Food additives are natural or artificial substances added during food processing or production. They are added to foods for maintaining and improving flavor, appearance, texture and color. Food additive is not a new concept. For thousands of years, natural additives such as salt has been used as a flavor enhancer and preservative for pickling, smoking and drying meat, vegetables, and fish in many countries such as India, Greece, Rome, China, and Egypt. Artificial flavor and texture enhancers such as monosodium glutamate and vanilla (spices) were also used to make the recipes taste crispier, firmer, softer and chewier. It is interesting to know that every year, the average american consumes 6- 9 pounds of artificial food additives.
What are the different types of Food Additives?
Fresh food that is made at home usually is devoid of preservatives but once in a while to get the desired results we do add additives such msg, color etc. In large scale or commercial production to maintain freshness, taste and color, emulsifiers, taste enhancers, preservatives are used and now most of the processed foods have the artifical food additives as a necessary ingredient. A quick look at what these different additives are and mean.
These chemical additives act as stabilizers and extend the shelf -life of food products. It encourages the suspension of 2 or more immiscible phases (such as oil and water) in food products. Emulsifiers are added to sauces and salad dressings to provide an even texture. Examples of emulsifiers include methylcellulose, pectin, and soy lecithin. Soy lecithin, is a natural emulsifier that is a byproduct of soybean oil and is used to help immiscible ingredients in a emulsified form so they don't separate out. Almost every product in US(if you are one of those who read the labels) has soy lecithin in it.
Color additives are used to make the food stuffs look more fresh and appealing:
Sodium Nitrate/ Sodium Nitrite: are chemical compounds used to add flavor and a distinct red color to luncheon meat, sausage, bacon, hot dogs, ham, pepperoni, smoked fish, corn beef, and canned meat. Sodium nitrate is also found in some cured cheeses. Nitrites contain potent carcinogenic compounds known as “nitrosamines”. Studies have found that nitrates and nitrites can cause prostate, breast and abdomen cancers in humans. Nitrates increase the risk of miscarriages, fetal deaths and birth defects. Both US and Canadian regulatory agencies have lowered the permissible levels of nitrates/nitrites for processed foods.
Potassium Bromate (KBrO3): is a bleaching agent and mainly used in the bread-making process. This food additive is known to cause cancer in both animals and humans. Interestingly enough, Potassium Bromate is still legal in the US and Japan. However, the state of California (U.S) has listed Potassium Bromate along with other chemicals known to the cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.
Food Coloring Agents Blue 1 & 2: is used in beverages, candies, confectionaries and pet foods. It is has been found to trigger cancer in mice. Red 3 is used to dye fruit cocktails, toffees, and cherries. It has been linked to thyroid tumors in rats. Green 3 is used to paint candies and beverages. Food scientists have found that this coloring agent triggers the growth of prostate cancer in mice. Yellow 6 is added to sausages, beverages, gelatins, baked products, and candies. This coloring agent can cause tumors of the adrenal glands and kidneys.
Help to maintain dietary acid/base balance required for the desired taste, color, and flavor. Popular neutralizing agents are fumaric acid, citric acid, sodium bicarbonate, lactic acid.
They are responsible for allowing the substances flow freely. Sodium aluminosilicate is one of the most popular man-made anti-caking agents used in various commercial table salts, egg mixes, dried milks, flours and sugar product. Potassium ferrocyanide and sodium ferrocyanide are commonly used as anti-caking agents in table salt. Calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate are natural anti-caking agents used in expensive table salts.
Many foods and drinks come fortified with these food additives that boost the nutritional content. Additionally, antioxidants help to prevent foods from oxidising, or becoming rancid.
Propyl Gallate is the n-propyl ester of gallic acid. It is commonly used in processed meat products, ready-made chicken soup stock and chewing gum. Propyl Gallate is a suspected carcinogenic agent and known to cause liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal ailments.
BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydrozyttoluene) are used to preserve common household foods. Nowadays, these Food Additives are abundantly found in potato chips, breakfast cereals and vegetable oils. Repeated studies have shown that BHA and BHT is a major risk factor for liver cancer and enlargement. BHA and BHT compounds can permanently curtail DNA synthesis and inhibit cell development.
Flavorings: These food additives are used to add or enhance existing flavors to foods. Examples are acesulfame-K, aspartame, glycerin and saccharin.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. It is mostly used in Chinese cuisine as a taste enhancer. This food additive is found in most canned soups, crackers, frozen foods, salad dressings, and chips. MSG is additionally found in flavoring blends. In most cases, MSG is legally concealed on food labels with harmless-sounding names such as "spices", "natural flavoring", "seasonings" etc. Regular consumption of MSG can cause headache, nausea, vomiting etc. In laboratory studies, it has been found to damage nerve cells in the brains of mice.
Aspartame is a category of artificial, non-saccharide sweetener. It is sold by the common trade names as “Nutrasweet” and “Equal”. It is widely used in diet foods, diet beverages, drink mixes, low calorie desserts, gelatin puddings, frozen desserts, and flavored yogurt. Common aspartame poisoning symptoms include persistent headaches, seizures, memory loss and temporary vision loss.
Olestra is a synthetic fat made from sucrose and other edible oils. It is limited to some brands of potato chips. Olestra can cause serious health problems such as excessive abdominal bloating, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. It inhibits the absorption of carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.
Acesulfame-K is marketed under different trade-names such as Sunette, Sweet-n-Safe, and Sweet One. It is an U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved artificial sweetener. It is used in diet soft drinks, baked products, chewing gums, and gelatin based desserts. Some studies have pin-pointed this food additive as a possible cause of cancer in laboratory rats.
Hydrogenated vegetable oil is a category of trans-fat. It is abundantly found in chips, crackers, cookies, microwave popcorn, pastries, pies, cakes, ready-to-eat meals, butter, margarine, coconut oil, lard, cottonseed oil and palm kernel oil. Hydrogenated vegetable oil increases the levels of “bad” or “LDL cholesterol” and reduces the levels of “good” or “HDL cholesterol” which can lead to heart diseases, stroke or renal failure.
White Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup can lead to excessive weight gain, cause depression, rot teeth and increase blood sugar levels in the blood. Additionally, these sweetening agents can leach out vital vitamins and minerals from the body.
What are E numbers?
E numbers are unique codes for identifying different food additives used exclusively within the European Union. Every food additive has to be cleared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before it is given an 'E' number. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the key organization in the European Union (EU) which is entitled to perform risk assessment regarding food and feed products safety. The organization was established in January 2002 to approve new food additives and communicate risks associated with the food chain. The prefix letter "E" stands for "Europe" which is distinctly mentioned on food labels throughout the European Union. E numbers are not popular in New Zealand and Australia. However, they are widely seen in Canada and Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf on imported European products. E-Numbers for different types of food additives are as follows:
E100 - E199 stand for coloring agents used to improve food's appearance and make them more appetizing.
E200 - E299 includes all preservatives that are used to protect the food from becoming spoiled due to the growth of microbes.
E300 - E399 classifies all antioxidants that prevent food molecules from becoming rancid.
E400 – E1500 includes a wide variety of food additives, such as sweeteners which are used to replace sugars.