For many years, food additives have been used for a number of purposes. Additives are most
commonly used as preservatives, thickening agents or to provide foods with a certain colour or
texture. There has long been a discussion about the safety of these additives and whether or not they
can be harmful over a long period of time. At times, food additives have been blamed when they are
truly innocent. However, there are additives that can be dangerous and as a result some countries
have placed a ban on certain additives. Although not all food additives are bad or dangerous, you do
need to know what is in your food. Here is a rundown on the safe and dangerous food additives you
need to watch out for.
There are certain food additives that have been deemed completely safe and many of them have
been carefully studied to prove their safety. Some of these safe additives include the following:
• Ascorbic Acid is used to stabilize the colours in fruity beverages, cereals, and other prepared
• Beta Carotene is used to colour such foods as butter and certain lollies.
• Sodium Propionate is used to help preserve breads and other baked goods.
• Citric Acid is a flavouring used often in desserts like ice cream and sorbet.
• Carrageenan is most often found in dairy products and jelly. It helps to thicken the products.
• Maltodextrin is another thickening agent additive and it is often used in puddings and
• Polysorbate is an emulsifier that ensures the oil and cream does not separate in baked
Although these additives are safe to eat that does not mean that they are nutritious or something
that you should try to include in a healthy diet.
There are some additives that have been proven harmful as well. It is a good idea to know what
additives are harmful so that you can be sure to avoid them. Harmful additives include the following:
• Monosodium glutamate commonly known as MSG, which is often used as a preservative in
packaged food and as a flavour enhancer in Eastern cuisine, the ingredient can cause some
to have negative side effects after eating it.
• Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is an antioxidant found in cereals and potato chips. Some
studies have found BHT to be carcinogenic.
• Polydextrose is an additive that is used to bulk up foods like baked goods and desserts. Some
people are sensitive to it and can experience gastrointestinal upset after eating it.
• Olestra is a fat substitute ingredient which is supposed to be healthier, but it often causes
gastrointestinal upset in those who eat potato chips fried which have been fried in it.
For the most part, you do not have to worry about harm from additives. They have been tested and
deemed safe. However, it is always a good idea to know what is in the food you are regularly eating.
Mike Stewart is the editor of Australian Food Safety News. Based in Brisbane, Mike has an extensive background in food safety and is currently a senior research consultant at the Australian Institute of Food Safety.