BLOG: The Role of Food Additives in our Diet
A food additive defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is any substance added to food. Many of the direct additives in food serve a particular purpose. Some help to stabilize, thicken or emulsify foods, while others are used to help preserve the quality of the food and contribute to their longevity. When examining a food label, words such as lecithin, maltodextrin, and xanthan gum can be present and cause confusion and uncertainty to the conscious consumer. Although these unfamiliar words are present, most of them are derived from natural sources and help contribute to the quality of the food.
The video above displays a simplified explanation of how food additives, such as stabilizers, are used in a food-processing manner. In recent times, these food additives are being used in much different and innovative setting. Inventive chefs are viewing these items from an entirely new perspective to exceed the boundaries of how one enjoys a meal. One chef by the name of Nathan Myhrvold has adopted this modernist approach to food.
The modernist perceptive on food brings to the forefront the use of these food additives beyond a commercial food setting and poses the question of how we view them in our diet.
From a nutrition and dietetics standpoint, dietitians are always trying to get the most natural form of food with the least amount of antibiotics, hormones, and preservatives. They often strive to get things that are local, organic or fresh from the farm to sustain the body. Likewise, they recommend patients and those around them to do the same. From a culinary arts standpoint, chefs are always trying to get the freshest, highest quality ingredients to create the most delicious meals. They are in search of unique and innovative ways to bring forth a new perspective of food.
In many aspects, both dietitians and chefs are seeking similar goals. Both want to highlight food in the best possible way to make people not only want to eat because they have to, but eat for a purpose. This purpose from a dietetics viewpoint may be to eat the most natural and sustainable products, while the purpose of the chef is to eat the most pleasurable and satisfying foods. This disconnect can be difficult for the consumer trying to follow recommendations from the dietitian and chef.
For the purpose of food additives, a dietitian may question the way the additive affects the body and the safety of it. All food additives have to go through an extensive screening done by the FDA before placed in the category of Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). Once put into this category, food additives are not guaranteed 100% safe and may still cause health risks, although chances of this happening are rare.
When considering if one should take caution when a long list of these food additives are on the back of our favorite foods the answer is hard to determine. Since all of the additives are on the FDA's GRAS list, major concerns may be subdued; however, their long-term effects in our diet are still somewhat undetermined.
As with most concerns with the diet, the answer given is education and moderation. Dietitians should be aware of food additives and be able to explain to individuals their roles in products. This will help the individual to determine their food philosophy on food additives. From a culinary arts perspective, these food additives expose food in a new way. They are used to highlight the essence of food and give people food experiences they never dreamed possible. In moderate amounts, food additives can be a tool to enhance our personal food experiences.