Are Food Additives Polluting Your Palate?


Dealing with Food Additives in India

The issue of food additives is fresh in our minds due to the recent Maggi Noodles controversy. Nestle’s Maggi came to the media spotlight when government lab tests revealed that the noodles contained MSG contrary to its claim of “No added MSG”. This issue was further aggravated when the central FSSAI lab at Kolkata found the noodles were contaminated with lead. While Maggi Noodles has finally emerged from this controversy and resumed sales, the issue of food additives has remained firmly in our minds.

Since centuries food additives have been a part of our menus to enhance flavor and appearance. Any chemical substance that is added to food during preparation or storage which affects the quality of the food item is considered to be a food additive. There are many ways through which food additives enter our palates; they are generally added during processing, packaging or storage of food products.

Common food additives

Food color in India

Common examples of food additives are coloring agents that make food attractive, anti-caking materials that prevent clumping of powders like salt, flour, food preservatives that prevent and postpone spoilage and some sweeteners that heighten sweetness of items without increasing the caloric value. Do food additives really ‘add’ value to the food? And do they cause side effects?

Here is a list of 10 most-used food additives along with their side effects:

Aspartame Low-calorie sweetenerBeverages, chewing gum, puddings, yogurt, sugar-free products, etc. Some people are allergic to aspartame who could suffer migraine headaches
SaccharinSweetenerFruit juice, jellies, carbonated beverages, canned fruits, preservatives and as sugar replacementDemonstrated to cause cancer in lab animals
High Fructose Corn SyrupSweetenerSalad dressings, bread, cereals, candy and flavored yogurt. Contributes towards weight gain, type-2 diabetes and heart issues.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)Flavor-enhancerDressings, frozen food, canned vegetablesConsidered harmful to children; Long-term consumption can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, adrenal gland dysfunction, strokes
Trans FatsTo extend shelf life of food productsChips, baked food, margarine and fast food in generalIncrease in bad cholesterol level, increase in heart risk and stroke, contributes to diabetes
Sodium SulfitePrevents discoloration of fruits Dried apples, wine, dehydrated potatoesSome people are allergic to sulfites, who could suffer mild headaches or in rare cases, severe reactions like anaphylactic shock
Sodium Nitrate/Sodium NitritePreservative and color fixative Smoked fish, meat preparationsCould mix with stomach chemicals to produce nitrosamine, a carcinogenic material
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)Preservative and prevents discoloration; BHA used for defoaming* in yeast Foods with high fat and oil content like butter; preserved meats, baked items, chewing gum, cereals, beer and snacksKnown to cause liver, kidney damage and thyroid issues among lab animals
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) Used to emulsify citrus-flavored soft drinksCitrus-flavored soft drinksExcess use of soft-drinks can cause memory loss, tremors, fatigue, loss of muscle coordination
Potassium BromateTo strengthen dough and to add appealing white color to breadFlourFound to increase risk of tumors among lab animals; could lead to genetic defects in long-run

The MSG issue in Noodles

In accordance with the Food Safety and Standard Rules 2011, MSG is considered a flavor-enhancer and should not be added to food products given to infants below 12 months. It is also not allowed in about 50 different items including noodles and pastas given to children since it can affect their nervous system. However, MSG is allowed in the seasoning prepared for them, which is added as it arouses the nervous system, making the food appear attractive.

Dealing with Food Additives

Source wikipedia

We cannot completely scratch out packaged foods from our dining tables, so food additives are bound to be part of our lives. But we can take some measures to reduce their harmful effects on our body.

  • Reading the labels: The best way to avoid consuming harmful food additives is by reading the labels of ingredient lists of the products. The Nutrition Facts column on a product is followed by a list of ingredients in fine print, which mentions the ingredients according to their contribution in the food in a descending order.
  • When a chemical preservative is used to produce a food, the ingredient list must include both the common and scientific name of the preservative along with the function that it serves. For instance: “preservative to promote color retention”. When artificial colors are used in a product, then the name is mentioned depending on whether it is certified or not. For instance, when a certified color is used, then the abbreviated name can be mentioned- like ‘Red 40’; when a non-certified color is used, it is listed as “artificial coloring” or with specific names like “colored with beet juice”.
  • Preventive measure: Foods that contain tartrazine (food colorant), diacetyl (food flavor), nitrites or nitrates, propyl paraben and olestra should be avoided. You can also use mobile phone apps that tell you the level of harm caused by a food additive along with tips to buy healthy food items. Some phone apps under the Health and Fitness category which inform you about food additives are: Eat Informed, Food Additives 2 and E-Codes Free.
  • Organic food diet: Food additives can be removed to the highest level possible by following an organic food diet. Organic products only contain those additives that are required by law such as Sodium Benzoate or Sulfur Dioxide. Rules governing the production and storage of organic food prevent the use of any harmful food additives like artificial sweeteners, flavorings and colorings. One of the most significant non-organic additive allowed in the organic food is sulfur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, bleaching agent and antioxidant.
  • Natural food additive: Research is underway to find natural alternatives to the artificially prepared additives. Natural substances containing antimicrobial properties can be used as food preservatives, which can be categorized as follows:
    • Herbs: Cumin, fennel, peppers, clove, basil, cinnamon, cardamom, oregano, thyme, coriander, mind, caraway, nutmeg and onion;
    • Microorganisms: Colicins, nisin, reuterin, lactacin, bulgaricin, plantaricin and others.
    • Antimicrobials from animals: Lysozyme, chitosan, pleurocigin, defensins and lactoferrin.

Sahana Rajan
Currently pursuing philosophy, Sahana has developed and managed content belonging to varying genres (environmental, animal care, social and cultural, medical, ecommerce) for the past 4.5 years. These days, she's dipping into green living freckled with weekends of traveling.


  1. Useful eco friendly information is always welcome. We are looking for certified organic food additives, please post the information.

    • Thanks Grewal, we are planning to publish a post on it soon. Please do subscribe to our newsletter for fresh stories delivered to you mail box.