's longevity and quality.


Research involving 27 children revealed that the daily intake of bread containing calcium propionate led to symptoms in some participants, including irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances.


Snacks and chips represent another category where food additives are extensively utilised. These products often incorporate antioxidants such as BHA and BHT to prevent fat oxidation, which helps maintain the taste and texture of the snacks throughout their shelf life.


BHA and BHT have been linked to skin allergic reactions. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has labelled BHA as a potential carcinogen to humans.

In animal studies, prolonged exposure to elevated levels of BHT has proven toxic, leading to issues in the liver, thyroid, and kidneys, as well as impacting lung functionality and blood clotting in mice and rats. BHT has also been identified as a potential tumour promoter under certain conditions. There is limited evidence to suggest that high doses of BHT could mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, and inhibit the expression of male sex hormones, potentially causing negative effects on reproductive health.


Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame serve as a popular alternative to sugar, appealing for its minimal calorie contribution to our diet. It is directly utilised in a variety of processed foods, including puddings, dairy items, candies, soft drinks, baked goods, jams, and numerous other food and beverage products.


The World Health Organization (WHO) advises not to use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control in newly released guidelines, and the recommendation stems from findings indicating that these sweeteners do not aid in long-term weight reduction or management and could heighten the risk of developing non-communicable diseases.

How Do We Know Which Additives are in My Food?

Learning to read the ‘Nutrition Facts’ label on food products is the only way to make healthier choices. This label details the quantities of calories, carbohydrates, fats, fibre, proteins, and vitamins per serving, simplifying the comparison of nutritional values across similar items. It's important to compare the same type of food across different brands, as their nutritional content can vary significantly. For instance, one tomato sauce brand might contain more calories and sugar per serving than another.

Aim to consume more foods rich in vitamins, minerals (like calcium and iron), and fibre. Limit your intake of foods high in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium (salt), and steer clear of trans fats.

Remember, the % Daily Value (DV) for nutrients, such as a total fat of 10% in the provided example, assumes a daily intake of 2,000 calories. This means that by having one serving of this food item, you’re meeting 10% of the fat content required for the day. The daily calorie needs might be higher or lower based on factors like age, gender, activity level, current weight, and whether you're looking to lose or maintain weight.

Start by Checking

  1. The Serving Size. The nutritional information provided is based on a 2/3 cup serving.
  2. This package contains 8 servings. Consuming the entire package means you're ingesting 8 times the calories, carbs, fat, etc., listed on the label.
  3. The Total Carbohydrate section includes the types of carbohydrates present, such as sugars and fibre.
  4. Opt for foods higher in fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
  5. Select foods that are lower in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. Trans fats should be avoided.

Food Additives on Labels

The statement of ingredients on packaged food labels must include all food additives used. According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, these additives are listed by their class name followed by either the specific name of the additive or its corresponding number. For instance, look out for words such as preservatives, humectants, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents, flavours, stabilisers, etc.


By understanding the presence and nature of additives, we can tailor our diets to meet nutritional needs and preferences. So next time you hurriedly pick up food from a grocery store, make it a habit to read the food labels and then make a conscious decision about your family's health. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. Happy grocery shopping!

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Komala Rudra

Komala Rudra is a devoted mother and author who explores children's behavior and nutrition, offering valuable insights and practical guidance for parents and caregivers. Her writings aim to nurture healthy habits and stronger connections between parents and their little ones.

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