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What Is Titanium Dioxide? And Why It

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What Is Titanium Dioxide? And Why Its in Your Food

The chemical additive is currently being banned throughout Europe, but not in the U.S. Heres what you need to know.

From food dyes to preservatives, youre probably curious about whatingredientsare being put in the everyday foods on yourgrocery shoppinglist and why theyre even there in the first place.

One of these additives istitanium dioxide(E171), an odorless powder that enhances the bright white color or opacity of foods. Itsoften foundin chewing gum, candies, pastries, chocolates, coffee creamers, and cake decorations. Its also used in food packaging to preserve the shelf life of a product. But, should you be concerned about consuming it?

Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes titanium dioxide as Generally Recognized as Safe,other organizations have issued warnings. Keep reading to learn more about this common food additive, what its used for, and how it may impact your health.

Related:The 1 Best Juice to Drink Every Day, Says Science

Simply put, titanium dioxide has been used in the food industry for coloring purposes.

As Aurora Meadows, MS, RD, a nutritionist for theEnvironmental Working Group, previouslytoldEat This, Not That!:Titanium dioxide is a synthetic food colorant that is also used to make paints and consumer products bright white. Meadows also explained that the chemical is used in candies like Skittles in the same way a primer is used on a wall before you paint it. You prime the wall before adding color, and the same concept can be applied to how food manufacturers make the color of a Skittle pop.

Aside from its use in foods, titanium dioxide is widely used as a color-enhancer in cosmetic and over-the-counter products like lipsticks, sunscreens, toothpaste, creams, and powders. Its particularly useful in sunscreen as it has UV resistance and helps block the suns rays.

In beauty products, however, the additive is usually found as nano-titanium dioxide, which is smaller than the food-grade version. This leads to the question

In May 2021, an explosive study from theEuropean Unions top food safety agencyconcluded that titanium dioxide should no longer be considered safe as a food additive, citing its ability to damage DNA, plus the agencysinabilityto deem any amount as safe to ingest on a daily basis.6254a4d1642c605c54bf1cab17d50f1e

A critical element in reaching this conclusion is that we could not exclude genotoxicity concerns after consumption of titanium dioxide particles, said Prof Maged Younes, chair of EFSAs expert Panel on Food Additives and Flavourings (FAF). Genotoxicity refers to the ability of a chemical substance to damage the genetic material of cells.

For similar reasons,The International Agency for Research on Cancerhas listed titanium dioxide as a Group 2B carcinogen riskAKA an additive that may becarcinogenicbut currently lacks sufficient animal and human research in order to be confirmed.

Some research in rats has found that titanium dioxide can accumulate in the liver, spleen, and kidneys. Other research has linked it to irritable bowel syndrome. That said, most studies use doses higher than what the average person would typically consume, so the scientific communitycannot definitively saywhether or not titanium dioxide is harmful to human health.

Still, in response to the 2021 findings by the EUs food safety agency, the Environmental Working Grouptook a stand, calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to consider a ban on titanium dioxide.

Interestingly, many pet food companies have already passed on using it in their products. Since May 2019, for instance, most pet food atPetco cannot contain titanium dioxide.

At this time, titanium dioxide is still added to thousands of food products in the U.S.to the tune of more than 3,000 ultra-processed foodsdue to theFDAs stancethat its allowed under certain conditions and in small amounts.

Its a different story in other countries, though. In 2020, France banned titanium dioxide, which pushed lobbyist groups to urge the European Commission to prohibit the additive across the European Union. As a result, titanium dioxide isnow bannedin EU territories, like Northern Ireland. Switzerland has followed suit and isenacting a banon the additive starting in September 2022.

However, according toFood Safety News, the UK and Scotland have recently chosen not to ban titanium dioxide from their food supply.

When it comes to your own kitchen and pantry, you can keep an eye out for titanium dioxide, or E171 on ingredient labels in order to know which packaged foods contain the additive. Among some of the most popular products are Skittles, Starbursts, Jell-O, Sour Patch Kids, and Little Debbie baked goods.

For more on additives, check out why theFDA Is Under Fire For Not Regulating Thousands of Chemicals in Your Food.

Kristen Warfield is the weekend editor for Eat This, Not That! and is a graduate of SUNY New Paltzs journalism program in the Hudson Valley region of New York.Read more

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