Are All Food Additives Bad?

Man shopping in supermarket

Just say the words “food additives” and you will probably hear a lot of sighing, see a lot of eye rolling, and perhaps even receive a long, angry lecture from your more health-conscious friends. The words certainly carry a negative connotation, thanks to widespread (and probably not unfounded) suspicion of ingredients such as dyes, fillers, and preservatives.

However, not all food additives are actually harmful. In fact, many ingredients are added to our food supply for the purpose of bettering public health. The following additives actually decreased nutritional deficiency in our general population, and carry important health benefits. So as you read food labels and progress toward eating a cleaner diet, don’t worry about these four common additives.

B vitamins. Beginning in the 1940s, we began fortifying our foods with B vitamins to fight diseases called pellagra and beriberi. You’ve probably never heard of those ailments, and it’s a good thing because the symptoms are pretty awful!If you see the words niacin, riboflavin, or thiamin on food packages, these are just helpful B vitamins.

Folic acid, or folate. Folic acid, another B vitamin, was also added to foods in order to combat neural tube defects in newborn babies.

Vitamin D. Considered important for brain, bone, and immune health, vitamin D has been added to foods such as milk and cereal to combat widespread deficiency. Ergocalciferol, dihydroxyvitamin D, calcitrol, and cholecalciferol sound scary, but they are all different names for vitamin D.

Iodine. To many people, iodine sounds like a dangerous chemical, but it is added to salt to fight against goiter. This is probably the reason you don’t know anyone who suffers from goiter! Thanks to fortification of salt, goiter is much less common than it used to be.

As you can see, some food additives with strange names are actually quite beneficial. As you check food labels, don’t immediately assume that any difficult-to-pronounce words are harmful chemicals. It’s still best to eat a diet based in healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables, but some common “food additives” in packaged foods can also help.

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