What are food additives? Anything that doesn't occur naturally in a particular food is considered an additive. Many of these substances occur naturally in one food but become additives when used in the manufacture of another food. You might find sodium propionate in the list of ingredients in a loaf of bread, but if you buy Swiss cheese, you'll be eating 10 times as much sodium propionate but it won't be on the label -- because it is a "natural" component of the cheese.

Why are additives put in food? They have a variety of functions. Additives are used to replace nutrients lost in processing (for example, all white flour must have thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folate put in to replace what is lost when the wheat germ is removed), or to add nutrients (i.e., vitamins in breakfast cereals). Some additives retard spoilage, such as BHA and BHT, antioxidants that keep fat from turning rancid. Others are used to improve texture or consistency by making the product thicker, smoother, or more free-flowing, or to keep ingredients from separating. Flavorings and colorings are considered additives, whether they are the relatively benign spices, salt and pepper, or the ominous-sounding "artificial flavors", dyes and bleaches.

Should I try to avoid additives? Not unless you have identified a specific allergy or sensitivity. Many people believe they are sensitive to MSG, and you can avoid it if you wish. Most additives are used in such small amounts that they have no significance in your diet unless you consume huge quantities of a single food. You should be more concerned about what's taken out of your food than what's added in. "Enriched" means vitamins, minerals, other nutrients and fiber have been removed, and what's added back may be only a small part of what was taken away. When fiber is removed, you are the loser. Extracted oils give you lots of calories and little of the nutrients that were in the original plants. When you eat mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, you don't give food processors the chance to remove the good stuff nature provides.

Checked 5/3/07

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