Top 10 Food Additives and Preservatives to Avoid

Food additives and preservatives are added to food to extend its shelf life or to preserve its taste and color. But these additives and preservatives can be harmful and can lead to diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Read on to find out what are the top 10 food additives and preservatives you should avoid for a healthy lifestyle.

1. Artificial Sweeteners (E951)

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Foods that come labelled “sugar-free” or “diet” are often flavoured with artificial sweeteners to improve their taste. Among these, the most popular one is aspartame.

Not only is aspartame believed to be a neurotoxin that causes cognitive erosion and impacts short-term memory, it is also a carcinogen that can cause a number of ailments such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, chronic fatigue and emotional disorders among others.

Whether it goes by the name of aspartame or something else, it is worth noting that artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar derivatives. Although touted as no-calorie alternatives, artificial sweeteners can cause symptoms ranging from headaches, migraines and weight gain to serious health issues like cardiovascular disease.

2. High Fructose Corn Syrup

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Also known as HFCS, this is a highly refined artificial sweetener that is also attributed as the prime source of calories for most people. High fructose corn syrup is used in almost all types of processed foods and has been studied to not only elevate LDL cholesterol but also plays an instrumental part in the development of diabetes, tissue damage, and other harmful effects.

It is a usual sweetener in sodas and fruit drinks and is often seen as the culprit for high obesity levels and other related health concerns.

3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG / E621)

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Monosodium Glutamate (MSG / E621) – Image Source:

Commonly known as MSG, this flavor enhancer is a popular addition to soups, salad dressings, frozen entrees, chips and many types of restaurant foods. Studies have revealed MSG to be an excitotoxin which is a substance responsible for overexciting cells to the extent of damage or death.

MSG is believed to impact neurological brain pathways and disengage the satiation factor which is why this additive is commonly linked with weight gain. Some other symptoms associated with regular MSG use can include headaches, nausea, flushing and heart palpitations among others.

4. Sodium Nitrite

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This additive is chiefly used to preserve, color and flavor processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, ham, corned beef, smoked fish and other lunch meats. General consensus believes it to be highly carcinogenic afters it enters the digestive system.

Scientific evidence suggests that sodium nitrate has the ability to damage blood vessels, making arteries more prone to hardening and narrowing. Yet, despite its toxicity, this additive is still being used widely since it is a color fixer which turns the meat red. This makes old meat appear fresh and vibrant.

5. Trans-Fats

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The commercial use of trans-fats in packaged foods is to extend the shelf life of food items. When these trans-fats find their way into the human digestive system, they can wreak havoc by not only increasing LDL cholesterol levels but also depleting HDL cholesterol supplies. This activity significantly increases the risk of various heart related conditions as well as stroke.

Consuming too many trans-fats is also a primary cause of inflammation as well as diabetes and other health issues.

6. Artificial Food Coloring

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Artificial coloring is what gives sodas, fruit juices, candies and salad dressings their color. These are very harmful ingredients that have been studied to contribute to behavioural problems in children. Laboratory studies have revealed that the food dyes Blue 1 and Blue 2 may lead to chromosomal damage while Red 3 or the more recent Red 40 can be linked to thyroid cancer and more chromosomal damage.

Finally, Yellow 6 and Yellow Tartrazine have been studied to be linked with kidney and adrenal gland tumors.

7. Sodium Sulfite (E221)

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This is a preservative used in wine making as well as in other processed foods. Sulfites are additives that help preserve freshness in foods and are added to meats to retain color.

Sulfite sensitivity is also an issue for some people, most of whom have been observed to be asthmatic. When consumed by sulfite sensitive individuals, this preservative can trigger headaches, respiratory complications and rashes. In really severe cases, the sulphites can actually close down airway passages completely and cause cardiac arrest.

8. BHA and BHT (E320)

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These are common preservatives found in foods like cereals, potato chips, chewing gums and vegetable oils. Adding BHA and BHT into foods keeps it from changing color or flavor and prevents it from becoming rancid. This happens as both BHT and BHA prevent oils in foods from oxidizing.

Both additives are oxidants that are believed to form cancer causing reactive compounds in the body. Continuous consumption has also been linked to affecting the neurological system of the brain by altering behavior.

9. Sulfur Dioxide (E220)

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Sulfur Dioxide (E220) – Image Source:

Sulfur dioxide is occasionally used as a preservative in dried fruits owing to its antimicrobial properties. Its addition helps maintain the vibrant appearance of fruit and prevents rotting. It is also used in breakfast cereals, cookies, soft drinks, ice-cream and candies.

However, sulfur additives are toxic leading to common bronchial problems such as asthma, and other health issues like hypotension, anaphylactic shock, flushing and tingling sensations. In addition, sulfur dioxide also destroys vitamins B1 and E in the body.

10. Sodium Benzoate

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Sodium Benzoate – Image Source:

This additive is used in fruit juices, carbonated drinks and pickles to impede the growth of microorganisms in acidic foods. However, when used in beverages also containing ascorbic acid or vitamin C, sodium benzoate forms small amounts of benzene, a cancer causing substance.

In addition, sodium benzoate can deprive cells of oxygen and break down the immune system. Not to be confused with benzoic acid, which is naturally found in low levels in many fruits, sodium benzoate is a synthesized additive.

What are your tips to avoid harmful food additives?

There are a few things you can do to avoid harmful food additives:

1. Read labels carefully and avoid processed foods as much as possible.

2. Buy fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and cook them yourself.

3. Avoid processed meats and cheeses.

Which preservatives are bad for you?

Not all preservatives are bad for you. It all depends on the product. The main objective of using preservatives is to keep the product fresh. The bad news is that preservatives are not good for you.  The main preservatives to be avoided are sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, and calcium benzoate.

These preservatives are commonly found in soft drinks, fruit juices, and processed foods. They can cause allergic reactions such as asthma and eczema, and can also cause hyperactivity in children. Such preservatives should be avoided at all cost.

Are food preservatives dangerous to eat?

No. Food preservatives are not dangerous since the additives in them are approved by the FDA. Preservatives are simply additives which prevent foods from spoiling and becoming uneatable due to bacteria growth and other factors. And the purpose of food preservatives is to make sure that you can enjoy the food you brought from the market for a longer duration of time.

The Bottom Line

While some food supplements have been linked to some pretty horrible side effects, there are many others that can be safely used as part of a healthy diet.

When shopping for groceries to control your diet, start reading the ingredients labels and decide what is really included in your favorite foods.

In addition, try to reduce processed and packaged foods and try to include more fresh ingredients in your diet to minimize the amount of extra food.

Thanks for reading our blog on food additives and preservatives! We hope you were able to learn about harmful food additives that are commonly found in food that you enjoy.

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