10 Food Additives to Avoid and Why

Updated on September 13, 2017

1. Benzoic Acid

Benzoic acid is a common preservative in food and drinks, but it is thought that benzoic acid when in the presence of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in food and drinks can produce small amounts of the carcinogen benzene in the food or drink.

Since a lot of foods contain Vitamin C as a health additive while still use benzoic acid as a preservative, this can be worrying.

It has been suggested that small amounts of the carcinogen benzene can be formed in soft drinks and fruits drinks containing the benzoic acid and the vitamin C, and laboratory tests indeed prove that under certain reaction conditions benzene is formed from benzoic acid.

Certain catalysts present in many drinks that can initiate the production of benzene include copper or iron sulphate but also beverage pH, storage temperature and exposure to UV light can initiate the production of benzene [1].

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of benzene in water is 5 ppb for drinking water.

But recent studies on over 100 soft drinks and other beverages collected from retail stores in the US found that 4 of beverage products containing both added benzoates and ascorbic acid had benzene levels above the limit of 5 ppb EPA [2].

2. Sodium Benzoate

As well as the carcinogenic concerns existing for foods and drinks containing benzoic acid with vitamin C (ascorbic acid), the same carcinogenic concerns exist for food and drinks containing Sodium benzoate and vitamin C through the similar production of the carcinogen benzene. Drinks containing sodium benzoate and vitamin c together will more than likely contain some benzene as they interaction of the sodium benzoate and vitamin C will result in the production of benzene. The concentration of benzene may be below the 5 ppb EPA limit, but is still present and should be taken into consideration [2].

3. Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate

Sodium Nitrite (and Sodium Nitrate) are preservatives also used to colour and flavour meat products. However they have been linked to various types of diseases.

Sodium Nitrite: On tests with mice, it was found that Sodium Nitrite significantly increased DNA damage in the stomach due to the formation of free radicals. Free radicals have been associated with cancer [3].

The most striking finding with Sodium Nitrite was from an experiment that showed that in rats, tumors of the lung could be caused by ingestion of sodium nitrite [4].

Could it be possible that these carcinogenic effects could establish in Humans, considering sodium nitrite has this type of effect in smaller mammals such as mice and rats?

Sodium Nitrate: Studies in conducted in rats supplemented with sodium nitrate showed that sodium nitrate results in testicular toxicity with decreased sperm count and motility, decreased testis weight, inhibited activity of spermatogenesis enzymes and so on [5]. Could Sodium nitrate causes a decreased sperm count in Humans and could it be associated with sterility?

4. BHA and BHT

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisol) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are synthetic antioxidants, commonly used to maintain foodstuff, but have been suspected of cancerous toxicity [6]. Tests show that BHA administered to rats, mice and golden Syrian hamsters can cause cancer, more specifically papillomas and squamous cell carcinomas of the forestomach [7]. But further tests on BHA and BHT need to be conducted to finalise their negative affects on humans.

5. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is an amino acid flavour enhancer used in many foods and especially in asian food and is connected to various disorders. One disorder connected to MSG is asthma and studies have shown that MSG does in fact trigger asthmatic effects. In one study, 32 subjects with asthma had specific intakes of MSG and others with placebos. The results showed that some subjects developed asthma symptoms 1 to 2 hours post MSG ingestion with others developing these symptoms 6-12 hours after ingestion [8].

Findings by the FASEB in 1995 outlined that MSG can also be associated with

  1. Burning sensation of the back of the neck, forearms and chest.
  2. Facial pressure or tightness.
  3. Chest pain.
  4. Headache
  5. Nausea.
  6. Upper body tingling and weakness.
  7. Palpitation.
  8. Numbness in the back of the neck, arms and back.
  9. Bronchospasm (in asthmatics only).
  10. Drowsiness. [9]

6. Trans Fats

Trans fat are an artificial abomination added to foods and have been shown to increase concentrations of the ‘bad’ low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) and reduce concentrations of the ‘good’ high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

This increases the risk of coronary artery disease, heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases and is estimated that 30,000 premature deaths per year in the United States are linked to the consumption of trans fats [10].

Trans fats have also been shown to possibly have a negative effect on the human fetus and on newborns and an increase in colon cancer risk in adults [11].

7. Aspartame

Aspartame seems to be a safe sugar substitute but in trials on aspartame fed rats it was shown that aspartame caused an extremely high occurrence of brain tumours compared to no brain tumours found in the controls. This shows that aspartame has mutagenic potential and may explain the recent increase in incidence and degree of malignancy of brain tumours in humans [12].

Other than carcinogenic effects, Aspartame may also cause neurochemical changes that could have functional or behavioral consequences, particularly in people with certain underlying diseases [13].

8. Food Colourings

The evidence accumulated suggests that food additives such as artificial colourings do for some children with ADHD make their condition worse, but the evidence doesn’t fully suggest that the food colourings cause ADHD and behavioural disorders [14].

A significant downfall for children with ADHD is that they often have poor scholastic performance, diminished family and peer relationships, and other psychiatric and developmental disorders.

In a recent study of pediatric practices in North Carolina, 15% of children were found to have behavioral disorders, with ADHD as the most frequent diagnosis [15]. Food colourings should be avoided in children with behavioural disorders such as ADHD.

9. Potassium Bromate

Potassium bromate (KBrO3) is used as an additive in foods such a white flour and breads to increase their volume. But Potassium bromate is known as well-established rodent kidney carcinogen to which its oxidising activity is thought to be a main factor in its mechanism of action.

Potassium bromate also shows some genotoxicty and is associated with induction of gene mutations and chromosome aberrations in mouse lymphoma cells, both potentially leading to cancer [16].

10. Calcium Propanoate

In trials it was found that Calcium Propanoate and other preservatives can cause irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in some children if consumed daily. If processed foods minimised their concentrations this would reduce adverse reactions [17]. Calcium propanoate can be toxic to certain species and it can actually be used as a pesticide. Do you want to consume a pesticide? [18].




[3] Toyoizumi, T., Sekiguchi, H., Takabayashi, F., Deguchi, Y., Masuda, S. and Kinae, N. (2010). Induction effect of coadministration of soybean isoflavones and sodium nitrite on DNA damage in mouse stomach. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 48, 10: 2585-2591.

[4] Taylor, H.W. and Lijinsky, W. (1975). Tumor Induction in Rats by Feeding Heptamethyleneimine and Nitrite in Water. Cancer Res, 35;812.

[5] Aly, H.A.A., Mansour, A.M., Abo-Salem,O.M., Abd-Ellah, H.F. and Abdel-Naim, A.B. (2010).Potential testicular toxicity of sodium nitrate in adult rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 48, 2: 572-578.

[6] Ito, N., Hirose, M., Fukushima, S., Tsuda, H., Shira, T., Tatematsu, M., 1986. Studies on antioxidants: their carcinogenic and modify- 1622 S.-J. Heo et al. / Bioresource Technology 96 (2005) 1613–1623ing effects on chemical carcinogenesis. Food Chem. Toxicol. 24,1071–1082.

[7] http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/roc/eleventh/profiles/s027bha.pdf

[8] Allen, D.H., Delohery, J. and Baker, G. (1987).Monosodium -glutamate-induced asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 80, 4: 530-537.

[9] Walker, R. and Lupien, J.R. (2000). The Safety Evaluation of Monosodium Glutamate. J. Nutr., 130 , 4: 1049.

[10] Ascherio, A. and Willett, W.C. (1997). Health effects of trans fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr , 66 : 1006S-1010S.

[11] Stender, S. and Dyerberg, J. (2004). Influence of Trans Fatty Acids on Health. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 48:61-66.

[12] Olney, J.W., Farber, N.B., Spitznagel, E., Robins, L.N. (1996). Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, 55, 11: 1115-1123.

[13] Wurtman, R.J. (1983). Neurochemical Changes Following High-Dose Aspartame with Dietary Carbohydrates. N Engl J Med, 309: 429-430

[14] Stevenson, J. (2009). Food additives and children's behaviour: evidence-based policy at the margins of certainty. Journal of Children's Services, 4, 2: 4-13.

[15] Cruz, N.V. and Bahna, S.L. (2006). Do Foods or Additives Cause Behavior Disorders? Psychiatricannals, 36, 10: 724-732.

[16] Catherine C Priestley, Richard M. Green, Michael D. Fellows, Ann T. Doherty, Nikolas J. Hodges and O’Donovan, M.R. (2010). Anomalous genotoxic responses induced in mouse lymphoma L5178Y cells by potassium bromate. Toxicology, 267, 1-3: 45-53.

[17] Dengate S. and Ruben A. (2002). Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative. J. Paediatr. Child Health, 38(4):373-6.

[18] A. R. Biggs, M. M. El-Kholi, S. El-Neshawy, and R. Nickerson. (1997). Effects of Calcium Salts on Growth, Polygalacturonase Activity, and Infection of Peach Fruit by Monilinia fructicola. Plant Disease, 81,4: 399-403.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2011 Iontach


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    • ALL4JESUS profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Very well done! Thank you! This is a great reminder that fresh food is the best.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Food is the

    • Iontach profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Hay again Dr. Wendy!

      Thank you so much for the lovely comment :) I got the idea for this on the internet, but I didn't like the way those articles didn't go into too much detail so I tried to improve on that. Glad you like it :)



    • Dr. Wendy profile image

      Dr. Wendy 

      9 years ago from Kentucky

      This is the most informative article I have read on this subject. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • Iontach profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Hay Emily! No probs :) Thanks for your comment. Stay clear of the additives...lol



    • Emily40 profile image


      9 years ago

      Hey Dave this is great, very interesting piece of info.

      Thanks for sharing!


    • simeonvisser profile image


      9 years ago

      Hehe, I think I'm not qualified to peer review these matters but it's good that I can now lookup the references if I wish to know more about a particular claim.

    • Iontach profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks cheapsk8chick, thanks for your comments and I'm glad the hub was useful :)

      Thanks Simeonvisser, for reminding me to put my references in. This the second time I forgot!

      Thanks Julie2, I hope the recent events arent too bad!!! p.s. thanks for bookmarking! yey :D

      Thanks Romancer of life, you better use this to your advantage, haha.

      Cheers everyone,


    • Iontach profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Simeon visser I officially love you....lol This is the second time i forgot to put up the references!!! They will be up right now and you can peer review this if you like. haha



    • ROMANCER OF LIFE profile image


      9 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Wow.... this is an important hub. I'm going to use it to my advantage! Thanks for sharing.


    • Julie2 profile image


      9 years ago from New York City

      I have bookmarked this hub. Thanks for all the info. This is going to be very helpful for me due to recent events.

    • simeonvisser profile image


      9 years ago

      What happened to the references?

    • cheapsk8chick profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow, that's a lot of information to process and much to think about! Thanks for the hub!


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