Food Additive Sensitivities

Advertisers for some food products make claims that their products are “natural”, “contain no preservatives” or “contain no chemicals”. Somehow consumers then believe that foods containing added substances could be unhealthful. This is not so.

Food additives can be natural substances or chemicals that keep food fresh or enhance its color, flavor or texture. Some people are sensitive to food additives, but this is rare. The most likely culprit for sensitivity would be the chemical additives.

Reactions to food additives include hives or diarrhea, other digestive disorders and respiratory problems such as asthma.

The additives used in food manufacturing serve many useful purposes, including maintaining the safety and quality of the food supply. The most commonly used additives in foods include sugar, salt, leavenings, spices, herbs and flavorings.

Incidental additives is the term applied to any substances that come into contact with food during its growth, processing or packaging. Intentional additives are those substances of known composition that are added to food to serve some useful purpose.

Types of Food Additives

  • Anti-caking agents stop ingredients from becoming lumpy.
  • Antioxidants prevent foods from oxidising, or going rancid. Natural ones are vitamins C, E, A, selenium and beta-carotene. Artificial ones are BHA and BHT.
  • Artificial sweeteners increase the sweetness; artificial sweeteners can make foods more palatable.
  • Aroma Enhancers: An example is yellowish-green liquid diacetyl which is used in some cottage cheeses to produce an artificial butter aroma.
  • Emulsifiers stop fats from clotting together. 
  • Food acids – maintain the right acid level.
  • Colors enhance or add color for foods that may lose theirs during processing. For example, maraschino cherries are dyed red and green.
  • Humectants keep foods moist.
  • Flavors add flavor. There are approximately 1100 to 1400 natural and synthetic flavorings available.
  • Flavor enhancers give foods a more acceptable taste, restore flavor lost in processing.
  • Mineral salts enhance texture.
  • Preservatives stop microbes from multiplying and spoiling the food.
  • Thickeners enhance texture.
  • Stabilizers maintains uniformity of food dispersion. The more common ones are modified food starch and vegetable gum.
  • Flour treatment improves baking quality.
  • Glazing agent improves appearance and can protect food.
  • Propellants help propel food from a container.

Improving Agents

  • Humectants: Controls the humidity of a food.
  • Anti-Caking Agents: Keeps salt and powders free-flowing.
  • Firming/Crisping Agents: Used for processed fruits and vegetables.
  • Foaming Agents: Used for whipped creams.
  • Anti-Foaming Agents: Keeps pineapple juice from bubbling over a filled container.
  • Emulsifiers: These help evenly mix small particles of one liquid with another, such as water and oil. Lecithin is a good example of a natural emulsifier.

Read More: Food Facts