Studies suggest that people are more likely to buy and eat foods that are brighter or more vibrant in color. And titanium dioxide is one way to make that happen.
This white pigment is used as a food additive known as E171. You can find it in things like candy, coffee creamer, baking and cake decorations, and white sauces. E171 is often used to give a natural whiteness and opacity to foods, helping make them better-looking.
What Is Titanium Dioxide?
Titanium dioxide is a natural metal element that’s also used as a white pigment in a variety of other products such as sunscreens, cosmetics, paints, and plastics. The pigment grade is also known as titanium white, pigment white 6, or CI 77891; it is the whitest and brightest of all known pigments.
Titanium dioxide can boost and brighten white opacity because of how well it scatters light. In food and drugs, this additive helps define colors clearly and can prevent UV degradation (cracking and breakdown of materials).
How Is Titanium Dioxide Made?
In the environment, titanium is exposed to oxygen, making the titanium oxides found in many minerals, dusts, sands, and soils.
Manufacturers get titanium dioxide from minerals called rutile, brookite, and anatase. It is processed and refined to meet strict safety guidelines.
When manufacturers add titanium dioxide to foods and other edible products, it’s typically called E171, which refers to its food-grade purity.
Uses of Titanium Dioxide in Food
In food, E171 is always combined with other ingredients like proteins and fats to create the additive. When you eat things with titanium dioxide, it passes slowly and harmlessly through the digestive system.
You can find titanium dioxide in products like:
- Coffee creamer
- Salad dressing
- Candy and sweets
- Chewing gum
- Vitamin supplements
If you're curious about whether something you’re eating contains titanium dioxide, you can check the ingredients list.
Does Titanium Dioxide Cause Cancer?
Some people have concerns about the safety of titanium dioxide because of reports linking it to cancer.
But that depends on how titanium dioxide is being used and how you might come into contact with it. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified titanium dioxide as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on studies that showed more lung tumors in rats associated with breathing in titanium dioxide.
Is Titanium Dioxide in Food Safe?
According to the FDA and other regulatory agencies around the world, titanium dioxide may be safely used for coloring foods. The FDA provides strict guidelines on how much can be used in food. The limit is very small: no more than 1% titanium dioxide.
If you want to avoid titanium dioxide, be sure to read labels carefully and stick to minimally processed whole foods.