Food additives: do they help or hurt?

The progress is constantly pacing forward and the humans are doing their best to improve the quality of life and leisure activities, new opportunities in the service sphere are appearing. However, as thousands of years ago, the man needs food to survive. Unfortunately, today’s diet leaves a lot to be desired.

The foods today contain a lot of additives to enhance its taste and to extend its shelf life. Virtually all packaged foods have many different ingredients including E numbers in the ingredients list.

What you should know about it

Food additives are chemical elements of foodstuffs specified in their composition. They are either of natural or synthetic origin and used to enhance or to preserve the properties of foods.

Each food additive has an E number followed by a code of 3 or 4 digits to designate the subtype of a certain additive. Currently, there are nearly three hundred food additives for which EU developed a labeling system.

An additive should satisfy certain conditions to be labeled as an additive and to have a 3 or 4 digit number:

  • the substance must be tested for safety;
  • it can be added to foodstuffs in case of technical need without changing the composition of foods;
  • the proportions of the substance must not degrade food quality standards.

Established fact: derivatives of certain vitamins and nutrients have a status of food additives. For example, beta-carotene can become a coloring agent and Vitamins E and C are antioxidants.

The advocates of a healthy lifestyle should not forget that we can not do without food additives in fast-paced  21st century. The additives help to:

  • improve the process of production and pre-packing, packaging and transporting;
  • adjust taste and appearance, flavor and concentration of raw products in foodstuff;
  • extend shelf life;
  • preserve natural properties of raw products and foods;
  • preserve and enhance the quality of foods under certain storage conditions.

In supermarkets, there is no foodstuff without at least a couple of additives. A lot of studies are conducted today to find out potential hazards to health of large amounts of additives. Food additives are still used in foodstuff production but under a strict control as there is a list of banned additives. We need additives for several reasons:

  • today’s consumers have high expectations concerning appearance, taste and flavor of food. Some cheaper products with flavoring and coloring agents satisfy their wants completely;
  • additives help to extend the shelf life which makes long-distance transportation of perishables possible and extend the shelf life of seasonal fruits;
  • flavoring agents, emulsifiers, and thickeners simulate meat and dairy products having the same flavor profile. There is no need in using natural raw products;
  • using additives, new products are developed, existing products are perfected and this ensures steady progress to the industry.

Package codes

To make it more convenient for consumers and manufacturers, all additives were designated by a code and each code stands for a certain characteristic:

  • E1000-E1999 – additional chemicals (stabiliser, emulsifier, thickening agent, binder, water-retaining agent) including antifoaming agents.
  • E900-E999 – other (waxes, glazing agents, gases for package, sweeteners, foaming agents).
  • E800-E899 – reserve;
  • E700-E799 – antibiotics;
  • E600-E699 – flavor enhancers, flavors;
  • E500-E599 – acidity regulators and anticaking agents;
  • E400-E499 – stabilisers, emulsifiers, thickening agents;
  • E300-E399 – antioxidants;
  • Е200-Е299 – preservatives;
  • Е100-Е199 – coloring agents.

This code classification is not the only one as additives can be further classified into different categories:

  • that give food a particular taste;
  • that provide food a particular appearance;
  • that give food a certain texture;
  • that extend shelf life.

Each category of additives has its certain characteristics:

  • prevent spoilage of food – preservatives;
  • inhibit the degradation of food by oxygen – antioxidants;
  • give food sour or acid taste – acidulents;
  • control the pH and acidity of food – acidity regulators;
  • enhance food’s flavor – flavor enhancers;
  • increase the bulk of food without affecting its nutritional value – bulking agents;
  • make the color of foods brighter – coloring agents;
  • reduce or prevent foaming – antifoaming agents;
  • maintain a homogeneous dispersion of two or more immiscible substances – emulsifiers;
  • improve color and use in baking – flavor treatment agents;
  • provide gel structure – gel-forming agents;
  • provide shiny appearance and protective coating – glazing agents;
  • prevent drying in low-moisture conditions – humectants;
  • give food sweet taste – sweeteners;
  • push food from a container – propellants;
  • cause dough to expand and rise – raising agents;
  • increase viscosity – thickeners.

How food additives affect our health

Food additives are chemical compounds. Experts link many health problems with food additives that change the quality of food we eat.

However, the most popular food additives are absolutely safe. Still it is always a good idea to keep your finger on the pulse and be aware of the latest updates in food additives classification. For example, E240 and E121 were considered to be safe but recently, these additives have been banned. Disreputable manufacturers managed to find a loophole and now they do not label their products with E code but use the common name of the substance instead confusing poorly informed consumers.

The main danger of food additives is that they are accumulated in the body and can cause intoxication, illnesses, poisoning etc.

Some E codes were reported to be responsible for cancer, allergies, and digestive tract disorders.

We should note however, that only certain dosages may cause all these conditions. An acceptable daily intake is established for each food additive and the risk of negative consequences increases as the dose increases.

Anyway, be aware that any chemical substance has a certain effect on our health. It depends on the properties of the additive, on its amount and on individual tolerability. The same additive can be absolutely safe for one person and dangerous for the other. Doctors recommend to reduce the amount of foodstuff with E additives. These food additives should be excluded from the diet of children, allergy patients and elderly people.

Forwarned, forarmed

Know your enemy and read our list of food additives that may be hazardous to health.

Characteristic Food additive
Very dangerous E123 E510 E513 E527
Dangerous E102

E201

E400

E503

E110

E220

E401

E620

E120

E222

E402

E636

E124

E223

E403

E637

E127

E224

E404

E129

E228

E405

E155

E233

E501

E180

E242

E502

Dangerous for children E270
Carcinogenes E131

E216

E283

E142

E219

E310

E153

E230

E954

E210

E240

E219

E249

E213

E280

E214

E281

E215

E282

Bad for digestive system E154

E341

E465

E632

E221

E343

E466

E633

E222

E407

E626

E634

E223

E450

E627

E635

E226

E451

E628

E338

E461

E629

E339

E462

E630

E340

E463

E631

Provoke skin diseases E151

E313

E160

E320

E231

E907

E232

E951

E238

E1105

E239 E311 E312
Affect blood pressure E154 E250 E251 E252
Increase cholesterol level E320 E321
Banned E103

E152

E105

E211

E111

E241

E121

E952

E123 E125 E126 E130
Suspicious E104 E122 E141 E171 E173 E241 E477

Alternative

The market today offers us a great variety of products and there is practically no food without additives. Actually, additive-free products do exist.

If a product contains some chemical substance, it does not mean that it is a bad product but it presents a greater risk to our health.

People who care about themselves prefer trendy organic products that are products of a farming system. Organic products grow without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, growth accelerators etc. Cattle are fed a diet that excludes preservatives, hormones, antibiotics and stimulators.

Organic products have a short shelf life and they spoil faster.

Refining and other processes reducing the nutritional value of the products is not acceptable. Coloring and flavoring agents are not used. Yields in organic agriculture are not very big but consumers appreciate the quality of natural organic products.

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