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Synthetic and Artificial Food Additives - Are They Tested and Safe?

Updated on November 21, 2015

The history of food additives is long and a bit shady. Thousands of food additives and chemicals have gone into our food over the years without testing.

Additives have been used in processed foods to make them more appealing in color, taste, and/or to preserve their shelf life.

There are a significant number that have recently been found to pose health risks after many years of use. In addition, there are hundreds more that are developed each year - most of which do not undergo testing before they are approved to go to market.

Independent, non-government groups have been carefully trying to document what research has been done to offer guidelines on those food additives that are considered safe and those that are not.

Artificial Food Additives and Dyes to Avoid

The following is a list of artificial food additives that several watch dog groups recommend to avoid.

Most have been linked to either cancer or heart disease.

Others, like MSG and HVP, have been identified as neurotoxins. Neurotoxins kill off neurons and have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases.

  • ASPARTAME (aka Nutrasweet)
  • BLUE #2 (artificial coloring)
  • GREEN #3 (artificial coloring)
  • HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein)
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • OLESTRA (Olean)
  • ORANGE B (artificial coloring)
  • RED #3 (artificial coloring)
  • TRANS FAT (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil)
  • YELLOW #5 (artificial coloring)
  • YELLOW #6 (artificial coloring)

Petroleum-based Synthetic and Artificial Food Additives

There are a number of synthetic and artificial food dyes that are made from petroleum. These dyes pose an increased risk of cancer, allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. Several of these dyes have been banned in Europe but many have not yet been banned in the U.S. and Canada.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a complete report available to the public entitled: Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks

An excerpt from CSPI: "Food dyes also serve to deceive consumers: they are often used to simulate the presence of healthful, colorful fruits and vegetables. But considering the adverse impact of these chemicals on children, and considering how easily they can be replaced with safe, natural ingredients, it's time to get rid of them altogether from the United States and Canada."

What Artificial Additives Are In Your Favorite Food?

As I was finishing up this hub, I felt a little hungry and I took a snack break. I almost went for box of granola bars that my husband brought home.

Upon looking at the ingredient list, I found over 35 ingredients - at least 70% of the ingredients listed were artificial additives in that chosen snack food. So, I decided I REALLY did not need a granola bar - an apple would be better. That little tiny bar had a couple of the food additives listed above and dyes, so I decided to skip it.

I challenge you all to take a look at the list of ingredients on some of your packaged food items - how many of the above listed cancer-causing, neuron-killing, heart-stopping additives are crashing your food party?


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    • rsusan profile image

      Rika Susan 5 years ago from South Africa

      Very important and highly informative hub, Kris! So many folks don't understand the importance of reading labels, or simply don't understand what they mean. My rule is that if I don't understand a word on a label and know exactly what it stands for, the product is a no-no. But it is becoming more challenging all the time, as so many new 'baddies' are slipped in. I think there should be a 'food label reading' course in schools these days!:-)

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Sherri Mitchell - thanks for your comments!

      The sugar substitute group is an interesting group of additives. Splenda (sucralose) has not been rigorously tested. As I recall, it went to market after only being tested for short term effects on a small handful of people. Based on how it's made, it's one that I've decided to stay away from. My gut feeling as a scientist is that in 10+ years it will end up on the "bad" list after large population studies have been done.

      Of all the sugar substitutes, I typically recommend agave nectar or stevia as alternatives. When used sparingly, they are better "all natural" alternatives.

    • profile image

      Sherri Mitchell 5 years ago

      My sugar substitute of choice is Splenda as my uncle used that. Looking at the ingredients in that one, I see Dextrose, Maltodextrin, and Sucralose (which I will take over asparatame and saccharin anyday!) and am happy to see that these are not on your list. Reading labels and limiting all the sugars, toxins and processed foods are smart things for responsible parents to do. I agree w/Melis as we have to take charge and NOT wait for the gov't to regulate what we eat/drink. Thank you for the useful hub.

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      I enjoyed your hub! This is information we need to share with as many people as possible. I thought I was doing well with avoiding the additives for my family, but then realized that daily vitamins and other medicines are also loaded with these toxins (I just published a hub about it). When I talk to my family and friends, I want them to know that we are in control of what we eat and cannot wait for government to say it's unsafe.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @kelleyward, @carol3san and @shebshi - thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you all found this hub useful:)

    • profile image

      kelleyward 6 years ago

      Thanks so much for the info. I try so hard to give my boys food in its natural form but they tend to love the food with additives. We tend to shop at Whole Foods and this helps because they have better choices. Thanks again!!

    • carol3san profile image

      Carolyn Sands 6 years ago from Hollywood Florida

      Hi Kris. Thanks so much for writing this hub and sharing about food additives and dyes we should avoid. I will pay closser attention and read not only the sodium and carb content what I normally do. but from now on I will be checking for the additives and dyes as well. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • shebshi profile image

      shebshi 6 years ago from Sylvania, Ohio

      Reading labels has become an important part of my shopping experience, and the more words on the ingredient list I don't recognize (or am able to pronounce) the less likely I will be to buy the product. Thank you for this informative hub.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @tammyswallow - yes, I have been following the arsenic story a bit - very scary! I'll work on putting a hub together on that:)

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow Kris, this is great information. This could explain I get so sick if I eat certain foods like Chinese.

      Are you following the new alert that there are high levels of arsenic in juice? I hope you will cover this with your expertise. It is hard to find any kids drinks that don't come from apple juice concentrate.

      Your hubs are great!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @lorenmurcia - I'm so glad to hear that this topic is being discussed with students in Science class!

      @ Alecia Murphy - you are so right! We really don't have a great idea of what is being put in our food. I was really shocked to learn how much of this is never tested. It's a "innocent until proven guilty" system.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      This is interesting but still disheartening. I guess we don't really know what's in our food unless we make it, raise it, or grow it ourselves from the ground up. Thank you for the information.

    • lorenmurcia profile image

      lorenmurcia 6 years ago

      During my Science class, I get to discuss about food additives to my students. However, I really have little knowledge on what additives are safe. Thanks for the information.

      Voted UP, UI