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5 Harmful Food Additives to Watch For

By HERWriter Blogger
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5 Harmful Food Additives You Need to Watch Out For PS Productions/PhotoSpin

When purchasing food keep in mind the food industry’s top concern is NOT your health. Their job is to sell food. Your health, and the health of those you care for, are your responsibility. Do not expect the food industry to take care of that for you.

While it would be ideal, amazing, and simply good morals, for all food to be free of harmful food additives, that is not the current state of our food supply. Thus it is up to the consumer to read and understand food labels in order to bring home healthy food.

Here are five food additives to watch out for when grocery shopping:

Artificial Food Dyes

If you see a color-number combo on a package of food, leave it be! Examples would be Blue 2, Caramel Coloring (we’ll talk about this one some more), Red 3, Red 40 and Yellow 5. For the most part, these type of food dyes are petroleum-based chemical concoctions.

The one natural exception is Red 40, which is made out of cochineal bugs — yes, bugs. Bugs that happen to be relatives of shell fish — a huge problem for people with shellfish allergies.

These dyes are often cited for being associated with health problems ranging from skin breakouts to ADHD to cancer. If you stop to think about it though, how awesome can it be for your body to have chemicals bouncing around in your digestive tract and blood stream?

Furthermore, why do our foods and supplements (check your vitamins!) need to be dyed in the first place? And if we’re going to dye them, why can’t we stick with plant pigments that provide color and nutrition?

For more information on food dyes, check out this report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.


Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene are used to prevent foods from rancidity and oxidation, aka going bad. They’re also suspected of causing cancer, which is worse than spoiled potato chips.

The brilliant folks at Berkeley Wellness did a great job of breaking down this information. They recommend not purchasing foods containing these two additives.

Note to the food industry: vitamin E also can prevent the exact same foods from going rancid or oxidizing, and if you put it in its scientific name, alpha-tocopherol, it’ll sound just as fancy on your label.

Caramel Coloring

When you see "Caramel Coloring," read "Cancer". If the label reads caramel color, caramel coloring or even fancy-British styling – caramel colour(ing), don’t buy the product.

Caramelization is the natural process that happens when you add heat to a carbohydrate source. Like delicious caramelized onions. Caramel coloring is not remotely related to that.

Caramel coloring that is made in a lab to put in things like soda, barbeque sauces, and even some coconut covered almonds is totally different. It contains a potential carcinogenic (cancer-causing agent) chemical called 4-methylimidazole.


Carrageenan is a product made from seaweed to thicken food products and/or keep them in suspension. That way we don’t have to shake our almond milk before pouring it.

Sounds natural and safe. Unfortunately, it’s not. Carrageenan has been found to cause a long list of intestinal issues, and may even cause cancer. It’s every person with chronic digestive issues’ worst nightmare.

Partially Hydrogenated Oils

Doesn’t matter if it’s partially hydrogenated magic oil, if it’s partially hydrogenated oil, it’s trans fat. Trans fats are fatty acids that increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol.

Small amounts of these fats occur in nature, but science found a way in the 1950s to make large amounts of them and call them what used to be considered a health food — margarine.

You have to read the label to find them! By law if a product has less than .5 grams per serving of partially hydrogenated oils, the food product can boast that it’s trans fat free! But if something causes heart disease, there is no acceptable amount to put in your body.

Be kind to your heart, and keep trans fats out of your diet.

For a free and more complete list of food additives and their safety level, download the free Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Chemical Cuisine App.


Diet and Nutrition: The Artificial Food Dye Blues. October 2010. Environmental Health Perspectives.

Caramel color: The health risk that may be in your soda. Accessed July 30, 2015. Consumer Reports.

BREAKING: Major Company Removing Controversial Ingredient Carrageenan Because Of You! Accessed July 30, 2015. FoodBabe.com.

Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health. Accessed July 30, 2015. Mayo Clinic.

Reviewed July 31, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.