an assortment of sweetener packets on a table

What’s the Deal With Artificial Ingredients?

Many people have eliminated foods containing synthetic ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners and flavors, from their diets. Why are people concerned about artificial ingredients?

Food additives, including artificial colors and preservatives, are commonly found in processed foods. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, food additives serve at least one of three functions: keeping foods fresh and safe to eat, retaining nutritional value, and improving foods’ taste or texture.

Opponents of artificial food additives, including synthetic colorings and flavorings, believe these ingredients contribute to health concerns, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In response to consumer demand, companies such as General Mills and Kraft are removing artificial coloring and flavoring from their foods. But according to Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., registered dietitian at Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine, no conclusive evidence supports the claims that artificial ingredients are unsafe.

“There’s been a push in the media recently to eat all-natural foods, which has made some consumers wary of artificial additives,” Goodson says. “But we really don’t know how consistent intake of these ingredients impacts overall health because there’s no feasible way to track and study it.”

A Better Measure of Nutrition

Even though foods free of artificial preservatives, dyes and flavorings may seem like healthier choices, eliminating synthetic ingredients has little impact on nutritional value.

“It’s a common misconception that removing certain substances automatically makes foods healthier,” Goodson says. “That’s not always the case. Consider gluten-free foods. You can remove gluten from a muffin, for example, and still have a product that is loaded with fat, calories and sugar. The same concept applies to artificial ingredients.”

So how can you make wiser selections? Goodson recommends making whole foods — fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and dairy products without added sweeteners — the mainstays of your diet.

Keep in mind there will be times when you might need to rely on processed foods. In these instances, Goodson suggests comparing food labels before making a purchase. Don’t rely solely on “all-natural” labels. Instead, consider the number of ingredients listed on each package, as well as the food’s fat, sodium, sugar and calorie content. Choose foods with the shortest ingredient lists — they typically contain the fewest additives — and the greatest concentrations of vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein.

To find a physician who can refer you for nutrition counseling, call 1-877-THR-WELL or visit TexasHealth.org/FindaPhysician.

Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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