Food For Thought- Five Common Food Additives To Look Out For

Article at a glance
  • Consumers should be worried about more than just calories when choosing food products as science has begun to discover the harmful effects of food additives in common ingredient lists
  • Food labels are great tools and allow consumers to control what they consume and ultimately influence their brain health.

Reading food labels can be tricky, and nowadays, with consumers becoming more health-conscious, some manufacturers have begun to use misleading verbiage on their labels so people buy products that might not be in their best interest. To avoid being deceived, don’t stop at the front of the package, be sure to take a good hard look at the food label too. 


The ingredient list is a critical part of any food label and is often passed over as people hunt for “grams of sugar” or “total calories” in a product. But consumers should be worried about more than just calories in their food choices. As science progresses, the harmful effects of some food additives are being discovered. However, don’t panic yet. With the right knowledge, you can avoid additives that could lead to health sabotage. Here are five common ingredients that science has discovered might be harmful to your brain health. 

Artificial sweeteners blew up when diet foods hit the shelves. They are the secret sauce to enhance the sweetness of foods and beverages while keeping calories low. Aspartame commonly found in diet soda and other sugar-free foods is associated with systemic inflammation, memory problems, migraine headaches, dementia, and even depression. Research suggests that the bi-products of aspartame can cross the blood-brain barrier and may lead to several cognitive problems such as headache, migraines, irritable moods, depression, and insomnia. 


Sucralose, also known as Splenda, is another artificial sweetener commonly used in diet foods and drinks. Animal studies show that sucralose can cause brain damage in the region of the brain necessary for memory formation (hippocampus). Moreover, when considering artificially sweetened soft drinks, research has concluded that higher intake is associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. 


Diacetyl is a chemical that has been used to give butter-like flavors to food products, including popcorn. It has recently been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, where research shows that the regular intake of diacetyl accelerates the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins. This buildup of beta-amyloid is considered one of the primary contributing factors to Alzheimer’s Disease. 


Sodium benzoate is a preservative that may be added to carbonated drinks and acidic foods like salad dressings, fruit juices, and condiments. While initially recognized as safe, several studies have uncovered harmful cognitive side effects such as hyperactivity in children and increased ADHD symptoms in young adults.

Artificial food coloring such as Blue 1, Red 40, and Yellow 5 (to name a few) are also additives you should look out for. They are used to brighten and improve the appearance of everything from candies to condiments. More recently, some of these food colorings have been a cause for concern for several health reasons, from allergic reactions to hyperactivity and behavioral changes in children. 

What you consume on a daily basis can affect more than your waistline, it can affect your brain. Food labels are great tools and allow consumers to take charge of the foods they eat, and better control their risk for disease and long-term health effects. Be sure to bring your reading glasses on your next grocery trip and choose wisely.