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Did you ever wonder what all of those weird things on your food label are? Are those chemicals going to kill you? Which ones are probably OK, and which ones should you avoid? The answers are here!

What the heck is.....

  • Algin, or Sodium Alginate is a substance derived from algae. It is used in pudding, ice cream, and milk shakes to make them thicker and creamier, and to extend their shelf life. It keeps these foods thick even when they start to melt, so they don't get all runny. No side effects.*

Sodium Alginate helps keep ice cream from dripping.

Personal Trainer explains Algin, sodium alginate

Aspartame: is a chemical compound made from methanol, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine. It is used as an artificial sweetener in many foods and especially beverages. It is also sold under the trade names of Nutrasweet®, Spoonful®, and Equal®. Some people have a genetic defect in which they cannot process phenylalanine. These people must avoid aspartame at all costs!

Equal® brand of Aspartame

aspartame can hurt phenylketonurics

  • BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) are phenolic chemical compounds that help keep fats from spoiling. They are also used as defoaming agents for yeast (for example, when making beer). High doses may cause tumors in laboratory animals.**

Because these compounds can be toxic in high doses, manufacturers usually don't put them in the food - they put them in the packaging materials.

food chemicals BHA and BHT
  • Carageenan: is a thickener derived from Irish Moss, which is a type of seaweed. It is used in puddings, ice cream, milkshakes, etc. It makes the foods jell, and keeps them from getting runny when they start to melt. No side effects.*
  • Citric Acid is an acid that occurs naturally in many fruits, such as lemons and limes. It is used in many canned/bottles juices and salad dressings as a flavoring and a neutralizing agent (keeps food at the proper pH). No side effects.*

irish moss, carageenan

Irish Moss. This is the seaweed that carageenan comes from.

  • Dextrose, Sucrose, Maltose, Fructose, and Glucose are all fancy ways of saying "sugar." There are a few differences between these compounds, but they are best viewed as "sugar." This stuff is a lot more harmful than most food additives!

sugar is harmful

sugar is bad for you!
  • EDTA: Ethylene Diamene Tetra Acetate is a sequestrant. It keeps fats from going rancid. Often small amounts of metals are contained in food. The metal comes from the soil, and from machinery during harvest and processing. Metals can catalyze the oxidation of fats in the food. EDTA binds to these metals and keeps them from spoiling the fats. No side effects.*
  • Erythorbic Acid is used in soft drinks, juice, and wine to maintain proper color and flavor. Are you afraid of strange sounding chemicals like this? Erythorbic acid is just another name for L-Ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C. No side effects.*

erythorbic acid is just vitamin C

EDTA is often used in "chelation therapy" (below). This is Quackery! If a doctor talks to you about chelation, don't walk away.....RUN!

chelation therapy is quackery!

  • Guar Gum is a substance made from the seeds of the Guar plant (Guar is a legume that grows in India). It is used in cheese, ice cream, jelly, and salad dressings as a thickener and stabilizer. No side effects.*
  • Lactic Acid is a bitter-tasting substance obtained from sour milk. It is used in many desserts, cheeses, and bakery products to adjust the pH, and as a flavoring.
  • Lecithin is an emulsifier derived from milk and some vegetables. It's used in things like chocolate, margarine and cheese to keep the food from separating. No side effects.*

Guar Gum, also known as galacto-mannan ( 1-4) beta-D manno-pyranosyl, (1-6) alpha-D-galacto-pyranosyl polymer, comes from these seeds:

Guar gum comes from guar seeds

  • Methylcellulose is a generic term for a number or gummy substances made from combining methyl groups with cellulose (an indigestible fiber that is contained in plant cell walls). It is used as a thickener in many jams, jellies, and pie fillings. Methylcellulose has the very unusual property of getting thicker as the temperature increases (most compounds "melt" and get runny at higher temperatures), which makes it ideal for hot pie fillings. No side effects.*

This is methylcellulose. It looks scary, but it won't hurt you.

methylcellulose is a chemical additive that won't hurt you

  • Mono and Diglycerides are emulsifying agents derived from soybean oil. They are used in shortening, margarine, and baked goods to keep the food from separating. No side effects.*
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a salt of the amino acid glutamine. It is used as a flavor enhancer in many canned and frozen goods, and in many Chinese restaurants. It is also sold as a table top flavor enhancer under the trade name Accent®. MSG is generally regarded as safe, but should be consumed in limited quantities by those on sodium restricted diets, and has caused problems for people with asthma.
  • Pectin is a water soluble substance found in many fruits and vegetables. It is used in many canned fruits and jellies to make them jell, and keep them from separating.




Accent is a popular table top spice

Spike and Accent are made from Monosodium Glutamate

  • Phosphoric Acid is a substance created by exposing phosphorous to oxygen. It is used to maintain proper pH, and also as an emulsifier, in milk and cheese (keeps products with a uniform consistency, prevents products from separating.

Phosphoric acid is not only used in sodas, but also in fuel cells, and in tooth bonding.  

coca cola has phosphoric acid in it

phosphoric acid is also used in tooth bonding

food additive is also used in fuel cells
  • Potassium sorbate is a salt of sorbic acid. It helps inhibit the growth of microbes. Potassium sorbate is often used in the manufacture of wines. It keeps the yeast from continuing to ferment after the bottle has been capped. That way the bottle won't explode. More people have been killed by exploding bottles than by potassium sorbate. No side effects*
  • Proprionic Acid is used as a mold inhibitor in cheese and bread. No side effects.*
most wine is preserved with potassium sorbate  
  • Saccharin is a non-nutritive artificial sweetener used in many beverages and canned fruits and jellies. It is also commonly used as a table top sweetener for coffee, tea, cereal, etc. It is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Sold under the trade name of Sweet n Low®.
we think sweet and low tastes bad. try splenda instead
  • Sodium Aluminosilicate is a naturally occurring mineral that is used in many powderized food products, such as spice blends and grated cheeses. It prevents the food from clumping up so it flows freely. No side effects.*
  • Sodium Benzoate is a salt used as a preservative in soft drinks, jellies, and fruit juices.No side effects*
  • Sodium Bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is used as a leavening agent (makes dough rise) in many baked goods. It is also used to maintain the proper pH in canned goods. This is a significant source of sodium. People on low sodium diets should avoid consuming large quantities.
  • Sodium Bisulfite, Sodium Metabisulfite, Sodium Sulfite, and Sulfur Dioxide are types of sulfites that are often used in wines and dehydrated fruits and vegetables to prevent discoloration and prevent bacterial growth. Some people are allergic to sulfites. For the rest of us they should be no problem. The FDA prohibits using sulfites on raw fruits and vegetables.




sodium bicarbonate is simply baking soda

  • Sodium Nitrite is a salt that is used in the manufacture of dyes. It is used in many processed meats as a preservative (prevents botulism) and a colorant (it keeps the meat red). It can combine with compounds in the stomach to form Nitrosamine, a highly carcinogenic substance. This is one food additive that we recommend you minimize your exposure to.

Sodium Nitrite is what gives meat the red color. In the picture on the left, metmyogloben turns the meat brown the longer it is exposed to oxygen. In the picture on the right, they added 156 parts per million of sodium nitrite, which combines with oxygen to produce the pigment mononitrosylhemochrom, which is what keeps the meat red.

Chicago Personal Trainers don't recommend food with nitrites


  • Xantham Gum is formed when sugar is fermented by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. It is used as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier in many dairy products, desserts, and salad dressings. No side effects.*
  • more to follow


*Even distilled water can have serious consequences in you drink too much of it. When we say "no side effects," we mean that in reasonable quantities, these compounds are harmless to most people. It is always possible for people to suffer allergic reactions to any of these substances.

**These "large doses" are really large - far more than most people could ever eat. These additives have been approved by the FDA, and rarely cause problems in healthy humans.

Xanthomonas campestris is the source of xantham gum. Here are a few xanthomonas bacilli

xantham gum comes from bacterial fermentation

And here are many colonies of Xanthomonas growing on a petri dish.

xantham gum is added to many foods

The bacteria ferment sugar to form a gummy substance. It sounds gross, but is quite harmless. There are some additives to be concerned about, but this isn't one of them.

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Chicago Personal Trainers Explain Food Additives