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8 Common Ingredients in Fast Food and Their Health Risks

Expertly reviewed by Chris Icamen · Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Hello Sehat · Updated Apr 18, 2022

8 Common Ingredients in Fast Food and Their Health Risks

Packaged meals and fast food usually rely on a variety of additives to enhance their taste and appearance, as well as extend their shelf life. But, despite their practical benefits, the excessive consumption of these additives can be bad for our health. Here are some of the potentially harmful ingredients in fast food, along with the risks they bring. 

Potentially Harmful Ingredients in Fast Food

1. MSG

MSG (monosodium glutamate) aka “vetsin” is a flavoring agent used not only in packaged and fast foods, but also at home.

The effect of MSG on health is still a hot topic of debate. Some experts argue that MSG can cause problems with the nerves and brain, making you “slow.” 

Eating too much vetsin is also strongly suspected to cause frequent headaches and nausea, which are common symptoms of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome¹

Meanwhile, other studies found no specific link between MSG consumption and health problems.

Despite the controversy surrounding the dangers of MSG, the Philippine FDA has declared MSG a safe food additive²

2. Artificial Dyes

Artificial coloring is an additive that enhances the food’s appearance, but is also one of the potentially harmful ingredients in fast food. Brightly colored and fresh food attracts people, increasing the chances of them purchasing the product. 

However, not all artificial dyes are safe. Several studies show that artificial coloring can increase the tendency of children to have allergies³. They might also trigger hyperactivity in children with ADHD.

Several artificial food colorings are also strongly suspected of causing cancer, such as diamond blue (Blue 1), allura red aka Red 40, and caramel coloring.

Red 3, otherwise known as erythrocin, might also increase the risk of thyroid tumors. Although only limited to animal studies, researchers believe that the effects are likely the same in humans⁵.

It’s a good idea to choose foods without artificial coloring or those that use natural dyes  (such as suji leaves for a green color) to avoid the risk of disease.

3. Sodium Nitrite 

Sodium nitrite is a preservative in processed meat that prevents bacterial growth. Also, this ingredient adds a salty taste and makes canned meat look reddish pink like fresh meat.

Unfortunately, if exposed to high enough heat, this substance can change into nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are known as substances that cause colon, breast, bladder, and stomach cancers⁶. This is why sodium nitrite is on the list of potentially harmful ingredients in fast food.

4. High Fructose Corn Syrup

Fructose corn syrup is an artificial sweetener commonly found in sodas, juices, candies, cereals, and various snacks. A study proves this ingredient can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes when consumed in excess⁷.

In addition, this substance can  trigger inflammation in cells that can lead to serious conditions, such as heart disease and cancer. Research also proves this sweetener does not contain the vitamins and minerals that the body needs.

For this reason, it’s best to choose food and drink without added artificial sugar. You can add pure honey as a healthier sugar substitute.

5. Artificial Sweetener

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, are widely used in low-calorie sweetened foods and beverages.

Research shows that artificial sweeteners can help with weight loss and blood sugar management. Although commonly used as a healthier substitute for granulated sugar, excessive intake of artificial sweeteners is also not necessarily good for the health.

To avoid the risk of problems, experts recommend moderate consumption of artificial sweeteners.

6. Sodium Benzoate

Sodium benzoate is an additive in acidic foods and soft drinks. 

Some studies show that the combination of sodium benzoate and food coloring can increase the tendency of hyperactivity in children⁹. Sodium benzoate combined with vitamin C can also turn into benzene, a substance that increases the risk of cancer¹⁰.

Hence, it’s reasonable to consider sodium benzoate as one of the potentially harmful ingredients in fast food. Avoid food and drink that contain benzoic acid, sodium benzoate, benzene, or benzoate in combination with vitamin C, such as citric acid or ascorbic acid.

harmful ingredients in fast food

7. Artificial Flavorings

Artificial flavorings “mimic” the taste of other ingredients. 

Research conducted on animals shows evidence that artificial flavorings have some negative health effects if consumed excessively, making it one of the potentially harmful ingredients in fast food. 

For instance, certain artificial flavorings, such as chocolate and strawberries, have a toxic effect on bone marrow cells. Likewise, artificial grape, plum, and orange flavors can inhibit cell division and have a toxic effect on the bone marrow¹¹ ¹²

It’s good to limit the consumption of foods with artificial flavors. Try to buy food or drinks with natural ingredients to enjoy the original taste.

8. Trans Fat

Trans fats (trans fat) is a hydrogenated vegetable oil commonly found in margarines, crackers, popcorn, fried foods, and creamer.

Various studies mention that trans fats increase bad cholesterol levels, which gradually heighten the risk of heart disease.

For this reason, it is better to limit the consumption of foods containing trans fats. Use healthier types of vegetable oils, such as olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower seed oil.

Limit Consumption of Food that Contains Additives

There are many potentially harmful ingredients in fast food and packaged meals. While they may not be a cause for concern in small amounts, excessive intake poses many health risks.

It is better to limit the intake of processed and packaged foods containing numerous additives. Consider cooking your meals using fresh, natural ingredients. To add flavor, you can use a variety of herbs and spices instead of salt or MSG.

Learn more about Nutrition Facts here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Expertly reviewed by

Chris Icamen

Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Hello Sehat · Updated Apr 18, 2022

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