Food additives have various useful functions which most people take for granted. Not all food additives are dangerous. They are used for several reasons, because they are convenient and can actually be beneficial. Although there are studies showing that food additives may be harmful, there are still some additives that have some nutritional value. These chemical substances are being added to the food mainly because of preservation, enhancing the color and flavor, and making it more appealing. Additives are chemical substances that are added to the food either intentionally or unintentionally. Direct additives are those that are intentionally added to create a desired look. Unintentional is when indirect additives are accidentally transferred to the food while it was being processed, packaged, or stored. In today's world, since everything is almost transported from one place to another, scientists have developed foods that were stabile and to slow down spoilage. As the population continues to grow, food additives are highly essential to the society to provide safe and wholesome food. There are many types of additives and each have a specific purpose, but the most recognized additives are preservatives, colors, and flavors.
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Preservatives are additives that helps slow down the growth of bacteria and molds in food, preventing spoilage and food poisoning. Preserving food has become an important factor in the food industry as consumers expect to be able to obtain foods that are convenient. Salt, sugar, and vinegar are additives mostly used by people to improve the taste and look, as well as preserving their food. Sodium Bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is used as a leavening agent. When heated, it releases acid to help with baking, making the food rise, in addition, enhance the flavor. Salt and sugar are still commonly used today. Salt happens to be a dual action preservative; it joins with water molecules and weakens the survival of bacteria. Sugar has almost the same effect as salt; both are used for curing. Curing is used more with fruits and vegetables, for instance cucumbers being submerged in a salt or sugar solution known as brine to produce pickles. Coloring makes the food appealing to consumers, without it, the food doesn't look presentable and at times appears inedible. It provides visual information about the quality and condition of the food and it effects people's perception of its flavor as well. For this reason, food manufacturers add dyes and other color additives to their products to attract consumers. Color additives are used to preserve the color loss due to the environmental exposures; correct natural variations in color; provide a colorful identity in foods; and protect flavor and vitamins that may have been affected by sunlight during storage. Because flavor is the essence of the food, flavor enhancers are used to improve the taste of the food. Flavorings are used in almost all the food products, and are usually an imitation of some fruit or other known foodstuff. Creative Flavorists are developers that produce flavorings, and their main job is to collect the most important substance from the food and create flavor report to try to mimic a particular food.
Antioxidants play an important role in making sure that the food keeps its taste, color, and still remain edible at the same time. It acts as an oxygen hunter; to help stop the bacteria to grow that eventually harms the food. There are several types of antioxidants and each acts a different way, but in the end, they all have the same result which is to delay the spoilage of the food. It is essential because it inhibits oxidation of fats to make them last longer and prevent it from rotting. Oxidation happens when the chemicals in the food are exposed in the air. The food can lose its nutritional value and change its chemical composition. Oxidation in foods containing fat and oil can easily turn bad causing it to deteriorate, and in fruits, it causes discoloration. Therefore, antioxidants are added to slow the rate of oxidation. There are a few health benefits of antioxidants. Since oxidation can build up fatty deposits, it can affect blockage of the arteries which in turn causes heart attack. Antioxidants can play an important role in this to prevent that from happening. It can also help inhibits cancers, arthritis, and other health conditions.
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There are vitamins and minerals being added to some food, and some of these are actually beneficial to one's health. They are proven to be safe and effective having gone through meticulous research and testing. Alpha tocopherol, best known as Vitamin E, is made up of whole wheat flour, rice germ, and vegetable oils. When Vitamin E is added to the food, it helps to improve the food's shelf life, making it last longer. It is an antioxidant, which means it protects the body from free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that can damage cells in the body which can contribute to cancer, heart disease and many other ailments. Ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, is also an antioxidant. This type of additives adds nutritional value and prevents the loss of color and flavor of processed foods. Beta carotene is found in richly colored fruits and vegetables. It is also added to food for its nutritional value. When it is consumed, beta carotene turns into Vitamin A and is stored in the liver, which is released into the blood stream when needed. It has also been proven that Vitamin A keeps the eyes and mucous membranes healthy. Even though Vitamins C and E have are health beneficial, there is a limit imposed to manufacturers on how much it should be used, because of antioxidant purposes. Lecithin is an emulsifier found in egg yolks and soybeans, and is added to manufactured goods such as chocolate, margarine, ice cream and other baked goods. Lecithin obtains an essential nutrient called choline, which is a building block that is needed for the body to support the cognitive systems in the brain. Citric acid, a weak organic acid found in fruits like oranges and berries, is a natural preservative and antioxidant. It is important because it creates metabolic energy. Phosphate is a common phosphorus mineral that is found in many foods. Phosphate serves a diversity of functions such as being used as emulsifiers, buffers, acidifiers, flavor enhancers, leavening agents, color stabilizers and mineral supplements. It is important as it plays a major role in the development of one's body, including keeping a healthy teeth and bones; the correct nerve and muscle function; and helps the body cells store and converts energy. And if this is lacking is someone's body, it can lead to a long-term, possibly serious health complications. These are just one of the few vitamins and minerals that are commonly used, unknowingly, by everyone.
Aside from the vitamins and minerals, additives are being used for other useful purposes. Food additives help keep food nourished and appealing while it is on its way to consumers. Food manufacturers use such chemical additions because it speeds up preparation making it faster to distribute to shoppers. Additives are used in foods for one or more of the following reasons; to maintain product consistency; to improve nutritional value; to maintain its wholesomeness; to control acidity and alkalinity; and to enhance flavor and color. By maintaining its product consistency, additives such as emulsifiers are used to give the product consistent texture and help to stay unified. It allows water and oil to be mixed together. To preserve nutrient value, several food and drinks are enhanced to improve one's nutritional repute. By enhancing these foods, vitamins and minerals are added, which has helped lessen the rate of malnutrition along the U.S. population. To keeps its wholesomeness, preservatives like antioxidants are used. This is to keep its shelf life longer by reducing the spoilage caused by mold, air, bacteria, fungi, or yeast. It helps food from becoming stale preventing fresh fruit to turn brown when exposed to air. By means of controlling acidity and alkalinity, additives help balance the acid-base in foods to help obtain a desired taste and look. To provide color and flavor to the food, spices and other synthetic flavors are used to meet consumer's expectations. The most common additive that almost everyone uses is the ones that make the food look and taste better.
Other additives that amplify qualities to the food and help retard the growth of pathogens are thickeners, sweeteners, anti-caking agents, packaging gases and propellants. Thickeners are added to increase thickness and are usually made up of carbohydrates. When heating liquids, carbohydrate-based thickeners trap the water molecules causing the fluid to thicken. Gravies and other sauces are amongst one of the examples. Gelling agents are similar to thickeners but instead forms gel. It evens out liquid food, therefore giving the food shape and structure, for example jellies and jams. Alternatives to sugar are known as sweeteners, which are added to food in order to enhance the flavor. Instead of sugar, sweeteners are used because it has beneficial effect on people who have health condition like diabetes. Sweeteners can be divided into two types; artificial or intense sweeteners, which means, it is immensely sweeter than a normal sugar but at the same time less concentrated; bulk sweeteners, meaning, it provides both the volume and sweetness as a typical sugar, but they are only about 35 to 100 percent sweeter than sugar. Calories are the energy in food that is measured, which causes obesity and other ailments to one's body. To help prevent obesity, diabetes, and to help people try to lose weight; producers have replaced sugar with sweeteners that are non-calorific or reduced-calorie. In turn, people with these diseases can eat and drink foodstuff that are flavorful. Anti-caking agents keep the powdered or granular foods from caking. Caking means it causes particles to become sticky and form clumps. With anti-caking it helps prevent this from happening since it coats the food elements and absorbs the extra moisture. For example a coffee vending machine that uses powder; without anti-caking, it would not flow smoothly since it could block a number of tubes and the taste of the coffee would not be consistent enough. Packaging gases controls the air in which foods are packed to restrain it from going ripe and prevents it from spoiling. Modified Atmosphere Packaging also called MAP is used to accomplish this, where the air in the package is substituted with a mixture of gas for instance oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. By mixing these gases together, it can create a different effect to the food. For instance, when nitrate and carbon dioxide are mixed together, it can be used on meats and fishes to reduce spoilage; and combinations of oxygen and carbon dioxide can help prevent discoloration of red meats. Propellants are used to help dispense the fluid food like foam and spray out of the aerosol container, an example is ketchup, mustard, syrup and whipped cream.
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The use of food additives is controlled by the law. A lot of people are uncertain about the safety of food additives, and since the FDA did approve almost 3000 additives being used in the United States, it should mean that these foods are considered risk-free. But first, any food companies must file a petition to the FDA requesting for approval. The FDA extensively evaluates and regulates the food, having it studied on animals for its safety, prior to releasing it to the market. Only additives that are permitted can be used in food. According to Lauren Beyenhof, an environmentalist scientist and a professional freelance writer, United States has the safest and the most quality controlled food. She said that there is not a lot of evidence reported regarding the major health risk from the use of food additives. As stated by a 16th Century Philosopher named Paracelsus, "All things are poisons; nothing is without poison; only the dose determines whether there is a harmful effect." In other words, relating to food additives, eating too much food containing these chemicals can be dangerous, but consuming a lower level can be safe.
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