Food Additives – Are They Dangerous?


Nutrition Label

I recently heard a lecture by Michael Jacobson PhD, who is the co-founder of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, an independent consumer advocacy organization that conducts innovative research in nutrition and health.  He was talking about three particular food additives that are very common in our food supply, and the health risks they pose for you and I – the consumer.   The three additives are: salt, food dyes, and trans fats.  Here are the main points of Michael Jacobson’s talk – some facts may surprise you (they certainly surprised me!):

Seven facts about salt (sodium chloride):

  1. The main chronic health problems related to high sodium intake are: high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
  2. It is possibly the single deadliest ingredient in the food chain.
  3. The US dietary guideline recommends between 1500 and 2300 mg/person/day, although the lower the amount of salt in our diet, the less risk we have to our health.
  4. Many processed foods contain anywhere from 2100  to 5500 mg of sodium/serving
  5. The average sodium consumption of North Americans has almost doubled since 1971.
  6. Many food manufacturers could easily lower the sodium content of their products and still have perfectly marketable products that would be healthier.
  7. The sodium content in processed foods actually varies in different countries, with the USA generally having higher sodium content in their processed foods than other countries.


Five facts about food dyes:

  1. They are highly used in processed foods to simulate real food colors.
  2. They are often used along with artificial flavors to simulate and replace real fruit (example: in fruit juices)
  3. Several studies done since the early 1970s indicate that food dyes (and possibly other ingredients) can trigger hyperactivity or learning issues.  The most common food dyes in these studies are: red 40, red 3, yellow 5, yellow 6, blue 1 and blue 2.
  4. Since 1975 the use of food dyes in processed foods has doubled (from approximately 30 mg/capita/day to approximately 60 mg/capita/day)
  5. Many products containing food dyes are target marketed to children.


Four facts about trans fats (trans fatty acids): 

  1. The biggest source of trans fats is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil 
  2. They are a huge cause of heart disease.
  3. There have been many law suits in the USA against major food companies (such as Burger King, McDonalds, and KFC) which has resulted in major changes within the food companies.
  4. The amount of hydrogenated oil used in the food industry is currently down by about 75%.  Michael Jacobson estimates this saves about 30,000 lives per year in the USA.

Yes, food additives can be very dangerous – for us and for our children. An important note – several other food additives could pose health risks as well: sodium nitrate, saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K, olestra, and sugar.

Statistics show that scientific research about the food supply has a positive impact, which leads to positive consumer action.  This, in turn, leads to major changes by the food industry, and ultimately results in positive effects on the health of consumers.  We – the consumers – need to remain aware of the current scientific research being done on the products in our food chain. We need to make wise choices, and create a demand for the healthiest products.

On a more individual level – we need to become educated label readers so that we know exactly what we are buying and consuming, not just believe the marketing hype about products.  We need to think about the effect our food choices have on our wellbeing.  Collectively, we can vote with our food purchases and refuse to buy processed foods that endanger our health and the health of our loved ones.

Are you interested in learning more about reading food labels?  Do you feel overwhelmed by what you see on food labels, or in the ingredients list of the foods you buy?  If so – you are not alone!  I’ve been a label reader for a long time, and I can help!  Contact me, and let’s work together  – I’d be happy to help you in all your efforts to buy the healthiest foods for you and your family.


Informational Resources:

Best Health Magazine – article on Food Additives to Avoid

Centre for Science in the Public Interest – Chemical Cuisine

Centre for Science in the Public Interest – Salt

Centre for Science in the Public Interest – Food Dyes

Centre for Science in the Public Interest –  Trans Fats


Copyright © 2013 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved