You may have heard that processed foods are bad for you. Unfortunately, some of those processed foods may also be your favorites! Luckily we are seeing a trend toward healthier prepared foods, as many manufacturers respond to consumer demand. Certain food additives will soon be phased out of many major food brands, while others will be replaced with healthier options.

Kraft, McDonald’s, Tyson, Hershey, Panera, and Taco Bell are some of the major brands responding to consumer demand for healthier products. Meanwhile, brands like Amy’s Kitchen already focus on producing foods with organic ingredients. Amy’s Kitchen will soon launch a string of fast food restaurants offering healthier fare than the typical drive-thru.

Which additives will be eliminated, and why? Ingredients such as “preservatives”, “artificial flavor” and “artificial color” have all become popular targets in the war on unhealthy foods. But are they really unhealthy?

Some evidence exists that Yellow Numbers 4 and 5, along with Red 40, could be linked to cancer. Even if this risk is low, the benefits of enjoying brightly colored food probably don’t justify the risks of various types of cancer. Since Yellow 4 and 5 and Red 40 account for about 90 percent of artificial colors in common prepared foods, it makes sense that many manufacturers are now taking steps to eliminate them. Pretty soon Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, among other products, will be free of these unpopular additives.

Some food additives are known to possibly cause cancer, but also provide some benefit to consumers. One such example is the nitrates commonly included in processed meats. Yes, there is a cancer risk if nitrates are consumed in large quantities. On the other hand, nitrates also protect against potentially fatal bacterial illnesses. One exposure to such a bacteria could cause death, whereas you would require repeat exposure to nitrates – probably in high levels – in order to contract cancer. In this case, it might be better to leave the nitrates where they are, but consume them infrequently. Try to buy and prepare fresh meat most of the time, rather than processed versions like hot dogs.

Then there is the ever-unpopular high fructose corn syrup. Most of the companies which plan to remove high fructose corn syrup from their products will simply replace that ingredient with sugar. Rather than worrying about high fructose corn syrup, it’s probably a better idea to watch your sugar intake in general.

The takeaway lesson is that more attention to potentially harmful food additives is a good thing. And it’s a great idea for food companies to pay attention to their customers’ wishes regarding the safety of their food. But don’t be naive, and get sucked into the idea that removal of all additives is always a good thing. There is no excuse for home cooking, fresh produce, and fresh meats. Processed foods should always be used sparingly no matter how “healthy” they become.