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What are Artificial Additives?

Artificial additives are synthetic substances added to foods to enhance flavor, appearance, or preservation. They range from colorants to emulsifiers, ensuring products remain appealing and shelf-stable. While common in processed foods, their health impacts are debated, prompting many to seek natural alternatives. Curious about how these additives affect you? Let's delve deeper into their role in our daily diets.
James Doehring
James Doehring

Artificial additives are synthetic substances that are added to food. Synthetic substances are not found in the natural environment, so they must be manufactured. They are commonly used to preserve food or enhance its flavor. Artificial additives are often contrasted with natural additives, which typically are made from chemicals that are found naturally. The use of artificial additives is widespread in industrialized countries, but there are growing movements that advocate all-natural or organic foods.

Food preservatives commonly are used to mitigate the damage that will likely occur to food from physical, chemical, or biological processes. Physical damages can occur from exposure to light or heat, and chemical oxidation can occur when food remains too long in the presence of oxygen. Most food spoilage, however, is caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeast, and mold. Sodium benzoate is an artificial food preservative that is effective at killing such microorganisms; its use is especially prevalent in very acidic foods such as salad dressing.

Titanium dioxide is used in some dairy products, including milk, in order to enhance the white color.
Titanium dioxide is used in some dairy products, including milk, in order to enhance the white color.

A common artificial additive used to improve flavor is sugar substitute. These substances typically are much sweeter than sugar per unit mass. Consequently, manufacturers can use much less sweetener to achieve a similar taste. Artificial sweeteners are also generally cheaper to produce than sugar, so food companies regularly save money by using this kind of artificial additive. Many diet products contain a small amount of artificial sweetener, and hence less food energy than sugar, while retaining a sweet flavor.

A diet soda containing artificial sugar.
A diet soda containing artificial sugar.

Artificial colors are additives used to change the appearance of food. Seemingly natural foods, such as fruit and fish, sometimes contain artificial food coloring agents to mask natural variations in color. Naturally occurring colors may also be reinforced or enhanced with artificial dyes. People frequently associate food colors with certain flavors, so food coloring may also be used to affect perceived flavor. The use of natural food dyes is on the rise, however, due to safety concerns with artificial additives.

Artificial sweeteners may be used in coffee.
Artificial sweeteners may be used in coffee.

The controversy with artificial additives dates back to the early years of the twentieth century. Certain artificial additives have been linked in research studies to cancer, digestive issues, and behavioral effects. A famous example is the artificial sweetener saccharin. Saccharin was investigated by the United States Food and Drug Administration beginning in 1907 when the additive was suspected to be dangerous to public health. Laboratory rats fed high doses of saccharin were shown to develop instances of bladder cancer. Saccharin is widely used today, however, because this danger was shown to apply only to rats and not to humans.

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Discussion Comments


Many foods taste different when sweeteners are added and taste different when they haven't got any sweeteners added.


I have noticed that my salad dressings always stay fresh for a really long time. Now I know that this is due to the sodium benzoate.

It is also in the ingredient list of my strawberry jam. I have had this jar of jam for over a year now, and it still hasn’t grown any mold. I am watching my weight, so I eat only a little of it on my toast now and then.

Sodium benzoate is also used to preserve soft drinks. The canned ones usually have expiration dates showing that they can last up to one year. This is pretty impressive.


I had been drinking diet soda and eating light yogurt sweetened with aspartame for about a year when I started to notice that I physically felt bad most of the time. I found that odd, since I was losing weight and cutting calories and fat while eating more vegetables and fruit.

My dad told me that artificial additives, especially aspartame, could cause a host of health problems. A daily diet including things artificially sweetened with it had been proven to be linked with anxiety, trouble sleeping, depression, headaches, and high blood pressure. Some people who had taken part in a study even experienced seizures because of it.

A study of patients who had consumed aspartame for many years showed a link between it and several types of cancer. Lots of diet soda drinkers developed either kidney cancer, leukemia, or lymphoma.

I immediately stopped eating and drinking stuff with aspartame in it. I found that I actually felt better when I consumed small amounts of real sugar, and I didn’t gain any weight.


My sister is a nutritionist, and she advises all of her clients strongly against consuming any drinks or foods sweetened with artificial additives. She particularly warns those trying to lose weight about the unexpected effects of drinking diet sodas.

She said that the taste of anything sweet, whether artificial or natural, signals the body to store fat and carbohydrates. This makes you crave food even more. Often, people who drink diet sodas will overeat, and they don’t even know that the artificial sweetener is causing their hunger.

Another bad thing that diet sodas do because of their sweet taste is cause the body to release insulin. When insulin is released, it actually keeps the body from burning fat.


@ddljohn - I saw a great improvement in my adopted son’s attention deficit disorder after he came to live with us. I changed his diet dramatically, and his concentration seemed to improve because of it.

The adoption agency made sure that we knew of his condition. I had read about a study involving eliminating artificial food coloring from the diets of children with ADHD. Most of the kids experienced a change for the better in their behavior.

I made sure that I only fed my son totally natural food or food that had been dyed using natural additives. Within two weeks, he seemed much more able to focus during conversation. He even had a much easier time doing his homework.


I don't know about adults, but I've read many articles about how artificial additives lead to behavioral problems in children.

My son, who is in kindergarten, was hyperactive and lacked concentration altogether. I could keep his attention on a toy or book for maybe one or two minutes tops. I was suggested by friends to cut out all foods and drinks with artificial additives. I have done that as much as possible and I have seen some improvement with my son. He is still having some problems with concentration but is definitely not as hyperactive.

I don't believe everything I read, but since I have experienced this with my son, I do think that artificial additives have negative affects on children. Perhaps because they are smaller physically and more sensitive than adults. I think as parents, we need to avoid these foods with our kids.

Has anyone had similar experiences and see a connection between artificial additives and hyperactivity in children?


I think that artificial additives are a good thing, not bad. Artificial additives allow us to produce food more cheaply and easily, and more people are able to purchase it because of that.

There is also no guarantee that natural additives are completely safe. They can be just as dangerous in my view. Artificial additives are probably safer because they are produced and tested in a controlled environment and are better quality than natural additives.

Let's not forget that food manufacturers are under strict oversight. There are limits to how much artificial additives they can add that are determined by the FDA. So the amount that is in our food is safe for our consumption.


Artificial additives are in everything! Even naturally available additives like vitamin C are now made synthetically and added to foods.

I know that it makes food last longer, but a part of me feels that I am damaging my health in the long term. The trouble is that it hasn't been that long since artificial additives have become widespread and commonly used in food production. I know there are some studies done, but we still don't know the long-term affects of it.

I guess we will slowly find out in the following decades. I'm personally trying to eat all natural and organic when I can. If I can't afford to or if I can't find what I'm looking for, then I have to buy products that inevitably have artificial additives.

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    • Titanium dioxide is used in some dairy products, including milk, in order to enhance the white color.
      By: picsfive
      Titanium dioxide is used in some dairy products, including milk, in order to enhance the white color.
    • A diet soda containing artificial sugar.
      By: karandaev
      A diet soda containing artificial sugar.
    • Artificial sweeteners may be used in coffee.
      By: Richard Villalon
      Artificial sweeteners may be used in coffee.
    • Food dyes can be either natural or chemical.
      By: Gregory Johnston
      Food dyes can be either natural or chemical.
    • Laboratory rats fed high doses of saccharin were shown to develop instances of bladder cancer.
      By: lculig
      Laboratory rats fed high doses of saccharin were shown to develop instances of bladder cancer.
    • Artificial additives are used to extend a food's shelf life.
      By: Michael Gray
      Artificial additives are used to extend a food's shelf life.