Crunchy, cheesy Cheetos are a favorite all-American snack. They also come with a laundry list of both natural and artificial ingredients. If you are a Cheetos fan, it is wise to be aware of what they are made of so you can be more involved in what you are putting into your body. This knowledge can then help you weigh your preference for the snack against the potential health risks that some of the chemical ingredients may pose.
Vitamins and Nutrients
Cheetos contain several natural vitamins and nutrients that are completely safe and actually healthful to consume. Ferrous sulfate is an essential type of iron mineral used for coloring food and as a supplement to treat iron deficiency anemia. Niacin is the vitamin B-3 and is sometimes used in vitamin supplements and to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, to lower the risk of heart attack and to treat coronary heart disease. Thiamine mononitrate is the vitamin B-1, which adds small amounts of nitrate to foods. Riboflavin is the vitamin B-2, which is crucial in maintaining body tissues and activating enzymes. Folic acid is the vitamin B-9, which helps the body produce and maintain new cells and inhibits cancer by preventing dangerous DNA changes in cells.
The acids in Cheetos are found in virtually all living organisms, are safe to consume and help give the snack its unique flavor. Lactic acid helps balance the acidity in cheese making, adds tartness to frozen desserts and carbonated fruit-flavored drinks and inhibits spoilage in Spanish-type olives. Citric acid is a versatile, widely used and cheap chelating agent that is used for tart food flavoring and as an antioxidant.
The forms of sodium in Cheetos are best consumed with caution, especially for people with certain health conditions. Basic salt, or sodium chloride, is used as a flavoring and preservative in the snack. High levels of salt are linked with harmful risks, such as increased blood pressure and higher risk of heart attack and stroke. The sodium content of Cheetos is 250 milligrams per 1-ounce serving, which is more than 10 percent of the recommended intake of 2,300 milligrams for healthy adults, or the 1,500 milligrams recommended if you suffer from hypertension. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, has claimed moderate amounts of salt as "generally recognized as safe." Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is an amino acid that is used as a flavor enhancer in foods, and large amounts have been shown to destroy nerve cells in mice and occasionally cause headaches, burning sensations, wheezing and other symptoms in humans. Disodium phosphate is the sodium salt of orthophosphoric acid and is used as an antioxidant synergist, stabilizer and acid buffering agent in foods. It also helps emulsify pasteurized processed cheese and keeps powdered milk from clumping.
Maltodextrin consists of short chains of starchy glucose molecules and is safe to consume. It enhances texture in foods and is easily digested and absorbed by the body unless it is "resistant maltodextrin," which is used as a dietary fiber that cannot be broken down and may help lower blood sugar levels.
Artificial Coloring and Flavoring
One of the artificial colorings used in Cheetos is Yellow 6, the third most widely used dye, according to Center for Science in the Public Interest. Try avoiding consumption as the dye has caused adrenal gland and kidney tumors in animal tests and contains small amounts of carcinogens. The FDA states that it poses no significant cancer risks to humans but may cause occasional severe hypersensitivity reactions. To protect flavor trade secrets, food companies like Frito Lay are not required to list the ingredients in their products' artificial flavors. These flavors are a blend of natural and synthetic chemicals and may contain dozens of ingredients that range from safe to notably risky to consume.