Ingredients of Concern

Get the facts about artificial food dyes, fake sweeteners, caffeine, and other commonly used food ingredients.

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A little bit of salt or sugar is safe, but not at the amounts most people currently consume. The cancer risks posed by artificial sweeteners are small, but concerning enough that CSPI urges consumers to avoid them (and urges the FDA to ban several of them.) And because of the impact artificial food dyes have on children’s behavior, CSPI urges parents to avoid dyed foods. CSPI has useful resources for consumers on all of these topics, and more.

Sugar 

With a few exceptions, most sweeteners and the naturally occurring sugars in fruit break down into roughly half fructose and half glucose in the body.  The natural sugar in milk (lactose) breaks down into half glucose and half galactose. Don’t worry so much about the naturally occurring sugar in fruit, milk, and plain yogurt, but avoid sugary drinks and limit fruit juice to no more than one cup a day.  Limit yourself to 6 teaspoons a day of added sugars if you’re a woman and 9 teaspoons if you’re a man.  Most children and adolescent girls should consume less than 5 teaspoons, and adolescent boys less than 9 teaspoons, of added sugars per day.  No matter what your age, you would exceed those limits by drinking just one 20-ounce soft drink, which contains 9 or more teaspoons of added sugar.


Salt  

Sodium chloride, or salt, is perhaps the deadliest ingredient in the food supply.  While a small amount of sodium is necessary for health, the amount in a typical diet these days is enough to cause high blood pressure, or hypertension.  If you’re looking to reduce you’re sodium intake, don’t look to the salt shaker for most of your reduction:  About three-quarters of the sodium we consume comes in packaged and restaurant foods.  Read more.


Artificial Sweeteners
 

Aspartame tops our list of sugar substitutes to avoid, because it caused cancer in three independent studies using laboratory rats and mice.   CSPI also recommends that consumers avoid acesulfame potassium, saccharin, and sucralose.  Several natural, high-potency sweeteners are increasingly common, like stevia leaf extract (which CSPI ranks as safe) and monk fruit extract (which CSPI says warrants caution).  See Chemical Cuisine for more.


Caffeine

The only drug that is present naturally or added to widely consumed foods, caffeine is mildly addictive, one possible reason that makers of soft drinks add it to their products.  Many coffee drinkers experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, sleepiness, and lethargy, when they stop drinking coffee.   Learn more about the caffeine content in brand name coffee, teas, sodas, energy drinks, and other foods (including some surprising ones).   Read more.


Food Dyes
 

Commonly used food dyes, such as Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40, pose risks including behavioral problems and hyperactivity in some children.  Some dyes also pose a risk of cancer (like Red 3) and allergic reactions (like Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1).  CSPI recommends that consumers avoid dyed foods and is pressing the Food and Drug Administration to remove them from the food supply, or at least require a warning label on dyed foods.  Read more.


Calories in Alcohol 

What’s the damage to your waistline from alcohol? It can be a guessing game. Labels for most beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages aren’t required to list calories… or even ingredients. Find out the calorie content of your favorite stouts, ciders, ales, and other alcoholic beverages. Read more.