Food Additives – Good or Bad?

There is a lot of myth surrounding the world of food additives. Are they really so demonic as is portrayed about them? Or do we fail in understanding the actual role they play?

Hey everyone! Welcome to Heal-Thy-Self once again. Today, let us bust the myths about food additives and try to understand their actual usage and role in foods.

For over several hundreds of years, people have used flavorings, preservatives and colors to enhance their food taste and to make them visually more appealing. That said, there are some additives used in today’s foods that can make you downright scared.  Let’s go over what additives are and why is it good or bad to add them to your foods.

What are food additives?

Food additives are substances or components that do not occur naturally in foods but are later added to them for different reasons.

What substances are additives?

Additives can be anything from a wide range of categories like, preservatives, emulsifiers, thickeners, vitamins and minerals, artificial as well as natural sweeteners, salt and other flavorings, colors and dyes etc. Foods may contain one, some or all of these additives! Got goose bumps? Well, you ought to get some! Here is why.

About 2800 odd number of additives are used in north American foods alone. However, that said, the use of these additives is governed by very strict rules and regulations and extensive studies are required on an additive before it can be used in foods. Though, stringent regulations are followed to achieve this, and an additive is introduced in the market only after all the safety measures are taken, it is still possible to have instances with rare reactions to certain additives.

However, if used appropriately, additives give you the most enjoyable assortment of foods in history!

Can additives be useful?

Some additives can perform useful functions, even though they may sound distasteful. Ever heard of shellac? It is the secretion of a female lac bug and is often known as confectioner’s glaze. It is used to give a glossy coating to candies and the likes. It is also used to prevent drying of citrus fruits and avocados. This substance is used as an additive since centuries without any problems.

Most food additives are safe. However, there is an exception to every rule, right? So, you see some additives removed from the market every now and then. Some additives are approved in some countries while the same ones are banned in others. Artificial sweeteners and MSG are examples of such controversial additives.

With all these facts known, there are still tens of thousands of such other accidental additives that get added to the foods unintentionally. For example, pesticides used to treat the crops or soil, environmental pollutants like lead and mercury etc. get added to the foods unintentionally and are far more hazardous than the known additives. Due to this, sometimes an adverse reaction is wrongly attributed to the known additives in foods whereas, the real cause for the reaction is the accidental additive in that food.

Then, does it mean food additives are good after all?

Well, there needs to be a prudent approach to this. Even though it can be said that the benefits of additives are far more than the harms they cause, they ought to be used in moderation and completely avoided whenever possible. Some additives can be harmful for certain medical conditions, like salt for high blood pressure and sugar in any form for diabetes. It is advisable to read the product labels carefully before purchasing any product off the shelves.

One thing I would like to stress here is that preserved foods always do have more additives as compared to their fresh equivalents. And like I always say, when in doubt, stick to the basics. Nature has provided us with an abundance of everything. One cannot go wrong by choosing natural over processed or artificial.

You might be interested in reading about Functional Foods. Find it here!

I hope this post has shed some light on the controversial topic of additives. I will see you soon with yet another interesting post soon. If there is something you want me to write about, please let me know through comments or email. Until then, bbye and take care.

Here’s Dr Apoorva, signing out for today.

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