What are additives used for in foods?
Additives are used in foods for 5 main reasons. The first being to maintain a products consistency, so that each product tastes that same as the others. The second is to improve or maintain nutritional value - many foods lose specific vitamins and minerals in the processing stages and hence additives are used to substitute these nutrients. The third reason is to maintain palatability and wholesomeness - additives can be added to foods to prevent them from being spoilt by various bacteria or fungi. The fourth reason is that additives control the acidity/alkalinity of foods eg, some additives release acids when heated which react with other ingredients to cause bread to rise for example. The last reason is to enhance flavour or impart desired colour in a food - these additives can be either spices, or natural/synthetic flavours.
What are some common ones seen on ingredients label and what are the different names for them?
ASPARTAME: An artificial sweetener- low-calorie sugar substitute (Equal and NutraSweet). Aspartame is made by combining aspartic acid and phenylalanine, 2 amino acids that occur naturally in protein-containing foods. There is some evidence that aspartame can cause headaches, behavioural changes and potentially Alzheimer ’s disease later in like, although evidence is inconclusive.
Butylated hydroxyanisole(BHA), Butylated hydroxytoluene(BHT): Both are preservatives and they act like antioxidants. These 2 are added to fats, oils and foods that contain oil (baked goods cereals and snacks) to prevent rancidity. Most studies have shown that these additives are safe although some have shown that they may be carcinogenic.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Used to flavour numerous foods. MSG may precipitate reactions in sensitive individuals - especially individuals with asthma. It has been shown to cause headache, nausea, weakness, difficulty breathing, and burning sensations in the back of the neck and in their forearms.
LECITHIN: An emulsifying agent found naturally in milk and some vegetables. There seem to be no side effects of lecithin.
SODIUM BENZOATE: is a granular salt added to most fast foods, soft drinks and concentrated fruit juices. It has not been shown to cause any side effects as yet.
SULFUR DIOXIDE: This additive is a sulphite found in most wines, crisps and dried fruits. This additive is a problem in people allergic to sulphites and it is prohibited to be added to fresh produce.
“HVP” (HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN): this additive contains MSG and hence the side effects are the same. This additive is often found in “Chinese” foods and products.
How can additives wreak havoc to our health both short-term and long term?
There has been significant controversy associated with the risks and benefits of food additives for many years. Some artificial food additives have been linked with cancer, digestive problems, neurological conditions in addition to ADHD , and diseases like heart disease or obesity. Even "natural" additives may be harmful in certain quantities like table salt for example because of allergic reactions in certain individuals. Some additives have even been shown to be carcinogenic over time. In the US, they have legislation (the Delaney Clause) which is an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, that states that no carcinogenic substances may be used as food additives. New food additives need to continually be tested and checked before allowed onto the shelves.
What are preservatives used for in food?
Food preservatives are additives which may be either antimicrobial preservatives, which inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, or antioxidant preservatives such as oxygen absorbers , which inhibit the oxidation /damage of food constituents.
Common preservatives and uncommon preservatives and the names that are used on the label.
Common antimicrobial preservatives include:
CALCIUM PROPIONATE: this preservative is listed at E282 on most food labels. It is used commonly in breads, baked goods, processed meats and diary products. This preservative is a ‘mould inhibitor’. According to some academics, this preservative can be slightly toxic to the human body.
SODIUM NITRATE: Sodium nitrate has antimicrobial properties when used as a food preservative . It is found naturally in leafy green vegetables
SODUIM NITRITE: this preservative is listed as E250 on most food labels. This preservative both alters the colour of preserved fish and meats and also prevents growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria which causes botulism. While this chemical will prevent the growth of bacteria, it can be toxic in high amounts for both humans and animals.
SULFITES (sulfur dioxide , sodium bisulfite, potassium hydrogen sulfite): Sulfites are commonly found in wine; dried fruits and potato chips. They are usually used stop the fermentation process at a desired time, and may also be added to prevent spoilage and oxidation at several stages of the production. Sulfites are included among the top 10 food allergens and commonly cause headaches and skin irritation a few hours after ingestion.
Common antioxidants preservatives include:
BHA and BHT: explained above
How can preservatives wreak havoc to your health both long term and in the short term?
The health effects of preservatives are the same as listed above.
What is the link between childhood autism and preservatives and additives?
There is a large amount of evidence pointing to the link between MSG and childhood ADHD and/or autism. MSG is a highly reactive amino acid. MSG is classified as a neurotoxin and hence too much of it introduced to the brain can cause rapid cell death. Evidence has shown that, "When a woman becomes pregnant, the placental barrier is not fully formed in the first month of fetal development. The chemicals the mother eats can go directly to the developing child. The glutamate stimulates rapid growth in the brain, creating ADHD symptoms. Too much glutamate over-stimulates areas of the brain, resulting in neuronal cell death. This destruction to the neurons results in the symptoms categorized as Autism." John Erb. MSG is also hidden in foods under names like hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast extract, and soy protein isolate. One needs to remember that just because the word MSG does not appear on a food label, does not mean the food does not contain MSG.
What is the link between cancer and tumours overall and additives and preservatives?
There is still incomplete evidence as to exact additive that may cause cancer but some research has been able to potentially link certain additives as being somewhat carcinogenic, see below: ·BHA is a preservative that the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classifies as a possible carcinogen. As stated above, it may be used to preserve foods, like cereal, that come in a box, or it may be sprayed on the packaging instead. Either way it should be avoided. ·Potassium bromate is in brominated flour, often found in bread. It's classified as a possible carcinogen. ·Citrus Red No. 2 or FD&C Citrus Red No. 2 are also a possible carcinogen. Its use is limited to coloring orange skins. If you eat the orange peel or grate it to use in any foods that you make, you will be eating a chemical that possibly causes cancer. You can avoid this cancer-causing chemical if you buy organic oranges. ·FD&C Colors are generally derived from coal tar. Coal tar is a human carcinogen.
Are there any other diseases or disorders known to be triggered by additives and preservatives?
Scientific evidence is still incomplete
Tips to avoid eating preservatives and additives
We need to be aware of the most common food additives as well as to remember the importance of reading food labels. Remember that food additives are normally listed as the actual name of the additive, a code starting with E or just a number like 203. Certain countries like Australia and New Zealand have very strict legislation stating that all food labels and food products need to meet certain criteria and hence purchasing foods made in those counties will also give you piece of mind when analysing the food label.