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Food Additives and Their Functions

It's not easy to know what you're eating, some food today may be perfectly edible and good tasting, but not nourishing in the way you expect—and that's important. If you understand what you're eating, you may prefer to do without it. A food may contain supplements to replace those lost in processing. If you are avoiding supplements or keeping track of them, you need to know. For example, although fiber is important for your health, the source of fiber is even more important, as some kinds of fiber are constipating. Vegetable oils doesn't mean the oil is unsaturated; coconut oil and palm oil are more highly saturated than beef fat.

It is also important to bear in mind that not all additives are listed, because some additives that are on the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list are allowed not to be listed, like Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), for example. Recent studies have shown that this food additive may contribute to obesity and increased appetite. MSG is often listed as added flavor. In fact, no food product needs artificial anything.

Here is a basic list of common food additives. It is far from being complete, but you will get the idea about what you really eat.

Additive Functions
Acacia (gum Arabic) A natural gum thickener used to retard sugar crystallization in candies and confections. Also as a foam stabilizer in the soft drink and brewing industries.
Acetic acid (vinegar) Adds a sharp taste to foods. Also a preservative in pickles and marinated fruits and vegetables.
Adipic acid (hexanedioic acid) Adds tartness to baked goods, dairy products, meat products, oils, margarines, relishes, snack foods, soft drinks, and gelatin desserts. Also prevents spoilage.
Agar A Seaweed derivative used as a thickener.
Albumin An emulsifier derived from egg whites.
Alcohol (ethanol) Solvent, commonly used with flavoring extracts.
Alginates Seaweed derivatives used as stabilizers and water retainers in beverages, ice creams, salad dressings, and confections.
Artificial colors Current accepted colors for food use are Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, Red No. 3, and Red No. 40.
Artificial flavors Usually an organic ester added to enhance food flavor.
Artificial flavors Usually an organic ester added to enhance food flavor.
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) Preservative and antioxidant in fruits, jellies, preserves, processed meat products, and dairy products. Necessary for normal teeth, bones and blood vessels. Ascorbic acid adds no flavor in the quantity used in most foods.
Aspartame (NutraSweet) Artificial sweetener. Aspartame is 160 times as sweet as normal table sugar (sucrose).
Beeswax Candy glaze and polish
Benzoic acid Preservative
Beta carotene (Vitamin A) Important for eyesight, prevents night blindness. Used for yellow coloring.
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) Preservative and antioxidant.
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) Preservative and antioxidant.
Caffeine Flavor in coffee, cola-flavored soft drinks, and root beer beverages.
Calcium carbonate Used as a white food color. Controls acidity.
Calcium citrate Buffer to control acidity in foods.
Calcium disodium EDTA Preservative and sequestrant. Prevents crystal formation, color loss, and for flavor retention in canned and carbonated soft drinks.
Calcium phosphate Mineral supplement. Prevents “off” flavors due to metals. Adjusts pH.
Calcium propionate Preservative, prevents mold.
Calcium silicate Anti-caking agent.
Calcium sulfate Dough conditioner. Controls pH.
Caramel color Color in beer and soft drinks.
Carbon black Black coloring in confections.
Carnauba wax Candy glaze and polish.
Carrageenan Stabilizer and emulsifier.
Casein Principal protein from cow’s milk. Texturizer for ice cream products.
Cellulose gum Thickener
Citric acid Preservative. Adjusts acid in fruit juices and products. Used to produce sour flavor in candies.
Cornstarch Thickener. Also used as a powdering agent to prevent sticking.
Corn syrup (dextrose) Sweetener
Cyclamates (sodium and potassium cyclamate) Artificial sweetener
Dextrin A Gum produced from starch used as a foam stabilizer for beer and to prevent sugar from crystallizing in candy.
Dextrose Sweetener. Also known as D-glucose. Sweetness rating of 74 compared to sucrose at 100.
Disodium phosphate Controls acidity. Also a sequestrant in evaporated milk and noodle products.
EDTA (ethylenediammine tetraacetic acid, disodium salt) Preservative and sequestering agent.
FD&C colors Food colors regulated by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. See artificial colors.
FD&C lakes Color pigments prepared by combining FD&C colors with aluminum or calcium which make the colors insoluble. Used in confections, candies, and foods which cab be affected by water.
Ferric chloride (iron(III) chloride) Nutrient. Source of iron. May impart a yellow color.
Ferric citrate (iron(III) citrate) Nutrient. Source of iron.
Ferric phosphate (iron(III) phosphate) Nutrient. Source of iron
Folic acid (vitamin B3) Nutrient. Aids in red blood cell formation.
Fructose Sweetener. Fruit sugar. Sweetness rating of 173 compared to sucrose at 100.
Fumaric acid Dry acid for powdered desserts such as gelatin. Also an antioxidant.
Gelatin Protein thickener and stabilizer obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, or bones with water.
Gellan gum Stabilizer
Glucose Sweetener. Sweetness rating of 74 compared to sucrose at 100.
Glycerin (glycerol) Used as a humectant in jellies, confections, gelatin desserts, beverages, and chewing gum. Sweetness rating of 60 compared to sucrose at 100.
Glyceryl monostearate An emulsifying and dispersing agent used in oleomargarine, shortenings and other food products.
Guar gum Stabilizer for frozen fruit, ice cream, icings, glazes, and fruit drinks. Used as a thickener for hot and cold drinks, and salad dressings.
Gum tragacanth Thickener and stabilizer in fruit jelly, sherbets, salad dressing, confections, and candy.
High fructose corn syrup Sweetener. Corn syrup treated with enzymes to make it sweeter.
Hydrogenated oil Oil that has been partially converted from naturally polyunsaturated to saturated. Makes liquid oils partially solidified.
Invert sugar A mixture of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Sweetness rating of 130 compared to sucrose at 100.
Iodine Nutrient. Usually added as potassium iodide or cuprous iodide. Essential for thyroid hormones.
Iron A mineral nutrient. May be used as powdered iron or an iron salt. See individual ferric compounds.
Kaolin Clay used as an anticaking agent in food.
Lactic acid Acidulant in many foods including cheese products, butter, fruit jelly, and breads. Also a preservative.
Lactose Milk sugar. Sweetener and nutrient. Sweetness rating of 16 compared to sucrose at 100.
Lecithin Emulsifier
Magnesium carbonate Alkali for sour cream, butter, ice cream, cacao products, and canned peas.
Magnesium phosphate Nutrient. Source of magnesium.
Magnesium sulfate Nutrient. Source of magnesium.
Magnesium silicate Anticaking agent
Malic acid Strong sour taste. Used in candies, frozen dairy products, fruits, jellies and jams.
Maltodextrin Sugar obtained by hydrolysis of starch. Stabilizer and flavor enhancer in candies and chocolate.
Maltose Malt sugar. Nutrient, sweetener, and stabilizer. Sweetness rating of 32 compared to sucrose at 100.
Mannitol Sweetener prepared from seaweed. Used as a dusting or antisticking agent in food products. This is the powder on chewing gum.
Mono- and diglygerides Fats and oils used as emulsifiers.
Monosodium glutamate, MSG Flavor enhancer
Monopotassium phosphate Emulsifier and a pH buffer.
Niacin Nutrient. A component of the vitamin B complex.
Niaciamide (Vitamin B) Nutrient. A skin stimulant.
Oleic acid As a synthetic butter and cheese flavoring and in various foods.
Olestra Sucrose polyester. A fat substitute that has no calories and cannot be digested.
Partially hydrogenated oils Oil that has been partially converted from naturally polyunsaturated to saturated. Makes liquid oils partially solidified for improved baking.
Pectin Stabilizer, thickener, and bodying agent for artificially sweetened beverages, syrups, ice cream products, fruit sherbets, fruit jellies and jams.
Phosphoric acid Acidulant and flavor for soft drinks, jellies, and frozen dairy products.
Polysorbate 60 Emulsifier. A condensate of sorbitol with stearic acid. Waxy solid.
Polysorbate 80 Emulsifier and humectant. A condensate of sorbitol with oleic acid. Thick oil.
Potassium acid tartrate Acid and buffer. Acid constituent of some baking powders.
Potassium bromate Improving agent in bread.
Potassium chloride Salt substitute. For low sodium diets. Source of potassium.
Potassium citrate Buffer to control pH.
Potassium nitrate Preservative. Color retention in cured meats.
Potassium nitrite Preservative. Color retention in cured meats.
Potassium sorbate Preservative. A mold and yeast inhibitor.
Propionic acid Used in butter and fruit flavorings. Also a preservative.
Propyl gallate Antioxidant for fats and oils.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) Nutrient for health skin and for building and maintaining body tissue.
Saccharin Artificial sweetener. 500 times sweeter than sucrose.
Silicates Anticaking agents.
Sodium benzoate Preservative in margarine, soft drinks, and fruit products.
Sodium caseinate Emulsifier and stabilizer in frozen desserts.
Sodium citrate Buffer to control pH. Emulsifier.
Sodium nitrate Preservative. Color retention in cured meats.
Sodium nitrite Preservative. Color retention in cured meats.
Sodium phosphate Prevents "off" flavors in foods due to presence of metal ions.
Sodium polyphosphate Prevents "off" flavors in foods due to presence of metal ions.
Sodium proprionate Preservative to prevent mold and fungus.
Sodium sulfite Preservative. Used to preserve color in dried fruit.
Sodium tripolyphosphate A texturizer and sequestrant for use in food-starch modifiers.
Sodium stearoyl-2-lactate Strengthen bread dough.
Sorbitol Sweetener, a sugar substitute for diabetics. Thickener and humectant in candies, shredded coconut, and dietetic fruits and soft drinks.
Starch Thickener
Sucrose Table sugar. Cane sugar.
Sulfur dioxide Preservative. Used to preserve color in dried fruit.
Thiamine (thiamine hydrochloride) (Vitamin B1) Nutrient. Acts as a helper in important energy-yielding reactions in the body.
Tocopherols (Vitamin E) Preservative. Antioxidant. Protects fat in the body from abnormal breakdown.
Xanthan gum Emulsifier and stabilizer for water based foods such as dairy products and salad dressings.
Yeast and yeast extract Flavor
Zinc Mineral nutrient.



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