Flavourings and preservatives have been used for centuries to enhance the taste and freshness of food. Do you wonder if they may be unsafe to eat?, or have you tried to identify all the additives that are in your food ?
Additives are not naturally found in food. They serve a number of purposes;
- Colours that add or restore lost colours to food.
- Preservatives that help protect against food deterioration caused by bacteria.
- Antioxidants that slow down or stop the oxidative deterioration of foods, e.g. when fats and oils go rancid.
- Artificial sweeteners which impart a sweet taste for fewer calories than sugar, but also cheaper to use.
- Flavour enhancers that improve the taste and aroma of food.
- Presentation and texture enhancers e.g. thickeners, gelling agents, emulsifiers, emulsifiers.
- Nutrient additions that increase the nutrient value of foods
Without many additives our food may not taste as nice, bread would go sour more quickly. Some foods will no longer be worth eating due to their low nutrient value.
Traditional methods of preservation include; smoking, salting, vinegar and drying are accepted for their long standing safe historical use. The use of additives has to go through a lengthy process to prove that they are safe to use, but despite this there are still many concerns. Below are some of the problems that additives may give rise to.
- Sulphite and sulphur dioxide (E220-28) have been known to cause allergic reactions. Specifically, asthma sufferers should avoid sulphur dioxide gas due to increased sensitivity, but there are also recorded cases of worsening of asthma after drinking soft drinks containing it. They are mainly found in dried fruits, dessicated coconut, relishes and fruit-based pie fillings.
- Food colours like tartrazine (E102) can cause mild allergic reactions and some studies show that sunset yellow (E1 10) can cause tumours.
- Annatto, a natural food colouring found in margarine, cheese, smoked fish and cakes is implicated in allergic reactions and irritable bowel.
- Aspartame (E951) has been linked to various cancers(1,2,3), although studies by US National Cancer Institute and European Food Safety Authority concluded that it did not increase the risk of cancers.
- Erythrosine is a red food colour. Research has highlighted concerns about its potential tumour formation and inhibition of the normal functioning of the thyroid.
- Allura red has been associated with cancer in mice but evidence is not consistent.
- Nitrites and nitrates (E249-52) may convert to potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines.
- Although a definitive link has not yet been established food colours like, sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102) and ponceau 4R (E124) have been associated with hyperactivity in some children. These are commonly found in a variety of processed foods, especially in children’s sweets, confectionary, squashes, soft drinks, jams and cakes. Prevalence of hyperactivity is estimated to be about 2.5%.
- Aspartame has also been linked with changes in behaviour.
- MSG (monosodium glutamate- E621) is a flavour enhancer can cause headaches in some people. Although in a recent review there was no conclusive direct evidence.
- Aspartame is also linked with causing headaches.
- Gums (E412, E414) can give rise to flatulence and abdominal pain.
The Bottom Line
Additives are overused in the processed foods industry, so try to avoid them as much as possible.
- Keep processed foods to a minimum, including sweets, lollies, soft drinks and cakes.
- Be careful of foods that are presented as low-fat, sugar-free as majority will contain some form of additive.
- Not everyone reacts to additives in the same way. If you experience signs of reacting to certain foods, then minimise or avoid eating it.
- If your child shows signs of hyperactivity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) then eliminating some colours from their diet may prove beneficial.
- Always read food labels to be fully aware of what you are buying.