Flavor enhancers, coloring agents & preservatives – Food additives demystified

October 16, 2007

Flavor Enhancers

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – flavor enhancer
Derived from cornstarch, usually a combination of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent sucrose. Treated with an enzyme that converts glucose to fructose, which results in a sweeter product. Used in many mass-produced foods including soft drinks, baked goods, jelly, syrups, condiments (like ketchup), fruits and desserts.

Many believe HFCS to be addictive. Coupled with the prevalence of HFCS across so many products, many believe this contributes to a subconscious desire for everything we eat to be sweet.

High consumption of fructose may contribute to weight gain, diabetes and increased risk of heart disease, particularly in men. In addition, the fructose may alter the magnesium balance in the body, resulting in accelerated bone loss.

Hydrolyzed Proteins – flavor enhancers
Hydrolyzed proteins, used by the food industry to enhance flavor, are proteins that have been chemically broken apart into amino acids. The chemical breakdown of proteins may result in the formation of free glutamate that joins with free sodium to form MSG. In this case, the presence of MSG does not need to be disclosed on labeling. However, labeling is required when MSG is added as a direct ingredient.

The symptoms of free glutamate toxicity are many and varied. So many symptoms can occur that it is often difficult to believe that it is the free glutamate causing them. How could a single substance cause such diverse reactions? One of the reasons is that it acts like a neurotropic drug, a substance that affects the nervous system. This substance can affect insulin metabolism and diabetes resulting in both excessive insulin secretion and insulin resistance.

Other common symptoms due to free glutamate are:
Anxiety attacks, asthma-like symptoms, Attention Deficit Syndrome, bloating, burning sensations, carpel tunnel syndrome, chest pains, depression, diarrhea, disorientation and confusion, dizziness, drowsiness

Fatigue, flushing, gastric distress, headaches & migraines, hyperactivity in children, Infertility and other endocrine problems, insomnia, irregular or rapid heart beat, joint pain, mood swings, mouth lesions, nausea and vomiting, numbness such as finger tips, seizures, shortness of breath, simple skin rash, slurred speech, stomach aches, tremors, vomiting, weakness

Artificial Sweeteners – flavor enhancers

Substances that impart sweetness to foods but supply little or no energy to the body; also called non-nutritive or alternative sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame K and Saccharin) cause behavioral problems, hyperactivity, allergies, and are possibly carcinogenic. The government cautions against the use of any artificial sweetener by children and pregnant women. Anyone with PKU (phenylketonuria—a problem of phenylalanine, an amino acid, metabolism) should not use aspartame (Nutrasweet).

MSG (monosodium glutamate) – flavor enhancer
MSG is the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid and a form of glutamate. Used to intensify meat and spice flavorings in meats, condiments, pickles, soups, candy and baked goods.

Asians originally used a seaweed broth to obtain the flavor-enhancing effects of MSG, but today MSG is made by a fermenting process using starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses.

MSG causes common allergic and behavioral reactions including headaches, dizziness, chest pains, depression and mood swings; also a possible neurotoxin.

Women who ingest MSG while pregnant increase the risk of the developing fetus having a smaller pituitary, thyroid, ovary, or testes. This results in reproductive dysfunction in both females and males. MSG also increases the allergic load, putting someone at risk of developing sensitivities to numerous chemicals and other substances. It can make consumers more sensitive to products containing aspartame (NutraSweet).

Coloring Agents

Artificial Colors – coloring agents
Artificial food colors are described as one of the most dangerous additives. More than 90% of food colorings now in use are manufactured. The numbered colors, called synthetic colors, are made from coal tar or petroleum.

There are studies that suggest artificial color have an affect on children’s behavior and of course, they can have an affect on our health and how our bodies function. Artificial food colors have been linked to allergies, asthma, hyperactivity and are a possible carcinogen.

In particular, FD&C Yellow No. 5, or tartrazine, is used to color beverages, desert powders, candy, ice cream, custards and other foods. The color additive may cause hives in as many as one out of 10,000 people. By law, whenever the color is added to foods or taken internally, it must be listed on the label. This allows the small portion of people who may be sensitive to FD&C Yellow No.5 to avoid it.

Nitrates & Nitrites – color fixatives
Nitrates and nitrites (potassium and sodium) are substances made up of nitrogen, oxygen, and various other organic and inorganic compounds. They are naturally present in a number of foods, but are also used as color fixatives in cured and processed meats (i.e. bacon, bologna, frankfurters) and in some types of smoked fish (i.e. salmon, tuna).

Nitrates and nitrites combine with natural stomach saliva and food substances to create nitrosamines, powerful cancer-causing additives.


Hydrogenated Oils (aka Trans Fats or Trans Fatty Acids) – preservative
Hydrogenation – the process of adding hydrogen gas under high pressure to liquid oils to turn them into solids at room temperature – increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing polyunsaturated fats.

There are two types of fat to be aware of:

Saturated fats – let’s call them “the enemy” are hard at room temperature. These fats are not essential to your health. They come from animals and are found in meat, eggs and cheese. They are harder to digest and full of cholesterol.

Unsaturated fats – “the good guys!” are liquid at room temperature and have been divided into two groups. Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower oil.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are much less expensive than the fats originally favored by bakers, such as butter or lard.

Hydrogenated fats, also know as trans fats, are associated with many serious diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low-birth-weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation and problems with bones and tendons. They have also been found to contribute to cardiovascular disease, such as fat-clogged arteries.

Amounts of trans fat will be required on food labels as of 2006.

Sodium Benzoate – preservative

Sodium Benzoate is used as a preservative, effectively killing most yeast, bacteria and fungi. It is used primarily in foods such as preserves, salad dressings, carbonated drinks, jams, and fruit juices. It is also found naturally in cranberries, prunes, greengage plums, cinnamon, ripe cloves and apples.

Moderately toxic by ingestion, this chemical has caused birth defects in experimental animals. Known to cause nettle rash, and aggravate asthma.

Calcium Disodium EDTA (Ethylenediamine Tetraacetic Acid) – preservative and sequestrant/humectant (aids in water retention).
Used as a food additive to prevent crystal formation and to inhibit color loss. Used in canned and carbonated soft drinks for flavor retention. Also used in dressings and mayonnaise as a preservative.

Often added to foods – particularly meat, poultry and fish – to help retain moisture and soft texture.

May cause intestinal upset, muscle cramps, kidney damage, and blood in urine. This additive is on the FDA priority list of food additives to be studied for mutagenic, teratogenic, subacute and reproductive effects.

Sulfur Dioxide – preservative

A gas formed when sulfur burns, this preservative is used to preserve a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, alcoholic drinks, dried fruits.

Sulfur dioxide, as with other sulfites, may cause allergic and asthmatic reactions.

An Exception for Now: Wine

While we are opposed to added sulfites found in wine, it is very hard to avoid them. Virtually all wines – even the organic ones – contain some level of sulfites, which are naturally produced by yeast during the fermentation process. Despite this, we seek out and evaluate new wines, to which no sulfites have been added as a pesticide or preservative.

Sulfites – preservatives

Sulfur-based compounds that are a natural by-product of fermentation. Most wines contain low levels of sulfites, which are used to protect wine from oxidation and to kill off bactera. Sulfites are also used to clean and sterilize equipment and barrels, and may sometimes be sprayed in a vineyard to prevent disease and pests.

In 1988, the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms required a warning label, “Contains Sulfites” – on wines, beers and spirits that exceed the 10 parts per million (ppm) threshold. Wines that contain less than 10ppm sulfites do not require this warning.

Sulfites are safe for most people. However, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, approximately 1% of the population has some sensitivity to sulfur compounds and sulfites and about 5% of asthma sufferers can have adverse sulfite reactions. Asthmatics who depend on corticosteroids are especially prone to sulfite sensitivity and can have severe reactions. For that reason, in 1986 the FDA banned the use of sulfites on fresh fruits and vegetables (except potatoes) intended to be sold or served raw to consumers. People with allergies to aspirin are also at an elevated risk for reaction to sulfites. The reaction can be fatal and requires immediate treatment at an emergency room, and can include sneezing, swelling of the throat, and hives. Sulfites are also believed to cause headaches in some people.

Source: Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

3 Responses to “Flavor enhancers, coloring agents & preservatives – Food additives demystified”

  1. K. R. I. Says:

    I disagree by with the lumping of all saturated fats as bad and that eggs, meats and cheeses as not essentail to good health. Butter and lard are quite good for heart health and the tropical oils (coconut and palm)are a blessing in more ways than one. Coconut oil has tons of antiviral, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties that are so powerful that it is being used to help HIV patients.

    “The following nutrient-rich traditional fats have nourished healthy population groups for thousands of years:

    Beef and lamb tallow
    Chicken, goose and duck fat
    Coconut, palm and sesame oils
    Cold pressed olive oil
    Cold pressed flax oil
    Marine oils

    The following new-fangled fats can cause cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, sterility, learning disabilities, growth problems and osteoporosis:

    All hydrogenated oils
    Soy, corn and safflower oils
    Cottonseed oil
    Canola oil
    All fats heated to very high temperatures in processing and frying”

    It is only since we’ve been consuming these truly bad fats that we have seen American become increasingly obese. If these ‘new’ fats are supposed to be good for you then why are so many American chronically sick and can’t lose weight?

    For further information, please visit – http://www.westonaprice.org/knowyourfats/index.html

  2. BK Says:

    this was a really helpful site

  3. Thanks for publishing Flavor enhancers, coloring agents & preservatives –
    Food additives demystified Food Democracy, I had been seeking for something very similar and was
    relieved to acquire the info as a result of this post.

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