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  • Sophia Kamveris, MS, RD

What's That Ingredient in Your Food?


College chemistry was a while ago but every now and then trying to read a food label propels me back to class. I tend to shop at the more natural stores, not because I want to spend more money, but rather to avoid most of the marginal ingredients that end up in our food. Patients that come in to see me know I have a wide range of food packages in my office. So, I decided to go through some of my labels and list the more common food additions. I listed them in an ABC format for easy reference. Directly below the ingredient is its function and then its source of origin.

Artificial Flavor:

Mimics natural flavors in foods

Made in a lab from molecules or substances called “esters”..and yes they can be made from coal and petroleum! Artificial flavors undergo even stricter safety evaluations than natural flavors.

Cellulose Gum or Gel

Improves texture; Thickener; Replaces fats

Most are made from the woody parts and cell walls of plants. Technically, since the body doesn’t absorb them, they are referred to as ‘dietary fiber’ on a food label but they have NO redeeming value in the body.

Carob Bean Gum

Thickener; Replaces fats

Made from the seeds of the carob tree.

Carrageenan

Thickener; Replaces fats; Stabilizer

Made from seaweed. There is ongoing controversy as to its safety. Stay tuned.

Citric Acid

Flavoring; Emulsifier¹

Produced through the fermentation of many foods that include citrus fruits, corn, beet sugar, molasses, or wheat.

Glucose Syrup

Thickener; Sweetener; Humectant²

Made from corn.

Guar Gum

Thickener; Replaces fats; Emulsifier; Stabilizer

Made from guar beans.

Locust Bean Gum

Thickener; Sweetener

Made from the seeds of the carob tree.

Maltodextrin

Adds texture

Made from corn, potato, or rice.

Modified Food Starch

Stabilizer; Thickener; Anti-binding agent

Made from wheat or corn.

Mono & Diglycerides

Emulsifiers

Made from seed oils

Natural Flavor

Mimics the flavor of foods if the actual food is missing an ingredient (ex. chocolate flavor that has no cocoa in it)

Typically created from anything that is edible but are also made in a lab, like artificial flavors.

Pectin

Thickener; Gelling agent

Found in the primary cell wall of plants.

Polydextrose

Bulking agent

Synthetic product made by adding corn sugar (dextrose) and sorbitol (a sugar alcohol) together.

Polyglycerol polyricinoleate

Emulsifier; Thinner

Made from mixing glycerol and fatty acids. Found in salad dressings and used a lot by candy makers to replace cocoa butter.

Propylene Glycol

Humectant; Stabilizer; Preservative; Homogenizer³

Synthetic product chemically made by the reaction of propylene oxide (derived from petroleum products) with water. Has applications in many industries.

Soy Lecithin

Emulsifier; Homogenizer; Dissolves powders; repellant

Made from soybeans; used for smoothing food textures and prevents foods from sticking (ex. oil in spray cooking cans).

Xanthan Gum

Stabilizer; Thickener; Improves texture

Sugar secreted by the bacterium, Xanthomonas campestris; found in corn, wheat, dairy or soy.

Wheat Gluten

Adds elasticity to bread dough

Wheat gluten is wheat with its starch component washed out. When dried and milled to a powder and added to ordinary flour dough→ improves a dough's ability to rise and increases the bread's structural stability and chewiness.

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¹Emulsifiers help ingredients from separating. (Ex. mixing oil and water in a recipe→ eggs are added as emulsifiers to keep the mixture as one.

²Absorbs water in a product.

³Keeps liquid particles uniform in size so they blend better.

#additives

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Sophia Kamveris, MS, RD, LDN

22 Mill Street-Suite 105

Arlington, MA 02474

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