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Common Food Additives


Updated February 11, 2014

Food manufacturing companies use many different additives to help preserve freshness, improve texture, add flavor, and to protect foods from spoiling. Here some of the more common food additives you'll find on the ingredients lists of the processed foods you buy. Not all food additives are bad, but some people want to avoid food chemicals anyway.

Artificial Colorings

Manufacturers add colorings to processed foods to improve the appearance. Some food colorings come from natural plant extracts and dyes, but some are created artificially. Learn more about artificial colorings

Artificial Sweeteners

Non-nutritive sweeteners add flavor, but no calories to foods and beverages. That's because they're 100s of times sweeter than regular sugar or high fructose corn syrup so very little is used. Learn more about artificial sweeteners.


Many of the processed foods you buy contain at least a small amount of fat. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) protect fats from going rancid, so you'll find them in a variety of processed foods. Learn more about BHA and BHT.

Calcium Propionate

This preservative is used to protect bread and baked goods from mold and bacterial growth. It also occurs naturally in butter and some types of cheese. Learn more about calcium propionate.


Carrageenan is a thickener made from seaweed. It's safe for use in ice cream, soy milk, salad dressings and sauces. Learn more about carrageenan.

Citric Acid

You'll usually find citric acid in foods that contain fruit or fruit flavorings. It adds a tangy sour flavor and is also used as a preservative. Citric acid occurs naturally in many foods, especially in citrus fruits. Learn more about citric acid.

Monosodium Glutamate

The flavor of protein-rich foods is often enhanced with monosodium glutamate (MSG). You'll find MSG in on the ingredients list of many savory processed foods. Learn more about monosodium glutamate.


Nitrogen isn't added as an actual ingredient, but it's often used to keep packaged foods fresh and safe through a process called nitrogen flushing. It's commonly used to keep bagged foods such as chips and snacks fresh and cushioned from damage.

Nutritional Ingredients

These supplemental nutrients are added to improve the nutritional profile of the foods you eat every day. Eating foods with these additional ingredients will ensure you get enough calcium, fiber, and other nutrients. Learn more about nutritional ingredients.

Sodium Benzoate

This preservative is used in acidic foods such as fruit preserves and pies. Sodium benzoate prevents growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. Sodium benzoate is safe, but if it's combined with ascorbic acid, it can form benzenes under certain conditions. Benzenes are linked to cancer. Learn more about sodium benzoate.


Sulfites are added to foods to prevent bacterial growth in some foods, plus they also improve the quality of bread dough. You'll also find naturally occurring sulfites in beer, wine and fruit. Learn more about sulfites.
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