In these modern times, processed convenience foods are becoming part of our everyday lives. As such, most people are concerned about their inclusion of common food additives and their effects. Whether we like it or not, we’re living in a fast paced world and there are times when we can’t help but eat readily prepared foods. The problem is that we don’t always know the exact ingredients being used in these meals. However, we are aware that they include additives that allow them to be prepared faster and last longer on store shelves.


What are food additives?


Food additives are chemicals added to foods. Almost all of them are synthetic and are considered foreign to the human body. The body sometimes cannot properly digest them or, in some cases, even rejects them. Here are some of the more common ones and their effects.


Common Food Additives and Their Effects




Monosodium glutamate or MSG is added to foods to make them tastier. It has been associated with health disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (or ADHD) and Multiple Sclerosis or MS. Its side effects include nausea, headache, difficulty in breathing, plus a burning sensation at the forearms and the back of the neck.


• Artificial Colors


These dyes are man-made and are used to change the color to make foods more appealing. They are also used to prevent the growth of bacteria. They’ve been linked to learning disabilities and hyperactivity.



• Aspartame


Aspartame, the sweetener commonly used for coffee and soft drinks, was initially rejected by the FDA, only to be approved later on.  Some believe that aspartame is a dangerous carcinogen that has been linked to brain cancer and other serious health problems. Its affects appear to be even worse than the sugar it substitutes.


• Sodium Nitrates


Sodium nitrates are usually added to processed foods as a coloring, preservative or flavoring. Foods with these additives, when heated, can be transformed into compounds that cause cancer.


• Sucralose


This is the only low-calorie artificial sweetener that’s made from sugar. Since it cannot be processed by the human body as sugar, it remains unchanged and is eliminated through the normal digestive process.




Gums are used as stabilizers and thickening agents. They replace fats in foods with low fats and are recognized by the body as a mixture of sugars that can be digested.


• Butylated Hydroxyanisolea or  BHA and Butylated Hydroxytoluene or BHT


BHA and BHT are used as preservatives that are added to oil and foods with oil to prevent rancidity.  Low doses in food help prevent stomach cancer.


• Olestra


Though Olestra is used as a substitute for fats, it does not add any calories to foods. It’s made from sugar and vegetable oil. Side effects include gas, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.


• Sterol esters


This is included in margarines for healthy blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is prevented from being absorbed in the intestines. It’s considered safe as long as they are used properly.


Common food additives have effects that can sometimes be more harmful than healthy. Know what’s in the foods you eat and how it will affect your health. Try to opt for natural or organic foods that aren’t processed or loaded with substances that can cause more harm than good- all in the name of convenience. Convenience isn’t worth the trouble if it’s going to negatively impact your health.