• Dr. Dawn Harris Sherling

Glossary of additives to avoid and why

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

The following items are a list of additives to avoid if you suffer from IBS. It was generated by considering which ingredients seem to be ubiquitous in the ultra-processed foods in the U.S. and then looking at the data behind these additives to assess which have been shown to have gastrointestinal side effects. I gave up these ingredients, which was not terribly hard because the types of foods that have one, often have several additives. This was not a scientific study. I relied on existing studies and patient self-reports. While not the most robust evidence, there isn’t much evidence out there FOR many food additives. So, if it’s enough to put them into your food, I figure that it should be enough to take them out for a few weeks and see how much better your bowels do.

Personally, for some of the items, like high-fructose corn syrup, I still eat in small quantities because it is so hard to avoid completely, but also because the science says that in small quantities, it is likely to be digested just fine. Others, like the food gums, I’ve sworn off completely. Emerging science has shown that these complex fibers are processed by the microbiome and are perhaps feeding the wrong kinds of bacteria in IBS sufferers.

These aren’t all the food additives out there. And these aren’t all of the items that you may need to avoid for all of your particular health reasons. I would encourage anyone with any other diagnoses to discuss what they eat with their doctors. If an additive did not have data suggesting gastrointestinal effects, it was not included. That doesn’t mean that all other additives are good for you, only that they are unlikely to cause IBS symptoms.

I’ve learned from the Italians to keep food simple. If there is something your food doesn’t need, leave it out. The bottom line is you don’t need any of these and there is no compelling reason for them to be in your food.

Simple Sugars: A simple sugar is a carbohydrate that is generally chemically simple with fewer atoms and bonds than other carbohydrates. But not all of them can be broken down so easily by our gastrointestinal systems. The ones listed below need some help or are undigestible (hence, no “calories” in the sweeteners listed that aren’t sugar):

High-fructose corn syrup


Stevia (Stevioside)

Complex Sugars/Starches: Polysaccharides are complex sugars, so have more molecules than simple sugars and are more challenging to break down. Different components of the microbiome prefer different “foods”. Polysaccharides include the starches, which are basically long chains of the sugar called glucose, and fibers. Some of these, like cellulose, innocently make up the cell walls of plants and can be a good thing when in their whole-food form. When they are removed from the plant and used as an additive, that’s when trouble might set in. Many of these are used as emulsifiers and thickeners in ultra-processed food. They are:



Food Gums

o Acacia Gum

o Cellulose Gum (Also called: Carboxymethylcellulose)

o Gellan Gum

o Guar Gum

o Locust Bean Gum (Also called: Carob Bean Gum)

o Xanthan Gum

Inulin (Also called: oligofructose, oligofrutose-enriched inulin, chicory root fiber, chicory root extract or fructooligosaccharides)

Modified Food Starches

Maltodextrin (also a type of modified starch)

Fats/Fatty Acids: Calories come in 3 major forms—carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The ultra-processed additives below, like mono- and diglycerides are only parts of what makes up a fat and can be called “fatty acids.” You are probably most familiar with triglycerides since it measured in a standard cholesterol panel. Lecithin (NOT LECTIN!), like soy lecithin, is a known cause of diarrhea and polysorbate has been linked to weight gain. These fat-like substances are also often used as emulsifiers in ultra-processed foods and are listed below:



Lecithin (This is not Lectin! Examples are: soy lecithin, sunflower lecithin)

Polysorbate 60/80

Polyols (credit to low-FODMAP for getting this absolutely right): These substances are mostly used as fake sugars. They have been on many “foods to avoid in IBS” lists for a long time and are where the “P” in low-FODMAP comes from. Some of these are:

Glycerol (glycerin/e)




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