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THE TRUTH ABOUT ADDITIVES: What you need to know

How grocery-savvy are you? Very good if you are observant. Surely you must have noticed that fruit juice packs these days come packaged looking more colourful than peacocks. 

No surprise there. Fruit juices have warmed their way into kitchens and onto the fruit tables of many households that desire fresh natural fruit juice without the hassle of juice extraction. No wonder they have been a rise in the number of incommunicable diseases. Fruit brands have felt our ‘discomfort’ so keenly over the years, so much that they’ve risen to our rescue. But also inadvertently putting a burden on us consumers: which fruit juice do we buy?

The speed at which these brands try to answer this question translates into the slew of fruit juices you see on grocery shelves across the country.

It’s something akin to a brand war like it’s a question of which brand wants it more and what’s the topmost thing it can do to grab a huge chunk of the target audience. Though a consumer’s love for fruits is what brings him or her to the grocery store, fruit juice brands are well aware that other indices like aesthetics must not be kicked to the curb. 

From the catchy designs on the packs, right down to the shape, no expense is spared. All are coming together to form a beautiful juice container to stop you in your tracks for a quick look-see.

Hence, the competition with peacocks.

And it would have been better, much better if the beautiful packages match liquid content in quality and wholesomeness. Now is probably when the corners of your mouth turn down.

Have I been buying substandard fruit juice?

What fruit juice would you term substandard? Definitely a juice that doesn’t meet the standard of the food and drug regulating agency of the region where it is produced. Obviously, many of those fruit juices adorning the shelves of your popular grocery stores all have the mark of approval from the regulating agency. So if this approval is the only thing you need in order to vet your beloved drinks, then you have nothing to worry about. You can go about your business, but we both know this is not the case.

The real question is, how many real fruit juice packs can you recognize? We can almost hear you say e no dey show for face, and we couldn’t agree more. Fruit juice comes with a 100% natural tag only if the juice is extracted wholly from a cut fruit and has no extra preservatives, additives, and no sugar. And there are many such juices out there. Which begs this ‌question: Why do manufacturers need additives?

Funnily, this is where the sounds of praise for additives become deafening. Yes, some additives prevent the contamination of bottled juices. And yes, other additives prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria. Some even extend the shelf life of fruit juices. All substantial reasons to approve the use of additives. And food and drug regulating agencies in regions of the world recognize these reasons and approve the use of the additives. But initial research has found something alarming about some of these additives. Below is some information about a few of them for you to chew on.

Sodium Benzoate:

Best known preservative in the food industry, no doubt. Approved internationally as a food additive, with identifying number 211, Sodium Benzoate extends the shelf life of many processed foods and beverages and inhibits the growth of potentially harmful bacteria and microbes in foods and beverages, among other uses

Now, before you nod your head and mutter ‘as it should, it might interest you to know that ‘the best-known preservative in the food industry has the ability to convert to Benzene, according to preliminary studies. And gentle little Benzene happens to be a cancer-causing substance. As if that’s not enough, it gets worse.

 Sodium Benzoate creates more free radicals the higher its concentration gets. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘free’ in front of the radical. They are not cute, not in your body. They damage your body cells and increase your risk for chronic diseases. There are more negative side effects of Sodium Benzoate, but we believe you get our drift already. 

Phosphoric acid:

The next time you feel a tangy taste in your mouth while drinking your beverage, now you know ‘what’ to hold responsible.

Colourless and odourless liquid, crystalline in nature, phosphoric acid puts a firm stop to the growth of bacteria and mold in beverages. 

Phosphorus is found naturally in quite a lot of foods so your body never lacks phosphorus. However, problems may arise if you consume too much phosphorus, which is likely the case when you take one too many beverages. What’s the harm? The inability of the body to use other minerals such as magnesium and iron. And of course, a decrease in calcium, resulting in bone loss.


When pitted against this preservative, sugar stands no chance at all. Why? This preservative is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. Imagine that? But that’s not a problem, because very little amount of aspartame is used to sweeten beverages up. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and World Health Organization (WHO) give this preservative a thumbs up. According to these two respectable organizations, when it comes to aspartame, you can go to bed and leave your door open. 

However, there have been some claims over the years about a link between aspartame and a number of ailments such as depression, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), cancer, birth defects, and a few others. But research is inconclusive concerning these claims. Therefore, with regards to aspartame, nothing, apart from its sweetness, is sure. But it’s better not to leave your door open at night, don’t you think?

Potassium Sorbate

Here is another chemical additive in a long list of additives, but what makes this one stand out is the fact that, just like sodium benzoate, you can find this chemical additive in many common foods, including fruit juices.

First derived from berries of the mountain ash tree by the French in the 1850s, Potassium sorbate stops the growth of fungi, mold, and yeast, thereby prolonging the shelf life of foods. Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes it as safe, there is a great possibility that potassium sorbate can be contaminated with either mercury, lead, or arsenic. So much for safety!

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

If you are drinking a fruit juice right now and it’s not 100% natural, then it contains HFCS. That’s how common this additive is. 50% glucose and 55% fructose in makeup, similar to table sugar, but sweeter, HFCS is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages. But HFCS is bad news.

HFCS is linked to obesity, increases your risk of diabetes, increases your risk of liver disease, and also increases your risk for developing other diseases such as heart disease and cancer. So much negativity enshrouds this additive despite its popularity. You might want to stay away.

What can I do?

It’s simple. Pay close attention to your fruit juice. There are those fruit juices that have not sold their fruity souls to artificial additives, go for fruit juices that are certified to be 100% natural ingredients. To these exceptions, we breathe a sigh of justified relief. If you can get a totally natural fruit juice, good for you. If you can’t ascertain the totality of its fruity essence, endeavour to read the label. 

Look out for ingredients; this is where you’ll find the additives. The ingredient list starts off with the largest in volume, followed by the second, going down in descending order. Additives can be found sometimes, usually under names such as ‘Flavours’. Be meticulous, because your health is your wealth.

What can one do without the experience of taste and flavours in drinks generally? Additives are made to bring this need to reality. But when the reality is fraught with side effects and ailments in the making, it’s better you go for the natural.


Seyi Obalalu

Boomsky Smoothie

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