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Guide to Food Additives - Which Ones to Avoid

Guide to Food Additives - Which Ones to Avoid

We’ve long been advocates for natural and organic shopping and one of the reasons is the number of chemicals in conventional products.

If you’ve ever looked at the label of a product and been totally confused by the numbers and long names then you’re not alone. Most of those long chemicals and numbers equate to food additives that can have detrimental effects on human health.

We’ve done a bit of research on these food additives and we’ve gathered it all together in this handy article. Check it out below and find out which food additives you should be avoiding.

What are food additives?

Food additives are added to food to enhance and alter flavour, colour, and appearance, and to preserve foods and thicken them. Additives come in a few different types, and while some are natural, quite a lot are artificial. Below we’ve made a list of all the different kinds of food additives you can find in your products.

Food Additives to avoid

Types of food additives

There are several types of food additives, which include:

  • Colourings: used to change or enhance the colour of a product to make it more appealing.
  • Thickeners and gelling agents: used to alter the consistency of products.
  • Emulsifiers and stabilisers: these work to reduce separation, hold together, and thicken food products.
  • Flavour enhancers: added to increase flavours.
  • Preservatives: used to make food last longer.
  • Sweeteners: to sweeten food, usually to replace sugar in ‘diet’ products.

Food additives to avoid

Food additives can be found in thousands of products but there are a few that you should avoid at all costs. These additives can have an adverse effect on human health, change behaviour, especially in children, and increase the risk of several chronic illnesses.

Below is a list of a few food additives you should always try to avoid.

Artificial sweeteners

Every single ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free’ option will have some form of sweetener in it. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to brain tumours, bladder cancer, and weight gain.

While it can be tempting to avoid high sugar drinks and opt for the diet version, the artificial sweeteners may actually be doing you more harm than good.

Artificial sweeteners

When checking labels, look out for terms like aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium K (or simply acesulfame K), saccharin, neotame, cyclamate, and numbers 420 - 422, 950 - 957, 962, 965 - 968.

While some, like sweetener 968, don’t have particularly detrimental effects, they can still cause digestive upset when consumed excessively.

A great alternative for artificial sweeteners is natural sweeteners, like honey, maple syrup, and monk fruit sweetener. Like with any sweet treat, natural sweeteners should not be consumed in excess but they are safer than artificial sweeteners.


Added to takeaways and pre-packaged food products, MSG acts as a flavour enhancer but has been linked to heart conditions, numbness and tingling, and depression.

MSG can be found in an array of products, and sometimes appears under different names, like ‘yeast extract,’ which is a natural form of MSG.

Sulphur dioxide

Used as a preservative in many products, sulphur dioxide appears on the food labels of wine, cider, pickled vegetables, and dried fruit. It has been linked to asthma, anaphylaxis, gut issues, and nausea and is known to completely obliterate vitamin B1 in the body.

In general, organic brands of these products will not contain sulphur dioxide since organic products should not contain chemicals. To avoid sulphur dioxide, opt for organic options, like Dr Superfoods Organic Dried Strawberries, and Lotus Organic Banana Chips.

Artificial colours

There are some standout artificial colours you should avoid, including colour 120, also known as cochineal, which adds red colouring and has been linked to respiratory conditions. But, further to this, artificial colours, in general, aren’t great. They are less popular in Australian supermarkets these days and are totally banned across Europe.

Some other colours to avoid include,

  • Colour 122, which can cause allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children
  • Colour 124, banned as a cancer-causing chemical
Artificial colours

Natural colour 160b

Though natural, this colour can alter behaviour, particularly in children. You should opt instead for colour 160a.

Artificial flavours

These are a little harder to avoid, mainly because they’re still used widely. Many products that claim ‘no artificial colours or preservatives’ still tend to have artificial flavourings. Artificial flavours generally don’t list what is in them, meaning it could be lots of harmful chemicals and you wouldn’t even know.

Artificial flavours


Commonly used as a thickener in cottage cheese, ice cream, yoghurt, and some milk alternatives, this chemical has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation and bowel disease.

By choosing safer options, such as organic milk alternatives, you can avoid any unwanted and nasty chemicals.


Food additives are added into food with the intention of enhancing flavours, appearance and colours, as well as thickening and extending the life of products. While not all food additives are completely detrimental, many can have adverse effects on human health.

Avoiding as many food additives as possible is the easiest way to make sure you’re not ingesting harmful chemicals. Eating organic and natural can be an easy way to do this. Organic and natural products tend to have fewer chemicals in them, making them safer.

Always check the labels of the food you buy and get to know particular harmful additives to keep you and your family safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are food additives examples?

There are many food additives currently added to food on the market today. Food additives enhance flavour and colour as well as preserve food products. Examples of food additives include MSG, artificial colouring and flavouring, artificial preservatives, and sweeteners. There are long lists of chemicals within each of these categories.

What are the main food additives?

The main food additives tend to be artificial flavours, colours, and sweeteners, as well as stabilisers and emulsifiers. Each works to enhance or alter the food product to make it more desirable for human consumption. Food additives can have adverse effects on human health and have to undergo rigorous testing before they are approved.

What are four common food additives?

Though many food additives are artificial, the most commonly used food additives are mostly natural. These include salt, sugar, vinegar, and corn syrup. Though natural, adding these to food can still have a negative effect on human health. Added sugar and corn syrup can lead to weight gain, and add salt can lead to increased blood pressure. Always check the label of products you’re consuming to check that nothing has been added to it unnecessarily.

What are 3 uses of food additives?

Food additives are used for a number of reasons. The most common reasons for using food additives include enhancing the flavour or appearance of the product, stabilising, emulsifying or thickening the product to improve consistency and stop separation, and preserving the product, to extend its shelf life.

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