Common Food Additives: What They Are and What They Do

Common Food Additives: What They Are and What They Do


While words like azodicarbonamide may not be on the tip of everyone’s tongues, outrage over the fact that it’s a substance found in Subway sandwiches as well as in rubber soles and yoga mats is.


Carrageenan Used as a thickening agent in ice cream, yogurt, pudding, and cottage cheese, carrageenan is a water-soluble polymer derived from red seaweed. While the FDA deemed it safe, there’s evidence that it may cause lesions in the stomach and ultimately lead to cancer.

Glyphosate This systemic herbicide is taken up by the plants it’s used on, and then transferred to you when you eat them. Some studies have shown that exposure to glyphosate can lead to infertility and learning disabilities.infertility.

Olestra This fat substitute takes the calories and cholesterol out of food products, but also affects your body's ability to absorb essential vitamins and can have side effects like gas, loose bowels, and cramps.

Potassium Bromate This oxidizing agent is used as an additive to increase volume in white flour, breads, and rolls. When given directly (orally), it was found to be carcinogenic in rats and nephrotoxic in both humans and tested animals.

Propyl Gallate Like BHA and BHT, propyl gallate is an anti-oxidant that helps to slow the process of food spoilage in food. Those who have an allergy to it may experience asthmatic symptoms, irritable skin, and an upset stomach. Research indicates that consumption will lead to kidney and liver complications. Animal studies also point to cancer-causing tendencies.

Red No. 3 Used to color candy, cherries, and baked goods, red No. 3 was recognized in 1990 by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals.

Titanium Dioxide This mined substance, sometimes contaminated with toxic lead, is used to make overly processed items appear whiter — which, in the food industry, typically means coffee creamers, icing, and salad dressings.

Yellow No. 6 Found in baked goods, candy, gelatin, and sausages among other products, Yellow No. 6 has been found to cause adrenal gland and kidney tumors.

This is just a sampling of some of the additives we know about. There are many more, and more that we don’t know anywhere near enough about — reason enough for stringent oversight and for taking a close look not just what’s in our food, but the processes and people responsible for allowing them to be added to them. This is up to us.

Is our food killing us? If so, we’re doing it to ourselves.


Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Read more articles by Arthur, reach him by email, or click here to follow Arthur on Twitter.