Types of Food Additives and Why They are Used

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About Food Additives

There are many types of food additives. Food additives are used to help with food product consistency, preserve the nutritional value, prevent spoilage, control acid-base, and control or enhance flavor and color.

Some of the most common food additives are listed below.

Artificial Sweeteners

A few of the most common artificial sweeteners used in foods include aspartame (NutraSweet ®), sucralose (Splenda ®), saccharine, acesulfame-K and sodium cyclamate.

Controversy has surrounded not only refined sugar added to foods, but all the artificial sweeteners used to replace it in food. Artificial sweeteners are most commonly used by people with medical conditions or personal preferences that restrict their sugar intake.

This partial list from the FDA is an example of how many products use artificial sweeteners like aspartame:

  • Sugar substitute tablets
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Beverage bases
  • Gelatins
  • Puddings
  • Breath mints
  • Hard and soft candies

In-depth information about food additives like artificial sweetners can be found in on the FDA website by searching the term “food additives.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

There is controversy surrounding the use of MSG in foods, despite a “generally recognized as safe” rating from the FDA.

MSG is used most often in foods such as Chinese food, processed meats, soups, and canned vegetables. The purpose of using monosodium glutamate in food is to help enhance the flavor of the final product.

Benzoic Acid

Found in fruit juices, benzoic acid also has derivatives that are used as food additives. One such derivative is sodium benzoate, which is a salt used to preserve food. Benzoic acid is also used in cosmetics, insect repellants, plastics, and dyes.


According to Texas A&M University, there are six different sulfiting agents used to prevent food spoilage and discoloration. They include sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, potassium bisulfite, and sodium bisulfite.


Naturally found in foods like egg yolk, fish, yeast, wheat germ, and soybeans, lecithin is used to help preserve or emulsify packaged foods. Lecithin is often found in mayonnaise, chocolate, and ice cream.


Carrageenan is used as a thickener to help gel and stabilize packaged foods. Carrageenan comes from seaweed and can be found in foods like cottage cheese, ice cream, baby formula, and jelly.

Guar Gum

Guar gum has eight times the ability to thicken as cornstarch. Guar gum comes from the guar bean and is used in foods such as ice cream, cottage cheese, and salad dressings. According to the Huffington Post, because guar gum causes the intestines to expand and creates a feeling of being sated. It is being researched for use as a diet supplement.


There are many more additives in the list of types of food additives being used than what is provided in this article. A list of approved food additives is regularly updated at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website (over 700 items) and more information regarding these approved additives may be found there.


Food Additives. Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Updated by Paula J. Busse, MD. June 26, 2009. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002435.htm

Food Additives. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/foodingredientspackaging/foodadditives/default.htm

Benzoic Acid. Encyclopedia Britannica (Online). https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/61357/benzoic-acid

Nutrition and Health Eating Question. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. January 9, 2010. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/monosodium-glutamate/AN01251

Sulfites. Texas A&M University. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/misc/sulfites.html

What is lecithin? Updated October 28, 2010. Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/27/what-is-lecithin-decipher_n_774431.html#s165773