Food additives in our daily life are the hidden face of our diet. Have you ever taken the time to read the sometimes endless list of ingredients, names that are as unpronounceable as they are frightening?
Sometimes the food industry uses subterfuge by using products in its preparations that will have the effect of preserving the colors and taste of food, delaying the appearance of mold. In addition to natural additives, some are made by transforming natural substances and other products in laboratories: “synthetic additives”.
History of additives
This addition of substances to food, for the purpose of preserving or improving a product, has existed for centuries. Food preservation goes back to the time when man learned to protect each harvest and to preserve meat and fish by salting or smoking them. The Egyptians used colorings and flavorings to increase the appeal of certain food products.The Romans used saltpeter (or potassium nitrate), spices and dyes to preserve and nourish the appearance of food
In recent decades, these substances have multiplied. Additives are now present in all processed or ultra-processed products.
Composed of a single molecule, they all have an Exxx code, assigned by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. More than 300 food additives are authorized in the EU.
Roles of additives
The sole role of these substances is to guarantee the nutritional quality of foods or to improve their stability and appearance.
The conditions for preparing food on a large scale differ greatly from those for preparing meals at home. Additives are necessary to preserve the safety of processed foods and to keep them in good condition during transport from factories or industrial kitchens to consumers, via warehouses and stores.
The WHO and the FAO differentiate additives into 3 categories:
- Flavoring agents intended to improve the taste of the product
- Enzymatic preparations used to simulate biochemical reactions (in cheese preparations, bakery products, wine and brewery products, etc.)
- Other additives used for various reasons: preservation, coloring, improving the texture, etc.
Did you say E...?
At European level (because the legislation is not the same everywhere, specifically in the United States), a food additive is assigned a food code of the type Exxx and sometimes Exxxx, indicating the category to which this additive belongs.
To try to find if a little:
- Dyes: from E100 to E180
- Preservatives: from E200 to E297
- Antioxidants: from E300 to E321
- Other additives such as emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilizers, gelling agents and PH regulators: E322 to E386
- Flavor enhancers: from E620 to E650
- Antibiotics: from E710 to E713
How to avoid food additives?
1. Read tag
2. Avoid products whose composition has unknown names
3. "Without colorants or preservatives" is not synonymous with "Without additives" / Warning!
4. Consume local products as much as possible
5. Consume as many products as possible from organic or sustainable agriculture, because only 48 additives are authorized in organic products compared to 600 in conventional products.
6.Try to cook as much as possible with products whose origin you know
Ex: Store-bought mayonnaise vs homemade mayonnaise
Commercial mayonnaise: 70% rapeseed oil, potassium bisulphite (E224 preservative), citric acid (E330), modified starch, lutein (pigment).
Homemade mayonnaise: Organic oil (sunflower or peanut), organic egg yolk, organic mustard (quick preparation and savoring something you prepared yourself).
It is important to remember that, ideally, it is best to eat the rawest foods possible and cook them yourself. It is not very natural for our body to have to digest and process so many added (often synthetic) substances.
In reality, these standards and these rules are not always respected by the industry and the quantities present in our food products are sometimes too great. Even if the vast majority remain harmless, some additives could be particularly dangerous for our health, here they are:
1. Artificial Dyes
Purpose: They make industrial products more appetizing. Our ham looks more pink, our aperitif biscuits more orange, our sweets have fun colors.
Danger: They rhyme with hyperactivity, headaches, insomnia, vision problems, risk of cancer. They are indicated by the codes E100 to E199.
2. Sodium Glutamate
Purpose: It enhances the taste of prepared meals, savory or sweet biscuits, industrial sauces, etc...
Danger: The problem is that it disrupts the hormones that regulate our appetite. In other words, it makes us addicted to the product we eat. In addition, it causes our blood sugar to explode, promoting diabetes and can be the cause of premature aging of the brain. They are indicated by the indices E621 to E625.
3. Sodium Nitrate
Purpose: It is found in deli meats, meats, cheeses and industrial fish. It allows them to be kept longer.
Danger: Excessive consumption of sodium nitrate can lead to asthma, hyperactivity, insomnia, dizziness, low blood pressure, nausea and certain cancers (including colorectal cancer).
4. Trans Fats
Purpose: These are in fact trans fatty acids, i.e. partially hydrogenated fats that are found mainly in industrial pastries and pastries, fried foods (fries, donuts, etc.) and certain snack foods. ready-to-eat.
Danger: They are very dangerous for the body. They have a very negative impact on cholesterol levels (the bad LDL) and promote the risk of cardiovascular disease. The statement "(partially) hydrogenated vegetable oil(s)" on the label indicates that this processed food contains trans fat.
5 Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
Purpose: It is found both in the preparation of industrial dishes and in packaging.
Danger: With such a name, we suspect that this synthetic antioxidant E321 is anything but natural and healthy! It is potentially dangerous for the skin (risk of allergies) and "probably carcinogenic". Better to avoid it.
6. Artificial Sweeteners
Purpose: They are vicious because they have names that make us believe that we are doing well and in addition they give us this little sweet taste to "sugar-free" or "reduced in sugar" or "zero" foods and they are called " Aspartame, Sucralose, Cyclamate, Neotame, Saccharin" and thanks to them we enjoy ourselves at low caloric costs. Warning!
Danger: Yes be careful, artificial sweeteners can trigger chronic fatigue, migraines and be the cause of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. Moreover when you consume "without sugar" you send a message to your brain that it will receive sugar and since it does not receive any it makes it manufacture. These additives are called "E952".
7. Sodium Benzoate
Purpose: It allows store-bought sodas, pies or jams to be stored longer and without bacteria.
Danger: Unfortunately, this preservative is known to weaken the immune system and can lead to eye irritation, asthma, digestive disorders, behavioral disorders, insomnia in adults and in children to hyperactivity. It is found on labels as "E211".
8. Glucose / Fructose Syrup
Purpose: This additive is also known as "High Fructose Corn Syrup". It is a sugar concentrate that manufacturers use in biscuits, but also in vacuum-packed meats.
Danger: The problem is that our body has trouble identifying it because it is 100% artificial, and it causes our blood sugar levels to skyrocket, hence the increased risk of diabetes! Not to mention that in the long term, its consumption can cause liver damage.
Additives to avoid as much as possible
1. Nitrites (E249/E250) and Nitrates (E251/E252)
Purpose: Used as preservatives to prevent the growth of microorganisms in food. They help maintain a product's beautiful color and flavor.
What: They are found in deli meats, but also in baked goods, cereals and processed vegetables.
Danger: Probably carcinogenic when they undergo transformation in the body, they then become dangerous. Deli meats should in any case be consumed occasionally because these very salty and very fatty foods do not fit into a healthy and balanced diet.
2.Sulphites (from E220 to E228)
Purpose: Occurs naturally in foods or added as additives to aid preservation by retarding the growth of microorganisms and to retain color
What: They appear in wine and alcohol, fine herbs, dried fruits, cereals, etc...
Danger: Recognized as one of the main allergens that can cause serious respiratory and intestinal problems and trigger migraines. It is best to pay attention and stay alert to the warning signs. To consume with moderation.
3. Propyl gallate (E310)
Purpose: Used to prevent rancidity of fats and oxidation of oils. What: It is present in chewing gum, pastries, breakfast cereals, certain broths and soups etc.
Danger: Several studies tend to conclude that it would be carcinogenic and a source of blood problems, as well as behavioral disorders and hyperactivity in children.
4. Butylhydroxynisol (BHA E320)
Purpose: Used in conjunction with propyl gallate, this additive also acts to prevent the rancidity of fats and is present in the same products (gums, pastries, etc.).
Danger: Some studies suggest that this compound "may be carcinogenic". Others do not come to such a clear-cut conclusion. On the other hand, other negative effects have been reported such as: disruption of the liver, cholesterol, blood, etc... If in doubt, abstain. In any case saw the name difficult to write and I did not even try to pronounce it. He does not trust.
5. Aluminum sulphate (from E520 to E523)
Purpose: Provides specific textures to certain foods. Also used in swimming pools and gardening.
What: It is present in certain products such as egg-based desserts, candied fruits, processed vegetables.
Danger: Absorbed in too large a dose, aluminum sulphate would develop mental problems (dementia or Alzheimer's disease).
6. Phosphoric acid (E338)
Purpose: Used in the food industry as a preservative, texture agent and acidifier.
What: It prevents rust on our cars, but it also invites itself into soft drinks.
Danger: Several studies have linked the consumption of Coca Cola to the appearance of kidney problems such as stones. Other studies have attempted to prove that ingestion of this additive could cause osteoporosis in women. It would also develop dental problems (caries, enamel erosion, etc.) and weaken the bones!
7. Monosodium glutamate (GMS or MSG E621)
Purpose: Flavor Enhancer
What: It is found largely in Asian cuisine to enhance the taste of food and in many processed foods (soups, frozen meals, salad dressings, etc.).Other foods such as tomatoes, grapes and some cheeses contain it naturally
Danger: A priori without danger, it could however cause in certain people reactions similar to an allergy (burning sensations in the level of the face), headaches, nausea, chest pains, asthma and obesity.
8. Asparthame (E951)
Purpose: Sweetener and sweetening product providing no or very few calories. What: It is found under the names of: Equal, Canderel, etc... and also obviously in many "light" products.
Danger: Asparthame is controversial. An acceptable daily dose has been set at 40mg/kg of body weight, but we have often heard of studies whose results have reported premature births, increased diabetes and risks of brain cancer, as well as epilepsy and depression.
9. Acesulfame potassium (acesulfame k, E950)
Purpose: This artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
What: It fits into baked goods, chewing gum, soft drinks, marinades, dairy products, etc...
Danger: Claimed to be dangerous to health, it could disrupt metabolic processes and interfere with the regulation of appetite, body weight (obesity) and blood sugar control. It would have carcinogenic potential.
10. Tartrazine (E102) or yellow dye no. 5
Purpose: Dyes in food only have an aesthetic role to make products more colorful and appetizing.
What: Tartrazine is incorporated into pastries, cereals, mustard and candies.
Danger: Several studies have been carried out to highlight the link between tartrazine and attacks of urticaria and eczema in humans. Others have also attempted to link hyperactivity in children to the consumption of products containing tartrazine.
It is important to remember that, ideally, it is best to eat the rawest foods possible and cook them yourself.
Article written by José LARA - Yam Nutrition Switzerland
Sources: GÉO - delivers food additives an unknown hazard / Food additives: Identification - Detection - Quantification