Exposure to food additive mixtures in 106,000 French adults from the NutriNet-Santé cohort

Sci Rep. 2021 Oct 4;11(1):19680. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-98496-6.


Food additives (e.g. artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, dyes, etc.) are ingested by billions of individuals daily. Some concerning results, mainly derived from animal and/or cell-based experimental studies, have recently emerged suggesting potential detrimental effects of several widely consumed additives. Profiles of additive exposure as well as the potential long-term impact of multiple exposure on human health are poorly documented. This work aimed to estimate the usual intake of food additives among participants of the French NutriNet-Santé cohort and to identify and describe profiles of exposure (single substances and mixtures). Overall, 106,489 adults from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort study (2009-ongoing) were included. Consumption of 90 main food additives was evaluated using repeated 24 h dietary records including information on brands of commercial products. Qualitative information (as presence/absence) of each additive in food products was determined using 3 large-scale composition databases (OQALI, Open Food Facts, GNPD), accounting for the date of consumption of the product. Quantitative ingested doses were estimated using a combination of laboratory assays on food matrixes (n = 2677) and data from EFSA and JECFA. Exposure was estimated in mg per kg of body weight per day. Profiles of exposure to food additive mixtures were extracted using Non-negative Matrix Factorization (NMF) followed by k-means clustering as well as Graphical Lasso. Sociodemographic and dietary comparison of clusters of participants was performed by Chi-square tests or linear regressions. Data were weighted according to the national census. Forty-eight additives were consumed by more than 10% of the participants, with modified starches and citric acid consumed by more than 90%. The top 50 also included several food additives for which potential adverse health effects have been suggested by recent experimental studies: lecithins (86.6% consumers), mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (78.1%), carrageenan (77.5%), sodium nitrite (73.9%), di-, tri- and polyphosphates (70.1%), potassium sorbate (65.8%), potassium metabisulphite (44.8%), acesulfame K (34.0%), cochineal (33.9%), potassium nitrate (31.6%), sulfite ammonia caramel (28.8%), bixin (19.5%), monosodium glutamate (15.1%) and sucralose (13.5%). We identified and described five clusters of participants more specifically exposed to five distinct additive mixtures and one additional cluster gathering participants with overall low additive exposure. Food additives, including several for which health concerns are currently debated, were widely consumed in this population-based study. Furthermore, main mixtures of additives were identified. Their health impact and potential cocktail effects should be explored in future epidemiological and experimental studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Food Additives / adverse effects*
  • France / epidemiology
  • Health Impact Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Online Systems
  • Public Health Surveillance
  • Sociodemographic Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Food Additives