Are Food Additives Harmful?

Some of the food additives that the industry uses haven't been proven for their effects on health. It's recommendable that we avoid them as much as possible.
Are Food Additives Harmful?

Last update: 02 December, 2020

There’s a growing concern about whether food additives are harmful. These chemicals are in many processed products and develop certain effects on the human body. Here, we’ll see if they’re beneficial or if they can increase the risk of developing diseases.

Beyond what we know about food additives, it’s important to emphasize that healthy nutrition must be based on the intake of fresh food, without additives or chemicals. Processed foods can appear in your diet, but not frequently.

At the same time, remember that not all processed foods are the same. In fact, some of them can be perfectly included in a healthy diet.

Types of food additives

There are several types of food additives. In fact, most of them are certified as safe. However, there are some that cause controversy among the scientific community. Within this immense group of additives, we can name some specific types such as colorings, preservatives, sweeteners, and flavor enhancers.

Without a doubt, people question preservatives and sweeteners the most. Research here is scarce or hasn’t lasted long enough to demonstrate their long-term safety. In fact, they can even be harmful. However, we don’t know the impact of any damage with certainty.

Different foods in cans.

Preservatives: food additives that can be harmful

In the spotlight are preservatives and, among them, nitrites. These types of compounds have been linked to an increased risk of developing some types of cancer. This is evidenced by a study published in the journal  Nutrients.

These substances are common in processed red meat. That’s why it’s not recommended to eat too much of it since it’s been associated with an increase in the development of complex diseases. In fact, many ultra-processed foods have nitrates in their ingredients.

Even though it’s not safe for your health, their use is allowed. For this reason, experts recommend eating as little as possible.

Sweeteners are also controversial

Artificial sweeteners are another group of additives that cause controversy among experts. Although they’re allowed, and some aren’t metabolized, they can be harmful to the gut microbiota.

In fact, there are several studies that show that consuming sweeteners regularly alter the intestinal floraThis changes certain functions in your metabolism or the body’s defense system, which doesn’t help.

For this reason, it’s also a good idea to consume as little of them as possible, since we don’t know its long-term effects. What we do know is that they’re detrimental to several bodily functions, even without knowing if they can increase the risk of developing cancer.

Types of sweeteners.

It’s not a better option to consume sugar, which is the ingredient they replace. Sugar can affect the liver and pancreatic function, especially in drinks, as well as free form.

Therefore, taking into account the two cases mentioned, it seems clear that sweet foods aren’t the best means of nutrition for people, except for fruits.

Beware of food additives

Despite the fact that they’re mostly safe, beyond any specific allergy, there are different types of food additives that can damage your health. For this reason, it’s best to eat as little of them as possible.

The best thing to do is to plan a balanced diet with lots of fresh products and avoid consuming processed foods. The latter, apart from additives, usually contain simple sugars and trans fats, which worsens their quality even more.

Don’t forget that some of the food additives, even though they’re legal, haven’t been able to demonstrate their long-term healthiness. This is a potential danger that you should avoid, even though it’s not always possible.

At the very least, try not to eat too many artificial sweeteners and nitrites, since they’re the most controversial and have the worst effects in studies to date.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Song P., Wu L., Guan W., Dietary nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines intake and the risk of gastric cancer: a meta analysis. Nutrients, 2015. 7 (12): 9872-95.
  • Lobach AR., Roberts A., Rowland IR., Assessing the vivo data on low/no calorie sweeteners and the gut microbiota. Food Chem Toxicol, 2019. 124: 385-399.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.