You may think of food additives as compounds that are used to preserve and enhance the processed foods you eat. Thinking of artificial flavors and coloring might make you a little nervous about any types of food additives, but there is one group of food additives that can improve the nutritional quality of the foods you eat - the nutritional ingredients:
Antioxidants are the chemicals found in colorful fruits and vegetables that have special properties to prevent or even treat certain diseases. One example is lycopene, normally found in tomatoes.
Carrageenan is a thickening agent made from seaweed. According to About.com Natural Medicine A-Z, it may have health benefits. Learn more about carrageenan.
Essential Fatty Acids:
Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids are needed for normal nervous system function and they're good for your heart. Babies need omega-3 fatty acids for brain and eye development so infant formula is fortified with DHA, one form of omega-3 fats.
Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods. It's necessary for a healthy digestive system and some types (like the soluble-fiber in oat bran) will help reduce cholesterol, which may help to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Fiber is often added to breads, pasta, and snack foods to increase the fiber content.
Nitrogen is a gas that's not incorporated into foods as an ingredient, but is used to keep some types of packaged foods safe and fresh. This process is called nitrogen flushing. While nitrogen doesn't have health benefits, it's a very safe preservative.
Prebiotics and Probiotics:
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that grow in our gut and help keep our digestive system healthy. Prebiotics are the fibers that help support the growth of the probiotics in our gut. Probiotics are naturally found in yogurt and fermented products. Adding the prebiotics like fructooligosaccarhides to foods will help these healthy bacteria flourish and improve our health. Prebiotics can be added to most any type of food, but is commonly found added to yogurt products and in supplement form.
Vitamins and Minerals:
Many breakfast cereals are fortified with an array of vitamins and minerals and most bread and baked goods are made with refined flour that has had a few B vitamins and iron added. The milk you drink usually contains additional vitamin D and many people choose calcium fortified foods if they don't eat dairy products.