Ask the Expert: Top 10 Food Additives To Avoid

Here is a list of 10 of the most common and dangerous food additives found in processed, packaged foods.   I would love to list all of the food additives but there are more than 3000 different chemicals that are used in preparing foods for sale to consumers.

1.   Artificial colours (FD&C colours) – Artificial colours are chemicals synthesized from petroleum and coal-tar products.  The major concerns are potential toxicity including allergic reactions, liver stress from metabolizing these chemicals and potential carcinogenicity.  The FDA does not require food manufacturers to list specific agents used in their foods; they need only be designated as ‘artificial colours’.

2.  Sodium Nitrate and Nitrite – Nitrates and nitrites are used primarily used to cure meats such as ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, corned beef, lunch meats and some fish products.  Nitrate easily converts to nitrite and can interact with amines in the digestive juices or tissues to form nitrosamines, which are highly carcinogenic chemicals. 

3.  BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) – Found in enriched rice, breakfast cereals, shortenings, animal fats, dog and cat foods, potato flakes, chewing gum and cake mixes as a preservative.  BHT can be irritating to the liver and kidneys and allergic reactions have been known.  BHT may convert to other substances in the human body that may be carcinogenic.

4.  BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) – Similar to BHT, BHA is also a petroleum by-product used as a preservative to prevent rancidity of fats and fat-containing foods.  It is commonly found in dry cereals, crackers, instant potatoes, soup bases, seasonings, dry mixes for desserts or beverages, canned or bottled, as well as shortenings, baked goods, ice cream and candy.

5.  Sulfites (especially sodium bisulfite) – Used as a preservative and sanitizing agent to prevent bacterial growth and the browning of exposed foods.  Many people react to sulfites, especially those sprayed on foods or added in restaurants.  Allergic reactions are worse in asthmatics, whose condition, wheezing and shortness of breath, can be exacerbated by sulfites.   Other reactions include diarrhea, nausea and headaches.  

6.  Sulfur Dioxide – It is sprayed on many fruits and vegetables to preserve their colour and protect against attacks from microorganisms.  Many dried fruits are treated with sulphur dioxide.  It is used as a disinfectant in food manufacturing, a bleaching agent.  Also found in corn syrup, jellies, soups, fresh and dehydrated potatoes, condiments, fruits and beverages.  It is highly irritating and destroys vitamin A and some B vitamins.

7.  BVO (brominated vegetable oil) – Used in flours and breads and since they are used during processing, they may not be listed on the label.  It makes oils heavier so that they can evenly distribute flavouring in soft drinks, especially citrus and fruit-flavoured beverages, as well as in ice cream and some baked goods.  It has been known to cause allergic reactions, with high amounts causing intestinal irritation and food-poisoning symptoms as well as kidney or central nervous system problems. 

8.  MSG (monosodium glutamate) – A flavour enhancer found in seasoning salts, soups, spices, condiments, meats, some baked goods and candies,  as well as, many Chinese restaurant dishes.  It seems to affect brain chemistry.  Symptoms include headaches, tingling, numbness and chest pains.  Other names for MSG include:  hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract and textured vegetable protein. 

9.  Carrageenan - An emulsifier found in food processing, it is found in foods such as bottled salad dressings, ice cream, cheese spreads, chocolate milk, evaporated milk,  non-dairy milks, puddings, sherbet, candies and jellies.  It is pro-inflammatory and there has been concern about its effect on reproductive function. 

10.  Aspartame – The list is quite extensive but commonly found in yogurts, candies, diet foods, soft drinks, chewing gums and many more processed foods.  Symptoms include headache, dizziness, mood swings, insomnia and depression.  Disorders associated with aspartame include, weight gain, diabetes, cancer, birth defects, emotional disorders and epilepsy and seizures.    

Do you have a question?  Email me at and your question with my answer could get printed in this newsletter. 

Alisa Davies is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Culinary Nutrition Expert and has been in the health and wellness field for many years.  She specializes in natural nutrition, Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, healthy eating habits for kids, weight loss, inflammatory conditions, custom eating plans and recipe development.  Contact Alisa at Movement Unlimited Inc. at 905-892-1239  or 905-964-2026 or email her at