Food additives are now disguised with “code” names. Instead of tongue-tripping over their chemical names, you can spout out their perky, friendly acronyms or brand names—BHA rather than “butylated hydroxyanisole” and aspartame in place of “aspartyl-phenylalanine-I-methyl ester.” The complexity of the language and the hoops you need to jump through to translate its vocabulary make knowing what you are truly eating a tenuous venture.

The average American consumes about 150 pounds of food additives a year, the bulk of it sugar and sweeteners, followed by salt, vitamins, flavors, colorings, and preservatives, representing almost 10 percent of the food we eat each year.

The FDA defines an additive as any substance which becomes a part of the food matrix as a result of “producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food; and including any source of radiation intended for any such use.” With the average food traveling 1,500 miles or more to your dinner table, you can only imagine the mosaic of food additives that have become a part of what you are eating. Unless you grown your own foods, what you eat is beyond your immediate control.


In the United States, more than 3,000 substances can be added to foods for the purpose of preservation, coloring, texture, increasing flavor and more. While each of these substances is legal to use (at least here in the States), whether or not they are something you want to be consuming is another story all together.

The total annual consumption of food coloring in the United States is approximately 120 million pounds for the entire population. Food color additives are officially designated as either certified or exempt from certification. The food color additives that are exempt from certification are primarily natural in origin. This reflects the popular belief that natural compounds are safer. This contention appears to hold up to scientific scrutiny. One of the most widely used synthetic food colors is FD&C Yellow No.5, or tartrazine. Tartrazine is added to almost every packaged food, as well as many drugs, including some antihistamines, antibiotics, steroids, and sedatives. In the United States, the average daily per capita consumption of certified dyes is 15 milligrams, of which 85 percent in tartrazine. Among children, consumption is usually much higher.