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CSPI’s Guide to Food Additives
Introduction to Food Additives
Shopping was easy when most food came from farms. Now, factory-made foods have made chemical additives a significant part of our diet. Most people may not be able to pronounce the names of many of these chemicals, but they still want to know what the chemicals do and which ones are safe and which are poorly tested or dangerous. This listing provides that information
for most common additives. A simple general rule about additives is to avoid sodium nitrite, saccharin, caffeine, olestra, acesulfame K, and artificial coloring. Not only are they among the most questionable additives, but they are used primarily in foods of low nutritional value. Also, don’t forget the two most familiar additives: sugar and salt. They may pose the greatest risk
because we consume so much of them. Additional information about acesulfame-K, olestra, saccharin, and other additives is available elsewhere in this Web site. Use the search engine provided to locate that information.
ANTIOXIDANTS retard the oxidation of unsaturated fats and oils, colorings, and flavorings. Oxidation leads to rancidity, flavor changes, and loss of color. Most of those effects are caused by reaction of oxygen in the air with fats.
CARCINOGEN is a chemical or other agent that causes cancer in animals or humans.
CHELATING AGENTS trap trace amounts of metal atoms that would otherwise cause food to discolor or go rancid.
EMULSIFIERS keep oil and water mixed together.
FLAVOR ENHANCERS have little or no flavor of their own, but accentuate the natural flavor of foods. They are often used when very little of a natural ingredient is present.
THICKENING AGENTS are natural or chemically modified carbohydrates that absorb some of the water that is present in food, thereby making the food thicker. Thickening agents “stabilize” factory-made foods by keeping the complex mixtures of oils, water, acids, and solids well mixed.
Chemicals usually are tested for an ability to cause cancer by feeding large dosages to small numbers of rats and mice. Large dosages are used to compensate for the small number of animals that can be used (a few hundred is considered a big study, though it is tiny compared to the U.S. population of 270 million). Also, the large dosages can compensate for the possibility that rodents may be less sensitive than people to a particular chemical (as happened with thalidomide). Some people claim that such tests are improper and that large amounts of any chemical would cause cancer. That is not true. Huge amounts of most chemicals do not cause cancer. When a large dosage causes cancer, most scientists believe that a smaller amount would also cause cancer, but less frequently. It would be nice if lower, more realistic dosages could be used, but a test using low dosages and a small number of animals would be extraordinarily insensitive. It would also be nice if test-tube tests not using any animals were developed that could cheaply and accurately identify cancer-causing chemicals. While some progress has been made in that direction, those tests have not proven reliable. Thus, the standard high-dosage cancer test on small numbers of animals is currently the only practical, reasonably reliable way to identify food additives (and other chemicals) that might cause cancer.
The Delaney Clause is an important part of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. That important consumer-protection clause specifically bans any additive that “is found to induce cancer when ingested by man or animal.” The food and chemical industries are seeking to weaken or repeal that law.
Alphabetical Listing of Additives
Safe. The additive appears to be safe
Cut back on this. Not toxic, but large amounts may be unsafe or promote bad nutrition.
Caution. May pose a risk and needs to be better tested. Try to avoid.
Certain people should avoid these additives.
Everyone should avoid. Unsafe in amounts consumed or is very poorly tested and not worth any risk.
ACESULFAME-K… Artificial sweetener: Baked goods, chewing gum, gelatin desserts.This artificial sweetener, manufactured by Hoechst, a giant German chemical company, is widely used around the world. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. In the United States, for several years acesulfame-K (the K is the chemical symbol for potassium) was permitted only in such foods as sugar-free baked goods, chewing gum, and gelatin desserts. In July 1998, the FDA allowed this chemical to be used in soft drinks, thereby greatly increasing consumer exposure. The safety tests of acesulfame-K were conducted in the 1970s and were of mediocre quality. Key rat tests were afflicted by disease in the animal colonies; a mouse study was several months too brief and did not expose animals during gestation. Two rat studies suggest that the additive might cause cancer. It was for those reasons that in 1996 several cancer experts and the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to require better testing before permitting acesulfame-K in soft drinks. In addition, acetoacetamide, a breakdown product, has been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs.Administration of 1% and 5% acetoacetamide in the diet for just three months caused benign thyroid tumors in rats.
ALGINATE, PROPYLENE GLYCOL ALGINATE …
Thickening agents, foam stabilizer: Candy, cheese, ice cream, yogurt. Alginate, an apparently safe derivative of seaweed (kelp), maintains the desired texture in dairy products, canned frosting, and other factory-made foods.Propylene glycol alginate, a chemically-modified algin, thickens acidic foods (soda pop, salad dressing) and can stabilize the foam in beer.
(Vitamin E) … Antioxidant, nutrient: Vegetable oil. Vitamin E is abundant in whole wheat, rice germ, and vegetable oils. It is destroyed by the refining and bleaching of flour. Vitamin E prevents oils from going rancid. Recent studies indicate that large amounts of vitamin E may help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
ARTIFICIAL COLORINGS. Most artificial colorings are synthetic chemicals that do not occur in nature. Because colorings are used almost solely in foods of low nutritional value (candy, soda pop, gelatin desserts, etc.), you should simply avoid all artificially colored foods. In addition to problems mentioned below, colorings cause hyperactivity in some sensitive children. The use of coloring usually indicates that fruit or other natural ingredient has not been used.
BLUE 1 … Artificial coloring: Baked goods, beverages, candy. Inadequately tested; suggestions of a small cancer risk.
BLUE 2 … Artificial coloring: Beverages, candy, pet food. The largest study suggested, but did not prove, that this dye caused brain tumors in male mice. The FDA concluded that there is “reasonable certainty of no harm.”
CITRUS RED 2 … Artificial coloring: Skin of some Florida oranges only. Studies indicated that this additive causes cancer. The dye does not seep through the orange skin into the pulp. No risk except when eating peel.
GREEN 3 … Artificial colorings: Beverages, candy. A 1981 industry-sponsored study gave hints of bladder cancer, but FDA re-analyzed the data using other statistical tests and concluded that the dye was safe. Fortunately, this possibly carcinogenic dye is rarely used.
RED 3 … Artificial coloring: Cherries in fruit cocktail, candy, baked goods. The evidence that this dye caused thyroid tumors in rats is “convincing,” according to a 1983 review committee report requested by FDA. FDA’s recommendation that the dye be banned was overruled by pressure from elsewhere in the Reagan Administration.
RED 40 … Artificial coloring: Candy, gelatin desserts, pastry, pet food, sausage, soda pop. The most widely used food dye. While this is one of the most-tested food dyes, the key mouse tests were flawed and inconclusive. An FDA review committee acknowledged problems, but said evidence of harm was not “consistent” or “substantial.” Like other dyes, Red 40 is used mainly in junk foods.
YELLOW 5 … Artificial coloring: Baked goods, candy, gelatin dessert, pet food. The second most widely used coloring causes mild allergic reactions, primarily in aspirin-sensitive persons.
YELLOW 6 … Artificial coloring: Baked goods, candy, beverages, gelatin, sausage. Industry-sponsored animal tests indicated that this dye, the third most widely used, causes tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. In addition, small amounts of several carcinogens contaminate Yellow 6. However, the FDA reviewed those data and found reasons to conclude that Yellow 6 does not pose a significant cancer risk to humans. Yellow 6 may also cause occasional allergic reactions.
ARTIFICIAL AND NATURAL FLAVORING … Flavoring: Breakfast cereals, candy, gelatin desserts, soda pop, and many other foods. Hundreds of chemicals are used to mimic natural flavors; many may be used in a single flavoring, such as for cherry soda pop. Most flavoring chemicals also occur in nature and are probably safe, but they are used almost exclusively in junk foods. Their use indicates that the real thing (often fruit) has been left out. Companies keep the identity of artificial (and natural) flavorings a deep secret. Flavorings may include substances to which some people are sensitive, such as MSG or HVP.
ASCORBIC ACID (Vitamin C), SODIUM ASCORBATE… Antioxidant, nutrient, color stabilizer: Cereals, cured meats, fruit drinks. Ascorbic acid helps maintain the red color of cured meat and prevents the formation of nitrosamines, which promote cancer (see SODIUM NITRITE). It helps prevent loss of color and flavor by reacting with unwanted oxygen. It is used as a nutrient additive in drinks and breakfast cereals. Sodium ascorbate is a more soluble form of ascorbic acid. ERYTHORBIC ACID is very similar to ascorbic acid, but has no value as a vitamin. Large amounts of ascorbic acid may reduce the severity of colds and offer other health benefits.
ASPARTAME ….Artificial sweetener: “Diet” foods, including drink mixes, gelatin desserts, low-calorie frozen desserts, soft drinks, tabletop sweetener. Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), made up primarily of two amino acids, was thought to be the perfect artificial sweetener, but questions have arisen about the quality of the cancer tests, which should be repeated. Some persons have reported adverse behavioral effects (dizziness, hallucinations, headache) after drinking diet soda, but such reports have not been confirmed in controlled studies. If you think you’ve experienced adverse effects due to aspartame, avoid it. Also, people with the rare disease PKU (phenylketonuria) need to avoid it. There is no good evidence that this or other artificial sweeteners have helped people lose weight. Indeed, rates of obesity have soared since 1970 while Americans consumed increasing amounts of artificial sweeteners!
BETA-CAROTENE … Coloring; nutrient: Margarine, non-dairy whiteners, shortening. Beta-carotene is used as an artificial coloring and a nutrient supplement. The body converts it to Vitamin A, which is part of the light-detection mechanism of the eye and which helps maintain the normal condition of mucous membranes. Large amounts of beta-carotene in the form of dietary supplements increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers and did not reduce the risk in non-smokers. Smokers should certainly not take beta-carotene supplements, but the small amounts used as food additives are safe.
BROMINATED VEGETABLE OIL (BVO) … Emulsifier, clouding agent: Soft drinks.BVO keeps flavor oils in suspension and gives a cloudy appearance to citrus-flavored soft drinks. Eating BVO leaves small residues in body fat; it is unclear whether those residues pose any risk. Fortunately, BVO is not widely used.
BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA) … Antioxidant: Cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, vegetable oil. BHA retards rancidity in fats, oils, and oil-containing foods. While most studies indicate it is safe, some studies demonstrated that it caused cancer in rats. This
synthetic chemical can be replaced by safer chemicals (e.g., vitamin E), safer processes (e.g., packing foods under nitrogen instead of air), or can simply be left out (many brands of oily foods, such as potato chips, don’t use any antioxidant)
BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE (BHT) … Antioxidant: Cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, oils, etc. BHT retards rancidity in oils. It either increased or decreased the risk of cancer in various animal studies.Residues of BHT occur in human fat. BHT is unnecessary or is easily replaced by safe substitutes (see discussion of BHA). Avoid it when possible.
CAFFEINE … Stimulant: Naturallyoccurring in cocoa, coffee, tea, coffee-flavored yogurt and
frozen desserts. Additive in gum, soft drinks, and waters. Caffeine is the only drug that is present naturally or added to widely consumed foods (quinine is the other drug used in foods). It is mildly addictive, one possible reason that makers of soft drinks add it to their products. Many coffee drinkers experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, sleepiness, and lethargy, when they stop drinking coffee. Because caffeine increases the risk of miscarriages (and possibly birth defects) and inhibits fetal growth, it should be avoided by women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant. It also may make it harder to get pregnant (but don’t use it as a birth-control pill!). Caffeine also keeps many people from sleeping, causes jitteriness, and affects calcium metabolism. The caffeine in a cup or two of coffee is harmless to most people. But if you drink more than a couple of cups of coffee or cans of caffeine-containing soda per day, experience symptoms noted above, are at risk of osteoporosis, or are pregnant, you should rethink your habit.
CALCIUM (or SODIUM) PROPIONATE … Preservative: Bread, cakes, pies, rolls. Calcium propionate prevents mold growth on bread and rolls. The calcium is a beneficial mineral; the propionate is safe. Sodium propionate is used in pies and cakes, because calcium alters the action of chemical leavening agents.
CALCIUM (or SODIUM) STEAROYL LACTYLATE … Dough conditioner, whipping agent: Artificial whipped cream, bread dough, cake fillings, processed egg whites. These additives strengthen bread dough so it can be used in bread-making machinery and help produce a more uniform grain and greater volume. They act as whipping agents in dried, liquid, or frozen egg whites and artificial whipped cream. SODIUM STEAROYL FUMARATE serves the same function.
CARMINE OR COCHINEAL EXTRACT … Artificial coloring Cochineal extract is a coloring extracted from the eggs of the cochineal beetle, which lives on cactus plants in Peru, the Canary Islands, and elsewhere. Carmine is a more purified coloring made from cochineal. In both cases, the actual substance that provides the color is carminic acid. These colorings, which are extremely stable, are used in some red, pink, or purple candy, yogurt, Campari, ice cream, beverages, and many other foods, as well as drugs and cosmetics. These colorings have caused allergic reactions that range from hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. It is not known how many people suffer from this allergy. The Food and Drug Administration should ban cochineal extract and carmine or, at the very least, require that they be identified clearly on food labels so that people could avoid them. Natural or synthetic substitutes are available. A label statement should also disclose that, Carmine is extracted from dried insects so that vegetarians and others who want to avoid animal products could do so.
CARRAGEENAN … Thickening and stabilizing agent: Chocolate milk, ice cream, infant formula, jelly.Carrageenan is obtained from seaweed. Large amounts of carrageenan have harmed test animals’colons; the small amounts in food are safe.
CASEIN, SODIUM CASEINATE … Thickening and whitening agent: Coffee creamers, ice cream, ice milk, sherbet. Casein, the principal protein in milk, is a nutritious protein containing adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.
CITRIC ACID, SODIUM CITRATE … Acid, flavoring, chelating agent: Candy, carbonated beverages, fruit drink, ice cream, instant potatoes, sherbert.Citric acid is versatile, widely used, cheap, and safe. It is an important metabolite in virtually all living organisms and is especially abundant naturally in citrus fruits and berries. It is used as a strong acid, a tart flavoring, and an antioxidant. Sodium citrate, also safe, is a buffer that controls the acidity of gelatin desserts, jam, ice cream, candy, and other foods.
COCHINEAL EXTRACT: see CARMINE
CORN SYRUP … Sweetener, thickener: Candy, imitation dairy foods, snack foods, syrups, toppings.Corn syrup,which consists mostly of dextrose, is a sweet, thick liquid made by treating cornstarch with acids or enzymes. It may be dried and used as corn syrup solids in coffee whiteners and other dry products. Corn syrup contains no nutritional value other than calories, promotes tooth decay, and is used mainly in foods with little intrinsic nutritional value.
CYCLAMATE … Artificial sweetener: Diet foods.This controversial high-potency sweetener was used in the United States in diet foods until 1970, at which time it was banned. Animal studies indicated that it causes cancer. Now, based on animal studies, it (or a byproduct) is believed not to cause cancer directly, but to increase the potency of other carcinogens and to
harm the testes.
DEXTROSE (GLUCOSE, CORN SUGAR) … Sweetener, coloring agent: Bread, caramel, cookies, soda pop, many other foods. Dextrose is an important chemical in every living organism. A sugar, it is a source of sweetness in fruits and honey. Added to foods as a sweetener, it represents empty calories and contributes to tooth decay. Dextrose turns brown when heated and contributes to the color of bread crust and toast. Americans consume about 25 pounds per year of dextrose — and a total of about 150 pounds per year of all refined sugars.
EDTA … Chelating agent: Canned shellfish, margarine, mayonnaise, processed fruits and vegetables, salad dressing, sandwich spreads, soft drinks. Modern food-manufacturing technology, which involves rollers, blenders, and containers made of metal, results in trace amounts of metal contamination in food. EDTA (ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid) traps
metal impurities, which would otherwise promote rancidity and the breakdown of artificial colors. It is safe.
ERYTHORBIC ACID … Antioxidant, color stabilizer: Cured meats. see ASCORBIC ACID above.
FERROUS GLUCONATE … Coloring, nutrient: Black olives. Used by the olive industry to generate a uniform jet-black color and in pills as a source of iron. Safe.
FOOD-STARCH, MODIFIED see STARCH, MODIFIED below.
FUMARIC ACID … Tartness agent: Gelatin desserts, pie fillings, powdered drinks, pudding. A solid at room temperature, inexpensive, highly acidic, fumaric acid is the ideal source of tartness and acidity in dry food products. However, it dissolves slowly in cold water, a drawback cured by adding DIOCTYL SODIUM SULFOSUCCINATE (DSS), a detergent-like additive that appears to be safe.
GELATIN … Thickening and gelling agent: Beverages, cheese spreads, ice cream, powdered dessert mixes, yogurt. Gelatin is a protein obtained from animal hides and bones. It has little nutritional value, because it contains little or none of several essential amino acids.
GLYCERIN (GLYCEROL) … Maintains water content: Baked goods, candy, fudge, marshmallows. In nature, glycerin forms the backbone of fat and oil molecules. The body uses it as a source of energy or as a starting material in making more-complex molecules.
GUMS: Arabic, Furcelleran, Ghatti, Guar, Karaya,Locust Bean, Tragacanth, Xanthan … Thickening agents, stabilizers: Beverages, candy, cottage cheese, dough, drink mixes, frozen
pudding, ice cream, salad dressing. Gums are derived from natural sources (bushes, trees, seaweed, bacteria) and are poorly tested, though probably safe. They are not absorbed by the body. They are used to thicken foods, prevent sugar crystals from forming in candy, stabilize beer foam (arabic), form a gel in pudding (furcelleran), encapsulate flavor oils in powdered drink mixes, or keep oil and water mixed together in salad dressings. Gums are often used to replace fat in low-fat ice cream, baked goods, and salad dressings. Tragacanth has caused occasional severe allergic reactions.
HEPTYL PARABEN … Preservative: Beer, non-carbonated soft drinks. Heptyl paraben — short for the heptyl ester of para-hydroxybenzoic acid — is a preservative. Studies suggest that this rarely used additive chemical is safe, but it, like other additives in alcoholic beverages, has never been tested in the presence of alcohol (such as in animals weakened by long-term consumption of alcohol).
HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP … Sweetener: Soft drinks, other processed foods. Corn syrup can be treated with enzymes to convert some of its dextrose to fructose, which results in High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). HFCS has largely replaced ordinary sugar used in soft drinks and many other foods because it is cheaper. Americans consume about 59 pounds per year of HFCS (and a total of 150 pounds per year of all refined sugars).
HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL … Fat, oil, shortening: Baked goods, crackers, fried restaurant foods, margarine. Vegetable oil, usually a liquid, can be made into a semi-solid shortening by reacting it with hydrogen. Hydrogenation reduces the levels of polyunsaturated oils — and also creates trans fats, which promote heart disease (they act like saturated fats). Ideally, food manufacturers would replace hydrogenated shortening with less-harmful ingredients.
HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (HVP) … Flavor enhancer: Beef stew,frankfurters, instant soups, sauce mixes. HVP consists of vegetable (usually soybean) protein that has been chemically broken down to the amino acids of which it is composed. HVP is used to bring out the natural flavor of food (and, perhaps, to enable companies to use less real food). It contains MSG and may cause adverse reactions in sensitive individuals.
INVERT SUGAR … Sweetener: Candy, soft drinks, many other foods.Invert sugar, a 50-50 mixture of two sugars, dextrose and fructose, is sweeter and more soluble than sucrose (table sugar). Invert sugar forms when sucrose is split in two by an enzyme or acid. It provides “empty calories,” contributes to tooth decay, and should be avoided.
LACTIC ACID … Controls acidity: Carbonated beverages, cheese, frozen desserts, spanish olives.This safe acid occurs in almost all living organisms. It inhibits spoilage in Spanish-type olives, balances the acidity in cheese-making, and adds tartness to frozen desserts, carbonated fruit-flavored drinks, and other foods.
LACTOSE … Sweetener: Breakfast pastry, whipped topping mix Lactose, a carbohydrate found only in milk, is one of Nature’s ways of delivering calories to infant mammals.One-sixth as sweet as table sugar, lactose is added to food as a slightly sweet source of carbohydrate. Milk turns sour when bacteria convert lactose to lactic acid. Many people, especially non-Caucasians, have trouble digesting lactose. Bacteria in their guts may produce gas.
LECITHIN … Emulsifier, antioxidant: Baked goods, chocolate, ice cream, margarine. A common constituent of animal and plant tissues, lecithin is a source of the nutrient choline. It keeps oil and water from separating out, retards rancidity, reduces spattering in a frying pan, and leads to fluffier cakes. Major natural sources are egg yolk and soybeans.
MANNITOL … Sweetener, other uses: Chewing gum, low-calorie foods. Not quite as sweet as sugar and poorly absorbed by the body, it contributes only half as many calories as sugar. Used as the “dust” on chewing gum, mannitol prevents gum from absorbing moisture and becoming
sticky. Safe — except that large amounts may have a laxative effect.
MONO- and DIGLYCERIDES … Emulsifier: Baked goods, candy, margarine, peanut butter. Makes bread softer and prevents staling, improves the stability of margarine, makes caramels less sticky, and prevents the oil in peanut butter from separating out. Mono- and diglycerides are safe, though most foods they are used in are high in refined flour, sugar, or fat.
MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE (MSG) … Flavor enhancer: Chips, frozen entrees, restaurant foods, salad dressing, soup.This amino acid brings out the flavor in many foods. While that may sound like a treat for taste buds, the use of MSG allows companies to reduce the amount of real ingredients in their foods, such as chicken in chicken soup. In the 1960s, it was discovered that large amounts of MSG fed to infant mice destroyed nerve cells in the brain. After that research was publicized, public pressure forced baby-food companies to stop adding MSG to their products (it was used to make the foods taste better to parents). Careful studies have shown that some people are sensitive to MSG. Reactions include headache, nausea, weakness, and burning sensation in the back of neck and forearms. Some people complain of wheezing, changes in heart rate, and difficulty breathing. Some people claim to be sensitive to very small amounts of MSG, but no good studies have been done to determine just how little MSG can cause a reaction in the most-sensitive people. To protect the public’s health, manufacturers and restaurateurs should use less or no MSG and the amounts of MSG should
be listed on labels of foods that contain significant amounts. People who believe they are sensitive to MSG should be aware that other ingredients, such as natural flavoring and hydrolyzed vegetable protein, also contain glutamate. Also, foods such as Parmesan cheese and tomatoes contain glutamate that occurs naturally, but no reactions have been reported to those foods.
OLESTRA (Olean) … Fat substitute: Chips, crackers. Olestra is Procter & Gamble’s synthetic fat that is not absorbed by the body, but runs right through. Procter & Gamble suggests that replacing regular fat with olestra will help people lose weight and lower the risk of heart disease. Olestra has been proven to cause diarrhea and loose stools, abdominal cramps, flatulence, and other adverse effects. Those symptoms are sometimes severe and incapacitating. (Procter & Gamble has publicized studies that it says show that olestra does not cause gastrointestinal problems, but those studies were less sensitive (less able to detect problems) than and do not negate the earlier studies). Even more importantly, olestra reduces the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble carotenoids (such as alpha and beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and canthaxanthin) from fruits and vegetables. Those nutrients are thought by many experts to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Olestra enables manufacturers to offer greasy-feeling low-fat snacks, but consumers would be much better off with baked snacks, which are perfectly safe and just as low in calories. In 1996 the FDA approved olestra for use in
salty snack foods, but Procter & Gamble hopes to get approval in the future for use in shortening, peanut butter, ice cream, and many other foods. The more widely available it is, the greater the problems it will cause. In 1998, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and several snack-food companies urged the FDA and Federal Trade Commission not to allow products made with olestra to be called “fat free.” Such products contain substantial amounts of indigestible fat.
PHOSPHORIC ACID; PHOSPHATES … Acidulant, chelating agent, buffer, emulsifier, nutrient, discoloration inhibitor: Baked goods, breakfast cereals, cheese, cured meat, dehydrated
potatoes, powdered foods, soda pop Phosphoric acid acidifies and flavors cola beverages. CALCIUM and IRON PHOSPHATES act as mineral supplements. SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE is a leavening agent. CALCIUM and AMMONIUM PHOSPHATES serve as food for yeast in baking. SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE prevents discoloration in potatoes and sugar syrups. While excessive consumption of phosphates could lead to dietary imbalances that might contribute to osteoporosis, only a small fraction of the phosphate in the American diet comes from additives. Most comes from meat and dairy products.
POLYSORBATE 60 …. Emulsifier: Baked goods, frozen desserts, imitation dairy products. Polysorbate 60 is short for polyoxyethylene-(20)- sorbitan monostearate. It and its close relatives, POLYSORBATE 65 and 80, work the same way as mono- and diglycerides, but smaller amounts are needed. They keep baked goods from going stale, keep dill oil dissolved in bottled dill pickles, help coffee whiteners dissolve in coffee, and prevent oil from separating out of artificial whipped cream.
POTASSIUM BROMATE … Flour improver: Bread and rolls.This additive has long been used to increase the volume of bread and to produce bread with a fine crumb (the not-crust part of bread) structure. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to form innocuous bromide. However, bromate itself causes cancer in animals. The tiny amounts of bromate that may remain in bread pose a small risk to consumers. Bromate has been banned virtually worldwide except in Japan and the United States. It is rarely used in California because a cancer warning might be required on the label.
PROPYL GALLATE … Antioxidant preservative: Chewing gum, chicken soup base, meat products, potato sticks, vegetable oil Propyl gallate retards the spoilage of fats and oils and is often used with BHA and BHT, because of the synergistic effects these preservatives have. The best long-term feeding study was peppered with suggestions (but not proof) of cancer. Avoid.
QUININE … Flavoring: Bitter lemon, quinine water, tonic water.This drug can cure malaria and is used as a bitter flavoring in a few soft drinks. There is a slight chance that quinine causes birth defects, so, to be on the safe side, pregnant women should avoid quinine-containing beverages and drugs. Relatively poorly tested.
SACCHARIN … Artificial sweetener: “Diet” products, soft drinks (especially fountain drinks at restaurants), tabletop sweetener. Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) is 350 times sweeter than sugar and is used in dietetic foods or as a tabletop sugar substitute. Studies have not shown that saccharin helps people lose weight. Many studies on animals have shown that saccharin can cause cancer of the urinary bladder. In other rodent studies, saccharin has caused cancer of the uterus, ovaries, skin, blood vessels, and other organs. Other studies have shown that saccharin increases the potency of other cancer-causing chemicals. And the best epidemiology study (done by the National Cancer Institute) found that the use of artificial sweeteners (saccharin and cyclamate) was associated with a higher incidence of bladder cancer. In 1977, the FDA proposed that saccharin be banned, because of studies that it causes cancer in animals. However, Congress intervened and has permitted it to be used, provided that foods bear a warning notice. It has been replaced in many products by aspartame (NutraSweet). In 1997, the diet-food industry began pressuring the U.S. and Canadian governments and the World Health Organization to take saccharin off their lists of cancer-causing chemicals. The industry acknowledges that saccharin causes bladder cancer in male rats, but argues that those tumors are caused by a mechanism that would not occur in humans. Many public health experts respond by stating that, even if that still-unproved mechanism were correct in male rats, saccharin could cause cancer by additional mechanisms and that saccharin has caused bladder cancer in mice and in female rats and other cancers in both rats and mice. Also, it increases the potency of other carcinogens and has been associated with a higher risk of cancer in humans. Avoid.
SALATRIM … Modified fat: baked goods, candy. This manufactured fat (developed by Nabisco) has the physical properties of regular fat, but the manufacturer claims it provides only about 5/9 as many calories. Its use can enable companies to make reduced-calorie claims on their products. Salatrim’s low calorie content results from its content of stearic acid, which the manufacturer says is absorbed poorly, and short-chain fatty acids, which provide fewer calories per unit weight. Critics have charged that it does not provide as big a calorie reduction as claimed by Nabisco. Moreover, only very limited testing has been done to determine
effects on humans. Eating small amounts of salatrim is probably safe, but large amounts (30g or more per day) increase the risk of such side effects as stomach cramps and nausea. No tests have been done to determine if the various food additives (salatrim, olestra, mannitol, and sorbitol) that cause gastrointestinal symptoms can act in concert to cause greater effects. Nabisco declared salatrim safe and has marketed it, as the law allows, without formal FDA approval. (Nabisco has since sold salatrim to another company, Cultor.) In June 1998, the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to ban salatrim until better tests were done and demonstrated safety. SALT (Sodium Chloride) … … Flavoring: Most processed foods, crackers, potato chips, soup. Salt is used liberally in many processed foods. Other additives contribute additional sodium. A diet high in sodium increases the risk or severity of high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Everyone should eat less salt: avoid salty processed foods, use salt sparingly, and enjoy other seasonings.
SODIUM BENZOATE … Preservative: Carbonated drinks, fruit juice, pickles, preserves. Manufacturers have used sodium benzoate for a century to prevent the growth of microorganisms in acidic foods.
SODIUM CARBOXYMETHYLCELLULOSE (CMC) …
Thickening and stabilizing agent; prevents sugar from crystallizing: Beer, candy, diet foods, ice cream, icings, pie fillings. CMC is made by reacting cellulose with a derivative of acetic acid. Studies indicate it is safe.
SODIUM NITRITE, SODIUM NITRATE … Preservative, coloring, flavoring: Bacon, corned beef, frankfurters, ham, luncheon meats, smoked fish. Meat processors love sodium nitrite because it stabilizes the red color in cured meat (without nitrite, hot dogs and bacon would look gray) and gives a characteristic flavor. Sodium nitrate is used in dry cured meat, because it slowly breaks down into nitrite. Adding nitrite to food can lead to the formation of small amounts of potent cancer-causing chemicals (nitrosamines), particularly in fried bacon. Nitrite, which also occurs in saliva and forms from nitrate in several vegetables, can undergo the same chemical reaction in the stomach. Companies now add ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid to bacon to inhibit nitrosamine formation, a measure that has greatly reduced the problem. While nitrite and nitrate cause only a small risk, they are still worth avoiding. Several studies have linked consumption of cured meat and nitrite by children, pregnant women, and adults with various types of cancer. Although those studies have not yet proven that eating nitrite in bacon, sausage, and ham causes cancer in humans, pregnant women would be prudent to avoid those products.The meat industry justifies its use of nitrite and nitrate by claiming that it prevents the growth of bacteria that cause botulism poisoning. That’s true, but freezing and refrigeration could also do that, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a safe method using lactic-acid-producing bacteria. The use of nitrite and nitrate has decreased greatly over the decades, because of refrigeration and restrictions on the amounts used. The meat industry could do the public’s health a favor by cutting back even further Because nitrite is used primarily in fatty, salty foods, consumers have a second reason for avoiding nitrite-preserved foods.
SORBIC ACID, POTASSIUM SORBATE … Prevents growth of mold: Cake, cheese, dry fruits, jelly, syrup, wine. Sorbic acid occurs naturally in many plants. These additives are safe. SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE … Emulsifier: Cakes, candy, frozen pudding, icing. Like mono- and diglycerides and polysorbates, this additive keeps oil and water mixed together. In chocolate candy, it prevents the discoloration that normally occurs when the candy is warmed up and then cooled down.
SORBITOL … Sweetener, thickening agent, maintains moisture. Candy, chewing gum, dietetic drinks and foods, shredded coconut. Sorbitol occurs naturally in fruits and berries and is a close relative of sugars. It is half as sweet as sugar. It is used in non-cariogenic (non-decay-causing) chewing gum because oral bacteria do not metabolize it well.Moderate amounts of sorbitol may have a strong laxative effect, but otherwise it is safe. Some diabetics use sorbitol-sweetened foods because it is absorbed slowly and does not cause blood sugar to increase rapidly.
STARCH … Thickening agent: Gravy, soup. Starch, the major component of flour, potatoes, and corn, is used in many foods as a thickening agent.However, starch does not dissolve in cold water.Chemists have solved this problem by reacting starch with various chemicals to create MODIFIED STARCHES (see next entry).
STARCH, MODIFIED … Thickening agent: Baby food, gravy, soup.Modified starches are used in processed foods to improve their consistency and keep the solids suspended. Starch and modified starches sometimes replace large percentages of more nutritious ingredients, such as fruit. Choose baby foods without added starches (starch thickened baby foods have contained as little as 25 percent as much of the fruit ingredients as 100-percent-fruit baby foods). One small study suggested that modified starches can promote diarrhea in infants.
SUCRALOSE … Artificial sweetener: Diet foods. Approved in the United States in April 1998, sucralose (a synthetic chemical) can be used in soft drinks, baked goods, ice cream, sweetener packets, and other products. It previously had been used in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. Animal studies presented to the FDA a decade ago indicated that sucralose might affect the thymus gland. Following comments by CSPI and others, the FDA asked for additional studies in rats and people with diabetes that showed that sucralose is safe. Sucralose is safer than saccharin and cyclamate and doesn’t raise the concerns that tests on acesulfame-K and aspartame have raised.
SUGAR (SUCROSE) … … Sweetener: Sweetened foods, table sugar. Sucrose, ordinary table sugar, occurs naturally in fruit, sugar cane, and sugar beets. Americans consume about 65 pounds of sucrose per year. That figure is down from 102 pounds per year around 1970, but the decrease has been more than made up for with HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP and DEXTROSE. About 150 pounds of all refined sugars are produced per person per year, an increase of 20 percent since 1983. Interestingly that’s just when the use of ASPARTAME started skyrocketing. In other words, it appears that artificial sweeteners have not replaced sugar, but may have stimulated America’s sweet tooth. Sugar and sweetened foods may taste good and supply energy, but most people eat too much of them. Sugar, corn syrup, and other refined sweeteners make up 16 percent of the average diet, but provide no vitamins, minerals, or protein. That means that a person would have to get 100 percent of his or her nutrients from only 84 percent of his or her food. Sugar and other refined sugars can promote obesity, tooth decay, and, in people with high triglycerides, heart disease.
SULFITES (SULFUR DIOXIDE, SODIUM BISULFITE)… Preservative, bleach: Dried fruit, processed potatoes, wine. Sulfiting agents prevent discoloration (dried fruit, some “fresh” shrimp, and some dried, fried, or frozen potatoes) and bacterial growth (wine). They also destroy vitamin B-1 and, most important, can cause severe reactions, especially in asthmatics. If you think you may be sensitive, avoid all forms of this additive, because it has caused at least twelve known deaths and probably many more.
THIAMIN MONONITRATE … Vitamin B-1. Perfectly safe, despite adding minuscule amounts of nitrate to our food.
VANILLIN, ETHYL VANILLIN … Substitute for vanilla: Baked goods, beverages, candy, chocolate, gelatin desserts, ice cream. Vanilla flavoring is derived from a bean, but vanillin, the major flavor component of vanilla, is cheaper to produce in a factory. A derivative, ethyl vanillin, comes closer to matching the taste of real vanilla. Both chemicals are safe.
SUMMARY OF ADDITIVES’ SAFETY
These appear to be safe, though a few people may be allergic to any additive.
ALPHA TOCOPHEROL (Vitamin E)
ASCORBIC ACID (Vitamin C)
CALCIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE
GUMS: Arabic, Furcelleran, Ghatti, Guar,
Karaya, Locust Bean, Xanthan
MONO- and DIGLYCERIDES
POLYSORBATE 60, 65, 80
PROPYLENE GLYCOL ALGINATE
SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE
STARCH, MODIFIED STARCH
VANILLIN, ETHYL VANILLIN
Not toxic, but large amounts may be unsafe or promote bad nutrition. See main text for details.
DEXTROSE (CORN SUGAR, GLUCOSE)
HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL
These additives may pose a risk and need to be better tested. Try to avoid..
CITRUS RED 2
BROMINATED VEGETABLE OIL (BVO)
BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA)
BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE (BHT)
CERTAIN PEOPLE SHOULD AVOID
May cause allergic reactions or other problems. See main text for details.
ARTIFICIAL AND NATURAL FLAVORING
HVP (HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN)
MSG (MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE)
The additive is unsafe in the amounts consumed or is very poorly tested.
SODIUM NITRITE, SODIUM NITRATE
Food Additive Cemetery — Additives That Have Been Banned
The food and chemical industries have said for decades that all food additives are well tested and safe. And most additives are safe. However, the history of food additives is riddled with additives that, after many years of use, were found to pose health risks. Those listed below have been banned. The moral of the story is that when someone says that all food additives are well
tested and safe you should take their assurances with a grain of salt.
Additive Function Natural or Synthetic Year Banned Problem
Agene (nitrogen trichloride) synthetic 1949
flour bleaching and aging agent dogs that ate bread made from treated flour suffered
epileptic-like fits; the toxic agent was methionine sulfoxime
Artificial colorings: Butter yellow artificial coloring synthetic 1919 toxic, later found to cause liver cancer
Green 1 artificial coloring synthetic 1965 liver cancer
Green 2 artificial coloring synthetic 1965 insufficient economic importance be tested
Orange 1 artificial coloring synthetic 1956 organ damage
Orange 2 artificial coloring synthetic 1960 organ damage
Orange B artificial coloring synthetic 1978 (ban never finalized) cancer
Red 1 artificial coloring synthetic 1961 liver cancer
Red 2 artificial coloring synthetic 1976 possible carcinogen
Red 4 artificial coloring synthetic 1976 high levels damaged adrenal cortex of dog; after 1965 it was used only in maraschino cherries and certain pills; it is still allowed in externally applied drugs and cosmetics
Red 32 artificial coloring synthetic 1956 damages internal organs and may be a weak carcinogen; since 1956 it continues to be used under the name Citrus Red 2 only to color oranges (2 ppm)
Sudan 1 artificial coloring synthetic 1919 toxic, later found to be carcinogenic
Violet 1 artificial coloring synthetic 1973 cancer (it had been used to stamp the Department of Agriculture’ inspection mark on beef carcasses)
Yellow 1 and 2 artificial coloring synthetic 1959 intestinal lesions at high dosages
Yellow 3 artificial coloring synthetic 1959 heart damage at high dosages
Yellow 4 artificial coloring synthetic 1959 heart damage at high dosages
cinnamyl anthranilate artificial flavoring synthetic 1982 liver cancer
cobalt salts stabilize beer foam synthetic 1966 toxic effects on heart
coumarin flavoring tonka bean 1954 liver poison
cyclamate artificial sweetener synthetic 1970 bladder cancer, damage to testes; now not thought to cause cancer directly, but to increase the potency of other carcinogens
diethyl pyrocarbonate (DEPC) preservative (beverages) synthetic 1972 combines with ammonia to form urethane, a carcinogen
dulcin (p-ethoxy-phenylurea) artificial sweetener synthetic 1950 liver cancer
ethylene glycol solvent humectant synthetic kidney damage
monochloroacetic acid preservative synthetic 1941 highly toxic
nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) antioxidant desert plant 1968 (FDA), 1971 (USDA)
oil of calamus flavoring root of calamus 1968 intestinal cancer
polyoxyethylene-8-stearate (Myrj emulsifier synthetic 1952 high levels caused bladder stones and tumors
safrole flavoring (root beer) sassafras 1960 liver cancer
thiourea preservative synthetic c.1950 liver cancer
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