Food additives are natural or synthetic chemicals and compounds that help with food preservation, appearance or taste.  With over 40,000 different kinds of items at your average grocery store, learning what’s in each and every kind of food you buy can be daunting.  Luckily, becoming familiar with a handful of the most common additives can go a long way.  While we’re not typically keen on spreading “doom and gloom” statistics, having a basic knowledge of some controversial ingredients can go a long way in helping you make better-informed decisions.

Caramel Coloring

You can find this artificial color in soft drinks, breads, cereals and pastries.  If it’s a natural coloring from sugar (actual caramel), you have nothing to worry about, but the synthetic form has been linked to cancer.  Currently, companies aren’t required by the FDA to reveal if they use natural or synthetic so it’s probably best to avoid consuming it as much as possible.

 Potassium Bromate

You may have seen this, but unless you study chemistry, you most likely have no clue what it does.  Simply put, it conditions flour and makes breads light and airy during baking.  Luckily, its ban in several countries and its “cancer causing” warning in some US states has made it less common, but it hasn’t disappeared entirely.

 Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

These two petroleum-based cousins act as preservatives and antioxidants.  You’ll find them in some brands of chewing gum, cereals and lards.  Even the Department of Health and Human Services has stated that BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

 Sodium nitrates and nitrites

Nitrogen-based compounds occur naturally but are also synthesized to help cure processed meats such as deli meats and hot dogs.  Studies have shown that these additives can cause cancer and have even been linked to deaths in those suffering from Parkinson’s, Diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

 Common Food Dyes

Exactly what they sound like, food dyes artificially color the food you eat.  Some are harmless, but many have been banned in several countries.  Blue #1, Blue #2 and Yellow #6 are not allowed in Norway and Sweden due to their linkage to chromosomal damage.  Red dye #3 has long been speculated to cause thyroid cancer but has been approved for use until supplies run out.  These colorings can be found in sugar cereals and candies.  

What other ingredients do you keep an eye out for?

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