Food Additives - The Advantages and Disadvantages of Food Additives

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Why additives

Processed foods tend to lose some, if not all of their nutrient contents. This is the reason why additives are added in order to restore the food’s nutritional balance. The additives used to do this are called enrichers and fortifiers.

What is an enricher?

An enricher is a nutrient which is already found in food, such as vitamins in flour; but an extra amount is added to supplement what has been lost in processing.

What is a fortifier?

A fortifier on the other hand is a nutrient that is not found in food, for example vitamin D in milk. One main advantage of fortification of a food is that it helps to decrease malnutrition.

How additives work

Additives also add flavor and appearance to foods. Everyone is familiar with adding salt and sugar to foods. This is practice which has taken place for centuries. Salt was used before refrigeration to preserve meats and fish, but it is also added to improve the taste of food. Sugar in the past was added to preserve fruits; and it also enhances the taste of food and drink. Leavening agents like baking powder allow baking goods to rise. While we are familiar and feel comfortable with these, some people are concerned about other additives.

Today, we use thousands of other additives in our foods, as many as 3,000 and more. These additives are rigorously monitored and controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there should be no reason to fear their safety. The FDA sets safety standards which must be adhered to by manufacturers.

The Bad Points

Despite attention to detail by the FDA, a minority of people suffer adverse reactions to food additives. Most of the time, this is due to a medical condition of the individual. The chemical elements in a food additive may cause allergic reactions. Sulfites are among the non-nutritive additives which can affect asthmatics. Sulfites are preservatives which are used to extend shelf life, prevent some foods from browning, preserve spoilage and preserve texture in some foods. Sulfites are found in soft drinks and beer and wine, and also in canned and dried products such as dried fruit, grain products and processed meats. Product labels are required by law to indicate if a food contains sulfites, so it is important to read the label, especially if you know you are asthmatic.

Other allergic reactions come from acacia gum or gum arabic which is also found in soft drinks, and in frostings; benzoic acid, also found in soft drinks, and in jellies, jams and margarine ;and paraffins which are coatings on fruits, vegetables and candy.Monosodium glutamate(MSD) which the Chinese use as a salt in their food, can cause mild symptoms such as body tingling or warmth, and also chest pain in some people.

The best advice is to read labels carefully if you or a family member is allergic or intolerant of any food additives, so you can avoid these products whenever possible. If you do have an adverse reaction to a food additive, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

The Good Points

Food additives add visual appeal to food; they make them more attractive. They also boost nutrition, like the fortifier vitamin D used in milk. Vitamins and minerals are additives which food producers add to foods which lose their nutrients during processing, like flour and cereal. Food additives improve the flavor of your foods, and they extend their shelf life. They also improve the texture and consistency of foods and keep them fresh. All additives are listed on product labels; so it’s a good idea to study the labels and become familiar with the various additives.