Understanding Food Additives

Category Food Info
With so many ingredients listed on products, you need to learn what some of the things really are. This page is about understanding food additives.


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October 12, 2007

Knowing what is really in the food we eat can sometimes be a mystery, and so with this article I hope that I can give you some information that you can use and be a more informed consumer. If you know what some of the additives are and why they are put into your food than you can decide for yourself if this is something that was needed or if it was an additive that you would rather do without. Many food additives are considered safe by the USFDA and here is how they define safe:

Safe is defined by Congress as "reasonable certainty that no harm will result from use" of an additive. Some substances that are found to be harmful to people or animals may be allowed, but only at the level of 1/100th of the amount that is considered harmful. This margin of safety is a protection for the consumer by limiting the intake of a dangerous substance.

Quoted from USFDA Pamphlet on food additives.

Food additives are not all bad. Because of food additives, Rickets, a disease caused by Vitamin D deficiency has been eliminated in this country as have all diseases caused by Vitamin C deficiency. Food additives are added to our food for the following reasons:

Additives perform nine distinct functions:
  1. As Nutrition Supplements Example: Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids may be used to improve general nutrition.
  2. As Coloring Agents Example: The natural coloring materials in foods may be intensified, modified, or stabilized by the addition of neutral coloring materials or certified food dyes.
  3. As Preservatives Example: Chemicals may be used to help prevent or retard microbiological spoilage and chemical deterioration.
  4. As Flavoring Agents Whether they are natural or synthetic they are used to enhance flavors.
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  6. As Agents to Improve Functional Properties Example: Chemicals in this classification act as thickening, firming agents.
  7. As Processing Aids Example: Sanitizing agents, metal binding compounds, anti-foaming agents, chemicals that prevent fermentation.
  8. As Moisture-Content Controls Example: Glycerin is approved for use in marshmallows as a humectant to retain soft texture Calcium silicate is frequently added to table salt to prevent caking due to moisture in the air.
  9. As Acid-Alkaline Controls Example: Various acids, alkalis, and salts may be added to food to establish a desired pH.
  10. As Physiologic Activity Controls Example: the additives in this group are usually added to fresh foods to serve as ripeners or anti-metabolic agents.
Here are a list of some food additives and what they do so that when you are reading the labels of your foods you will have a handy reference: (Note this is a list of common additives)

Nutritional Supplements

Food Flavorings

The chemicals and what they taste like

Food Acids

To help preserve food and stop the growth of bacteria but can also be used as a flavoring.

Glazing Agents

To provide a glossy or shiny appearance

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