10 Harmful Food Additives and Their Effects on Health

10 Harmful Food Additives and Their Effects on Health

The modern day diet with all the processed, packed and ready-to-eat foods, soda and soft drinks bombard the human body with chemicals, toxins and virtual poisons that deteriorate the health slowly by steadily. Majority of Indians and people of developed countries follow a diet that includes diet soda and sugar-free sodas, bread, flavored yogurt, cereals, salad dressings, canned vegetables, chips, cookies, packed soups, frozen dinners, bakery products, ice cream, processed meats and fish, and all of these foods are loaded with additives that include preservatives, artificial flavorings and colors, chemicals and fillers. Some of the adverse effects of food additives include cancer, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, immune system diseases, hormonal imbalance, neurological disorders, obesity and reproductive health problems.

List of Harmful Food Additives

Following is a food additives list that should be avoided in order to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Artificial Sweeteners:

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener that is widely used by diabetic patients and calorie conscious individuals is believed to be a neurotoxin and carcinogenic compound that creates adverse reactions in the body. It has been shown to degrade memory and affect short term memory. Certain components present in Aspartame can lead to ailments such as brain tumor, diabetes, lymphoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, chronic fatigue and emotional disorders like depression, anxiety attacks, migraine headaches, mental confusion, nausea, dizziness and seizures. Another artificial sweetener Acesulfame-K used in baked goods, gum and gelatin has been linked to kidney tumors.

Foods containing Artificial Sweeteners:

Diet soda, sugar free soda, gelatin, desserts, sugar free gum, baking goods, cereal, breath mints, ice tea, chewable vitamins, etc.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS):

It is a highly-refined artificial sweetener that has turned into the most popular source of calories in the developed countries. It can be found in all types of processed foods and it leads to fast weight gain. HFCS raises the level of harmful LDL cholesterol in the blood that leads to development of diabetes, obesity, tissue damage, etc.

Foods containing HFCS:

Processed foods, bread, flavored yogurt, salad dressings, candy, canned vegetables, cereals, etc.


It is a fat substitute that is added to high-fat foods such as potato chips and French Fires in order to eliminate its fat content. It is used as a substitute for oils and fats in packaged and ready to eat snacks. It is considered one of the worst chemicals in food that rapidly deplete the blood levels of various essential fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients, including carotenoids which eventually lead to vitamin depletion.

Foods containing Olestra:

Packed potato chips, French fires, microwave popcorn, fat-free wheat crackers, Tortilla chips, etc.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG):

Monosodium glutamate is an amino acid which is used in soups, chips, salad dressings, frozen snacks and many restaurant foods in order to enhance the flavors. MSG is an excitotoxin that overexcites the cells to the point that they get damaged or die. Regular consumption of MSG can lead to depression, ocular damage, disorientation, headaches, unexplained fatigue and obesity. MSG disturbs the neurological pathways of the brain and disengages the feeling of satiety, which enhances the weight gain.

Foods Containing MSG:

Restaurant Chinese food, snacks, cookies, chips, seasonings, lunch meats, frozen dinners, etc.

Trans Fats:

It is a type of fat that is added to packed foods in order to prolong their shelf life. But trans fats are one of the most dangerous food additives that a human being can consume. It is a common ingredient in deep-fried fast foods; processed foods prepared with margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats are formed by hydrogenation of these oils. Trans fats are responsible for increasing LDL cholesterol and lowering HDL cholesterol in the blood. It also increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other chronic health problems related to inflammation.

Foods containing trans fat:

Margarine, crackers, chips, baked goods, fast foods, etc.

Sodium Nitrate or Nitrite:

It is used as a preservative, flavoring and coloring additive in processed meats such as ham, bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats, corned beef and smoked fish. It is a highly carcinogenic compound that forms different types of nitrosamine compounds once it enters the human digestive system. These compounds enter the blood stream and damage the internal organs, the pancreas and liver in particular.

Foods containing Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite:

All types of processed meat and fish - bacon, ham, cured meats, hotdogs, corned beef, lunch meat, etc.

Food Dyes:

Artificial food colorings that are added to soda, fruit juices and salad dressings may lead to behavioral problems in children and lower their IQ. Certain studies on food colorings have found strong links to cancer.

Foods containing food coloring:

Candy, cereal, soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit cocktails, ice cream, bakery products, etc.

Sodium Sulfite:

This preservative is used in wine-making. Sulfites in food may trigger asthma attacks in people who are sensitive so sulfite. It can also trigger headaches, breathing problems, rashes and in serious cases it can lead to closure of the airway causing a cardiac arrest.

Foods containing sodium sulfite:

wine, dry fruits, etc.


BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) are two common food additives that are used as preservatives in potato chips, cereals and vegetable oils. These preservatives prevent the foods from changing color or flavor or turning rancid inside the package. These additives affect the neurological functions of the brain, alter behavior pattern and can cause cancer by forming carcinogenic reactive compounds in the body.

Foods containing BHA and BHT:

Potato chips, cereal, chewing gum, frozen sausage, lard, candy, jelly, etc.

Sulfur Dioxide:

Sulfur Dioxide and other sulfur additives are used on raw fruits and vegetables. It can cause adverse reactions such as bronchial problems, asthma, low blood pressure and anaphylactic shock. It also destroys vitamin B1 and E in foods.

Foods containing Sulfur Dioxide:

Beer, cordial, wines, vinegar, dry fruits, fruit juices, soft drinks, etc.

If you feel that you are allergic to certain food ingredients or if you notice that your asthma attack is triggered after eating certain foods then it may indicate that these are reactions to certain food additives and just symptoms of some underlying health issue. The best way to diagnose and treat such a condition is to get in touch with an Internal Medicine Specialist as soon as possible.

If you are searching for an experienced Internal Medicine Specialist in Patna, then you can refer to Dr. Shaibal Guha whose specialties include Internal Medicine, Diabetology and Chest Physician.

Reviewed By:

Dr. Bharti Talreja (MBBS, DPM, FAGE, MIPS)

She is a Psychiatrist practising in Botad, India.