Common chemicals in food and their effects

Common chemicals in food and their effects


Table of Contents

There are thousands of chemicals and substances added to foods that could affect your health. These additives are common and can be found in all types of foods, drinks, meats, condiments, and even baby food products. 

Many people are concerned about the various chemicals that may be present in food products. In this article, the Top 10 commonly used chemicals in food and their effects on humans will be provided.

What are common chemicals found in food?

There are many different chemicals added to food as additives. These substances are used to make food look better, taste better, or last longer. Some common food additives include artificial sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives. Many of these chemicals are controversial and have been linked to health risk problems.

Artificial sweeteners are often used in diet sodas and other foods that have little or no sugar. They can be found in products like soda, cookies, candies, jams and jellies, fruit juice concentrates, dairy products (non-fat creamers), condiments (ketchup), cereal bars, and granola bars.

Food dyes are added to make the product look more appealing on the store shelf or plate. For example, yellow dye is commonly used to color margarine yellow while the red dye is used to turn canned cranberry sauce pink. Some dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in children when consumed in large quantities.

Preservatives prevent food from spoiling by slowing down its rate of decay/decomposition. There are many types of preservatives – some are natural (like Vitamin C) while some come from chemical sources.

Why are chemicals used in food?


Food chemicals are used for a variety of reasons, including preserving food, enhancing flavor, and adding color.

Food chemicals are also called food additives, food additives, or food additive ingredients. Some examples of food chemicals include:

Preservatives to extend shelf life – Examples include sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate.

Fertilizers to increase the number of nutrients in foods – Examples include vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc.

Flavor enhancers to improve the taste and smell – Examples include monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial flavors like vanilla extract or raspberry extract.

Colorants to make foods look more appealing – Examples include carmine dye (a red coloring) or turmeric (a yellowish-orange powder).

What are the harmful effects of food additives?

Food additives are substances that are added to food to enhance its flavor, texture, color, or shelf life. While some food additives are safe, others can be harmful. The harmful adverse effects of food additives may include cancer, birth defects, and allergic reactions.

Some of the more common and adverse side effects of food additives include:


About 5 percent of all cancers are caused by chemicals, many of which are found in processed foods.

Birth defects: 

Many of the chemicals used in processed foods have been linked to birth defects or other reproductive problems. 

Allergies and asthma: 

Food allergies affect about 15 million Americans, including one in 13 children. The most common allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy products. Food additives can also cause allergic reactions.

Diabetes: Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin have been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Obesity: The average American consumes more than twice as much sugar now than they did in 1970. Increased intake of added sugars has been linked to obesity.

How do chemicals in food affect your body?

The chemicals in our food can have different potential health effects on our bodies. Some of these chemicals are essential for our bodies to function properly, while others can be harmful. For example, the chemical known as sodium is an essential nutrient that helps regulate our body’s fluid levels. However, too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and other health problems.

Some chemicals in food are added during processing or cooking, while others occur naturally in foods. For example, nitrites are added to preserve processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and ham. Nitrites help prevent harmful bacteria from forming in these foods by turning them into nitrates in your digestive tract and then being converted into nitric oxide (NO). This compound relaxes blood vessels so that blood can flow more easily through them, which helps lower blood pressure. Nitrites also help maintain healthy skin color because they convert into NO when exposed to oxygen from your lungs or intestines. However, when you eat nitrites directly from processed meats, it can lead to an increase in cancer risk because it turns into N-nitroso compounds like N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) during digestion.

Top 10 common food additives in food

There are a lot of different food additives that are used in food, and it can be hard to keep track of them all. Here is a list of the top 10 most common food chemical additives used in food and their effects:


1. Sugar

Sugar is one of the most common food additives and is used to sweeten food. It is also a preservative and stabilizer.

Sugar is used in a wide variety of foods and beverages, including baked goods, canned fruit, breakfast cereals, soft drinks, jams and jellies, salad dressings, tomato ketchup and other condiments. Sugar can be added to any food during preparation or at the table in the form of sugar cubes or crystals.

Sugar has several functions in food products:

Sweetener — Sugar adds sweetness to foods. It provides a pleasant taste that consumers enjoy and enables manufacturers to produce products that are more palatable than they would otherwise be.

Preservative — Sugar inhibits microbial growth by lowering pH (reducing acidity), which makes it difficult for bacteria to grow; however, it does not kill them outright. Furthermore, sugar does not inhibit bacterial growth unless it has been heated above 160°F for at least 10 minutes.

Stabilizer — Sugar prevents syneresis (the separation of whey proteins from milk) by binding with protein molecules; this prevents them from aggregating together when exposed to air or heat.

2. Salt

Salt is another common food additive that is used to add flavor or preserve food. Salt can be used for flavoring many different types of foods, including canned vegetables and soups. Salt is also used to preserve meats and seafood by drawing moisture out of the product.

Salt can be found in many different forms, including table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt. The type of salt you choose should match your recipe’s requirements. For example, kosher salt contains no additives and is perfect for recipes that call for large amounts of granulated salt such as brines or rubs. Table salt contains iodine and anti-caking agents to prevent clumping and sticking together when exposed to moisture. Sea salts come from evaporated seawater, which gives them a different flavor profile than table or kosher salts.

3. Fat

Fat is a food additive often added to food to make it more flavorful or satisfying. It also adds a creamy texture and helps preserve foods by slowing the growth of bacteria. Fatty foods are nutritious and high in calories, so they can help people maintain healthy body weight if eaten in moderation.

Types of Fatty Food Additives

There are four main types of fat: saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and trans fat.

Saturated Fats: Foods high in saturated fats include animal products like meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products (cheese). Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels by increasing levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol. High LDL levels raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Monounsaturated Fats: Foods high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocado oil, peanut oil and canola oil. Monounsaturated fats lower blood cholesterol levels by increasing levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol. Eating a diet rich in monounsaturated fats may also reduce your risk of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms that increase your risk for heart disease, stroke

4. Preservatives

Preservatives are added to food to extend its shelf life. The most common preservatives in the U.S. are benzoates, sulfites, nitrates and nitrites, sorbates, and propionate.

The purpose of a preservative is to prevent spoilage of food by slowing down the growth of bacteria, mold, yeast and other microorganisms that can cause food to spoil. Most foods contain enough naturally occurring bacteria to cause spoilage within a few days or weeks at room temperature.

Preservatives are also used in cosmetics, household cleaning products and pharmaceuticals. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems such as cancer or asthma; however, the FDA considers them safe if used properly in food preparation and storage.

5. Flavorings

Flavorings are added to food to enhance its taste or smell. They can be natural or synthetic. Natural flavorings are extracted from plants, fruits and vegetables, while synthetic flavorings are man-made in a lab.

Natural flavorings are the most common type of additive in foods, but they can also contain some chemicals that are added to make up for the lack of taste or smell in a natural product. Sometimes natural flavors will contain more than one chemical, which can cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to certain types of food additives.

Synthetic flavorings sometimes contain chemicals that cause allergic reactions as well, but they’re also used in many foods as an alternative to artificial flavors because they don’t contain any naturally occurring ingredients that could be harmful if ingested by humans.

6. Colors

Food colorings are chemicals that can be added to food products to change their color of the product. They are often used to make food more visually appealing and to compensate for natural variations in color, due either to raw material variations or to changes during processing.

Colors are added to food to make it more visually appealing. Commonly used colors include Red 40 (Allura Red), Yellow 5 (Tartrazine), Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue FCF), and Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow). Many other colors are also used, such as Green 3 (Fast Green FCF), Orange B, Brown HT, etc.

The FDA requires that all food additives be approved before they can be used in consumer products. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) within the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine is responsible for reviewing all petitions submitted to use new color additives or other substances added to animal feed or pet food.

7. Emulsifiers

Emulsifiers are added to food to help improve its texture or stability. In some cases, they can make a product less likely to spoil. They can also be used as a stabilizer in cosmetics and other personal care products.

Emulsifiers are used in many foods, including ice cream, salad dressing and mayonnaise. They help keep ingredients that don’t normally mix well together from separating out of the final product. So, for example, if you’re making ice cream with milk and oil, you might want to add an emulsifier so it stays creamy instead of separating into two layers after freezing.

Emulsifiers also play an important role in making some foods more digestible. One example is soy lecithin, which is often added to chocolate or nut-based candies like peanut butter cups because it helps slow down the digestion of fat so that the body breaks it down more slowly over time — making these treats easier on your digestive system.

8. Antioxidants

Antioxidants are added to food to help protect it from damage or degradation. They can be naturally occurring or synthetic.

Antioxidants are substances that help protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals, which are unstable molecules produced by normal metabolic processes in the body. Free radicals can cause cell damage that leads to aging and disease, including heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants may also play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease, as well as some types of cancer, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Antioxidants act as scavengers by binding to free radicals before they cause damage. Some of the best-known antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene.

9. Nutrients

Nutrients are added to food to provide additional health benefits. The nutrients and their sources may vary, but the most common ones are:

Vitamins are organic compounds that play a role in cell growth, maintenance, and repair. They are also needed for many chemical processes within the body. Vitamins are found naturally in some foods and can be added to others.

Minerals are minerals that your body needs in small amounts for important functions like blood clotting, nerve signaling, and bone building. Minerals can also be added to food.

Cholesterol and fatty acids (also known as lipids), help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fatty acids also help keep you full when you eat them instead of sugar or starch.

10. Sweeteners

Sweeteners are added to food to provide a sweet taste without the use of sugar. The term is most often applied to sweeteners used by consumers, but it can also be used to refer to tabletop sweeteners, which are added during the preparation of foods and beverages in commercial settings.

Sweeteners come in many forms:

Sugar alcohols (also known as polyols) are low-calorie carbohydrates that are not fully absorbed by the body. They have a mild cooling effect in the mouth when consumed. Sugar alcohols include sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol.

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic substances that provide sweetness without calories or carbohydrates. These include saccharin (Sweet’N Low), aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), and acesulfame potassium (Sunett).

Natural sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, and molasses, which are made from plant materials; agave nectar, which is made from the sap of several species of agave cactus; fruit juice concentrates; evaporated cane juice (ECJ); brown rice syrup; barley malt syrup; date syrup; lactose (milk sugar).


Without going into extensive detail or delving into complex chemical processes, this article intended to be a brief guide on the top 10 chemicals with their general properties and effects on human health body. We hope that this information is useful and beneficial in your own decision-making and health practices.

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng is the author of, she is the co-founder of the grade chemical network. She has been in grade chemical company since 2017, with a working knowledge of food chemical .

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