Many of the products that we consume daily contain artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives that have been linked with several health issues. To name a few, formation of cancer cells, heart problems, obesity, diabetes, damaged blood vessels, stroke, kidney deterioration, infertility,chronic inflammation, aging, and bone weakness.
Please find here an overview of those colorings, additives and preservatives, with some suggested alternatives.

Artificial Food Colorings

Who does not get attracted to bright colored foods such as candies, cereals, and some beverages? Find hereby facts about 4 of them with suggested alternatives:

Yellow Dye N.5 is an artificial food coloring found in certain sodas, candies or cereals which might cause severe asthma symptoms. Do you feel reluctant to use it into your favorite recipes? Here is the alternative, try saffron, turmeric, or even edible flowers such as dandelions to give your plates a bright yellow color.

Red Dye N.2 found in jellies, gelatos or fruit cocktail have been linked to the incidence of cancer such as thyroid cancer. Are you thinking twice of preparing sorbet or fruit cocktail from scratch?Then, consider using beet puree or beet juice instead to add brightness.

Blue Dye E 133 found in ice creams, corn flakes, candies, soft drinks, sports drinks and pet foods has been linkedto chromosomal damage and it has been banned in some European countries. Thinking of alternatives? Nothing beats frozen blueberries.

Green Dye found in lollipops and sports drinks can be replaced with frozen green spinach blended with a drizzle of water.

Sweeteners (High Fructose Corn Syrup and Aspartame)

High Fructose Corn Syrup is found in different types of yogurt, bread, frozen pizzas and cereal bars. Excessive consumption increases the risk of obesity and developing type II diabetes. To stay safe, keep your consumption below 25 g per day which implies staying away from processed foods!

Aspartame is found mainly in sugar-free labeled food products. Excessive consumption might lead to hyperglycemia and anxiety. Replace it with a drizzle of raw honey, pitted dates, maple syrup, jam, or banana puree. Don’t forget that moderation is the key when it comes to those naturally sweet foods to avoid gaining unwanted kgs.

Additives (Potassium Bromate and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG))

Potassium Bromate is used in baked products and helps them rise quickly. However, its use has been linked to kidney and nervous system damage, thyroid problems, gastrointestinal discomfort and cancer. Believe it or not, vitamin C can be a good replacement to this additive as it strengthens the gluten in flour and helps dough to rise more quickly. So why not adding a squeeze of lemon juice to your bakery?

MSG is used to enhance flavors. It is highly used in Chinese food, frozen dinners, instant noodles, and processed meats. Studies have shown that it might lead to learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. To avoid exposure to MSG, use natural beef, chicken or vegetable stock .

Preservatives (Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Nitrite, Propyl Paraben, BHA, BHT)

Sodium Benzoate is used in processed food such as jellies, jams and hot sauces to prevent spoilage. Though it has not been proven yet, it is thought to cause hyperactivity in some children. As an alternative consider preparing home-made jelly or jam with a few drops of rosemary oil as a natural preservative.

Sodium Nitrite is found in sausages, cured and canned meats. It may cause pancreatic cancer. Therefore, stay away from processed meats in general and stick to fresh low fat meats. However, if you still would like sometimes to enjoy some home-made cold cuts, think of adding sea salt or celery juice to have the same effect as nitrites.

Propyl Paraben is used in tortillas, bread product, muffins, shampoos and cosmetics. Studies have shown that it might lead to a decrease in sperm count, testosterone levels as well as acceleration in growth of breast cancer cells. Have home-made fresh bakery in moderation and choose Paraben-free products for your toiletries or natural soaps with fresh herbs instead.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxy toluene (BHT) are found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips and vegetable oils to preserve color and flavor and prevent rancidity. They affect the neurological system of the brain, alter behavior and may cause cancer. Unfortunately, these three additives are hard to replace with natural food ingredients so avoiding or reducing consumption of those foods is the best measure

After this overview, the best measure is to limit the use of processed products in general from your daily consumption. Keep an eye on the ingredients list while shopping. Opt for «preservative-free» or “100% Natural” labeled instead of «no-added preservatives». Prepare more foods from scratch, and in case you are ordering meals opt for restaurants that prepare food from scratch and that avoid using processed foods in their recipes.


Jessica Rouphael
Jessica Rouphael
Licensed Clinical Dietician LD, BSc and MSc in Clinical Nutrition from USEK, Lebanon