Food Additives – What to Look For and What to Avoid

Ernest Warhurst

January 31, 2023


There are a lot of different substances that can be found in foods. Some of them have been linked to health problems and should be avoided, while others can be consumed safely as part of a healthy diet.

If you want to stay healthy, focus on eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and low-fat dairy products. Also, try to eat less red meat and processed foods.

Food Additives

Food additives can be natural or synthetic and can be used to improve flavour, texture and appearance, enhance the shelf life of a product or provide aid in the manufacturing, processing and transport of foods. Additives also help preserve the nutritional quality of food by preventing the growth of microbes and fungi.

There are two types of food additives: direct, which are added to the food itself, and indirect, which are incorporated in trace amounts during packaging, storage or handling. Examples of direct food additives include xanthan gum, which is used in chocolate milk, bakery fillings and puddings, as well as emulsifiers, such as carrageenan, which are added to dairy products and coffee creamers.

To ensure the safety of food additives, scientific studies are performed on animals and humans to determine how much an additive is safe to consume in human foods. The ‘no observed adverse effect level’ (NOAEL) is determined, which is an amount of an additive that can be consumed daily without risk to health. If new scientific information shows that a food additive is no longer safe, its approval can be withdrawn.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are found in butter, lard, full-fat milk and yoghurt, cheese and high-fat meat. Tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil also contain saturated fats.

According to the American Heart Association, you should limit your saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of total calories. However, recent research has cast doubt on this advice.

This may mean you should eat more of the less harmful unsaturated fats. These include omega-3 fatty acids and other essential fats, which are beneficial for heart health.

The easiest way to cut down on saturated fats is to read the nutrition labels on food packaging. Look for products that have a low: 1.5g saturates or less per 100g.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are man-made fatty acids produced through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. They are used to make commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods and fast foods.

But they are dangerous to our health. Research has shown that they can cause heart disease, obesity and diabetes. They also raise the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer.

In the United States, trans fat intake soared in the early 1990s because of the advent of partially hydrogenated oils (a type of vegetable shortening). The new oils were created by chemically altering liquid oil so that it would turn solid at room temperature.

Since 2006, the FDA has required that trans fat content be listed on the Nutrition Facts label. In 2013, the agency set a three-year time limit for manufacturers to remove trans fats from all commercially processed foods.


Salt is the primary source of sodium, a mineral that increases blood pressure and is associated with a number of health problems. For decades, the World Health Organization and other organizations have recommended limiting salt intake to less than 5 grams of sodium per day for adults.

However, there is a lot of salt hidden in our food. This is what’s called ‘hidden salt’, which accounts for around 75% of all salt in the diet.

This includes ready meals, takeaway foods, processed food and most restaurant dishes. To help reduce your salt intake, try to cook from scratch more often and choose fresh fruits and vegetables when possible.

It’s also important to read food labels for salt content and avoid processed foods that contain a lot of sodium. Look for products with a salt reduction label or no added salt at all.