Artificial Colors, Flavors, Additives and Preservatives

Take a look at the nutritional labels for the list of ingredients, the FDA allows over 8,000 different chemical additives and preservatives which it has deemed safe for human consumption even though many have never been tested. Companies add them to improve texture or flavor or to extend its shelf life.

Common food additives that should be avoided

  • Sodium Nitrate is used to preserve color and flavor processed meat such as bacon, ham and hot dogs.  However it will transform during high heat cooking in to a cancer promoting compound. According to studies, people who consumed the most processed meats (hot dogs and sausage) showed a 67%  increased risk of pancreatic cancer over those who consumed little or no meat products.
  • BHA/BHT is an antioxidant used to preserve food by preventing them from oxidizing.  It keeps food and oils from going rancid and is found in cereals, potato chips, chewing gum and vegetable  oils.  The structure of BHA or BHT will change during the process of preserving food and may form a compound that reacts within the bodies of some people.
  • Propyl Gallate is used along with BHT in meat products, soup bases and chewing gum to prevent fats from spoiling.   Animal studies suggest a link to cancer.
  • Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG) is an amino acid used as a flavor enhancer to soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees, Asian foods and restaurant foods.  It has been linked to migraine headaches and nausea in some people and animal studies suggest a link to damaging the nerve cells in infant mice. In humans it is an excito-toxin which effects brain cells and nerve connections in the brain. It is linked to obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver, neurological problems, and it encourages the growth and the spread of cancer.  Sources of MSG include autolyzed yeast, bouillon, stock, malt extract, malt flavoring, barley malt, maltodextrin, natural flavors, pectin, seasonings, carrageenan, soy sauce, soy protein, whey protein, anything enzyme modified, fermented, protein fortified, or ultra pasteurized, fast foods, chips, condiments, salad dressings, lunch meats, sausages and soups. Because it is so prevalent in processed foods the only way to avoid it  is to purchase organically processed food.
  • Trans fat is proven to cause heart disease, stroke, heart attacks, kidney failure and vascular diseases.  Although most food products are now claiming they are trans-fat free, they many still contain up to  0.5 grams per serving according to lax FDA rules. Also, restaurants and fast food chains still serve food laden with trans-fats.
  • Aspartame which is available under the brand names of Nutra Sweet and Equal are found in diet desserts, gelatin’s, drink mixes and soft drinks and as a low calorie sweetener.  It is a combination of 2 amino acids and methanol.  The Centers for Science in the Public Interest quotes from animal studies from 1970-2007 which suggest a link between this product and cancer. You can read more about aspartame in the post and Artificial Sweeteners.
  • Acesulfame K is an artificial sweetener approved in 1998 for soft drinks and is found in baked goods, chewing gum and gelatin’s and it is 200 times sweeter than sugar.  The problem seems to be that few studies have been done to prove its safety, but it has been linked to kidney tumors  in rats.
  • Sulfur Dioxide is used as a preservative for dried fruits. Adverse reactions include: bronchial problems particularly in those prone to asthma, hypo tension (low blood pressure), flushing tingling sensations or anaphylactic shock. It also destroys vitamins B1 and E. Not recommended for consumption by children. The International Labour Organization says to avoid E220 if you suffer from conjunctivitis, bronchitis, emphysema, bronchial asthma, or cardiovascular disease.
  • Olestra which is also known as Olean is found in some brands of potato chips to prevent fat from being absorbed in your digestive system and can lead to diarrhea, cramps and gas. The problem with this product is that it will inhibit the absorption of healthy fat-soluble vitamins too.
  • Potassium Bromate is used to increase volume if white flour, breads and rolls.  Most bromate will rapidly break down into an innocuous form, but it is known to cause cancer in animals and small amounts can create a risk to humans, one way it does this is displacing iodine absorption in the body. California requires that a cancer warning be placed on the label if it is on the ingredients listing.
  • Sodium Chloride (via processed salt) – although small amounts are needed by the body, excess can lead to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
  • Sodium benzoate– sodium benzoate has been linked to heightened hyperactivity in children, and to adverse health effects including damage to the  vital parts of DNA in a cell’s mitochondria. It is the job of the mitochondria  to consume oxygen for cells to function healthily and to generate our body’s energy. So, in other words, sodium benzoate can bring our health to a halt at the cellular level.
  • Aluminum-is a common additive found in foods such as processed cheeses, table salt, baking powders, pickles, bleached flour, prepared dough, cake mixes, non-dairy creamers, vanilla powders and some donuts and waffles. Milk formulas for babies can contain up to four hundred times more aluminum than breast milk. It is also hidden in medications like antacids which can contain 200 milligrams or more of elemental aluminum in a single tablet, or aspirin, certain pain-killers and anti-diarrhea medicines.


Along with all of the additives and preservatives already found in food, there is an entire industry of flavorings which gives most processed food their appealing flavor and aroma.  A  hamburger at a fast food restaurant is a perfect example of something receiving these enhancers.   Ingredients list will often refer to them as “natural flavors”.  But they are mostly synthetically made enhancers and without their use a hamburger patty, as well as many other processed foods, would be quite tasteless.

This process begins with  “food flavorists” who work in laboratories work to find the right chemical balance to give you the FLAVOR of french fries, toothpaste, ice cream, cereals, chips, pet food, cookies, mouthwash, antacid, soda etc…These are the same  companies which also give you the smells for perfumes and household cleaning products.  The process is the same: food and aroma technologists manipulate volatile chemicals to create particular tastes and smells which fool the consumer into thinking that it is the food which tastes so good…

artificial coloring in foodsARTIFICIAL COLORINGS- Such as Blue 1 and 2 which are found in beverages, baked goods and pet foods are considered low risk but have been linked to cancer in mice.  Red 3 which is used to dye cherries, fruit cocktails, candies, and baked goods have been shown to cause thyroid cancer in rats.  Green 2 added to candy and beverages have been linked to bladder cancer and yellow 6 found in soda beverages, sausage, gelatin, baked goods and candy have been linked to adrenal and kidney tumors as well as hyper-activity in children. Read below for more info on the problems associated with artificial colorings.

More than 90% of the coloring agents now in used are manufactured from coal-tar colors. Since the early 1900s there were over 80 different dyes used to color food. Since then, the list has dwindled as more and more colors were removed when they were found to have caused tumors in rats or had other adverse effects when consumed by humans.   The remaining colors are controversial however, as rats injected with the dyes have developed tumors at the injection sites. The FDA does not consider this to be significant because the experiment concerned injection by needle and not by ingestion or application to the skin, so they are still being used to color our food.   You must decide for yourself if rats injected with these dyes and developing tumors should be a concern for you or your children because the FDA dropped the ball here.

The following is from a study done in Southampton England and published in ‘The Lancet’ medical journal. In this double blind study, children were given either a diet free from coloring and preservatives, or a diet containing artificial colors such as a child would ingest if they ate the typical American diet consisting of macaroni and cheese, candy, or the colorings found in children’s medicines and vitamins.

These colorings were mixed with the commonly found preservative sodium benzoate, which is found in most soft drinks.  The behaviors of the children were then monitored by parents, teachers and observers from the study. Upon completion, the results were clear; children who consumed the mixture of food coloring and preservatives were significantly more hyperactive than their counterparts. They moved more, they were more impulsive and they had shorter attention spans than the children who received the placebo.

After this study was released and public outrage grew, food manufactures in the U.K. like Mars, Nestle and fast food companies like MacDonalds and Burger King voluntarily pulled artificial coloring and preservatives from their products. Food manufacturers did some scrambling but they now have preservative free/ artificial color free food in the UK.

Interestingly, nothing was ever done in the U.S. because it was never prominently displayed in the media and most people weren’t even aware of this study.  In the United States, an estimated 5.4 million children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, and 66 percent of those with current ADHD take medication to control the condition, according to the CDC.

Alternatives to coloring food which are made from natural ingredients.  annatto, carotene, chlorophyll, cochineal, saffron and turmeric.


Author and activist, Robyn Obrien’s lecture on the major health problems related to food manufacturing


Additional resources

FDA on additives, preservatives, coloring 

Dr Mercola on the harm of artificial coloring in our food


The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother’s Shocking Investigation into the Dangers of America’s Food Supply– and What Every Family Can Do to Protect Itself

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