In most cases, food additives serve three purposes: to preserve, to enhance flavor, or to change the appearance of the food. While most are considered safe for human consumption, there are some food additives to avoid if possible. Certain ones can cause adverse reactions in those sensitive to the substances, especially food dyes and monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG. Others, such as trans fats and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can have a negative effect on cholesterol and can cause weight gain.
Food dyes are found in the vast majority of prepackaged foods, especially flavored potato chips and candy. Certain people are naturally predisposed to have an allergic reaction to these food additives, especially FD&C Yellow #5, which can cause a small amount of people to break out in hives. Other food additives to avoid include Blue #1, Blue #2, and Yellow #6, which have been banned in Norway due to the increased risk of chromosomal damage and the development of tumors discovered during testing done on laboratory animals.
MSG, a common flavor-enhancing food additive in canned foods and some Chinese cuisine, can cause a reaction known as MSG symptom complex in those who are sensitive to it. This reaction can result in swelling, loss of sensation in the face or neck, heart palpitations, and stomach issues. While these symptoms are usually temporary, they can be extremely uncomfortable and, in rare cases, temporarily debilitating for those sensitive, making this one of many food additives to avoid.
Trans fats typically used to extend a food’s shelf life or to enhance its flavor are considered one of the top food additives to avoid, and have been effectively banned in many different countries, including Denmark. The consumption of trans fats, most commonly found in fast food, prepackaged cookies, and breads, as well as margarine, a butter substitute, has been linked to an increase in bad cholesterol and a decrease in good cholesterol. This combination of reactions can increase a person’s risk of heart attacks or strokes, and may be partially responsible for the development of diabetes.
The use of HFCS in prepackaged foods and drinks is highly controversial, despite the fact that research is inconclusive as of 2011. HFCS have been linked to an increase in weight, although it is unclear whether it causes more weight gain than regular sugar. In general, the problem with HFCS is that it is found in a large majority of prepackaged foods, even those that are not meant to be sweet. For this reason, those who eat processed foods typically consume a higher amount of HFCS than is healthy without realizing it. For this reason, this artificial sweetener is considered one of the food additives to avoid or limit, as it is typically recommended that the majority of people not consume excess sugar, or sugar substitutes, in the first place.