While there is a sizeable list of companies like Living Fuel that produce high-quality foods without additives, the bad news is the rest of the food industry appears to be going in the opposite direction. A recent study shows a full 60 percent of foods purchased by Americans contain technical food additives, a 10 percent increase in the past 20 years.
The report published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says these additives include coloring, flavoring, preservatives or sweeteners. The numbers of additives in each product on grocery store shelves is on the rise as well. The mean number of 3.7 additives per product in 2001 grew to 4.5 per item in 2019, the last year for which the data was compared.
Food additives can be used for a variety of reasons such as extending shelf life, increasing flavor or adding color. And while the impact of many additives is not known, other studies have confirmed ultra-processed foods are detrimental to the health of consumers. Despite that, the number of additives is increasing.
"Our research clearly shows that the proportion of ultra-processed foods with additives in Americans' shopping carts increased significantly between 2001 and 2019," said researcher Elizabeth K. Dunford from The George Institute for Global Health. "We observed this trend across all food and additive categories. These findings give us reason for concern, given the growing evidence linking high consumption of processed foods with adverse health outcomes."
Better than half of the packaged food products purchased in the U.S. in 2019 contained three or more food additives. But even more troubling is the fact that a 22 percent higher percentage of baby food purchases were ultra-processed and contained additives. Researchers did, however, see a decrease in the use of added flavors in carbonated soft drinks.
It is estimated more than 400,000 different packaged food and beverage products are purchased through grocery stores each year.
"With manufacturers producing foods and beverages with an increasingly higher number of additives, it is more important than ever to understand what is in the foods that Americans are buying and eating," said investigator, Barry Popkin from the University of North Carolina. "US consumers are demanding a much higher level of transparency from brands and retailers than in previous years."
"The findings from this study could be used to inform policymakers on where American consumers are getting an increasing number of additives and how the packaged food supply is changing," added Dr. Dunford. "The results can also set the foundation for future work in this area and provide direction for future researchers. At a minimum, I hope this work leads to further investigation into the types and amounts of ingredients being used in the manufacturing of baby food products."