The Impact of Food Additives on Health: What You Need to Know – Everyday Health

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Overall, the news about food preservatives is good. “The FDA confirms the safe use of all the preservatives in our food and beverage supply, and each preservative, whether artificially created or naturally sourced, must pass rigorous evaluation for safe use, including a dossier containing a full scientific evaluation,” Pike explains. Once a preservative passes this process, it’s designated as “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS. “This means the ingredient is certified and managed as safe to eat by the FDA,” she says. From there, a preservative can legally make its way into the food supply.

Still, it’s understandable if you have lingering concerns about the safety of certain ingredients — especially when scary reports about them crop up in the news, like nisin, which was the preservative linked with harming gut health. TBHQ has also come under fire for potentially harming the immune system.

 And last year, California passed a bill banning the use of four food additives, including the preservative propyl paraben, which is sometimes used in baked goods to reduce microbial growth and increase shelf life.

Does this mean you should avoid those ingredients? In the case of the California ban, the research linking the additives to negative health outcomes was conducted on animals, not people, so it is not conclusive from a scientific standpoint. And Pike points out that in addition to certifying additives as GRAS, the FDA keeps tight control over how much of certain additives can be included in foods. Case in point: “TBHQ levels cannot account for more than 0.02 percent of the fat and oil in food,” she says.

A health consumer watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) based in Washington, DC, maintains a large database that ranks the safety of food additives.

The database highlights concerns from consumers and clinicians that preservatives and stabilizers may not be as safe for eating as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would have us believe. But, according to Schaffner, “One critical aspect that is missing is a lack of citations to the scientific literature.” This lack of citation and insufficient detail make firm health claims about individual preservatives hard to verify, he says.

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