[Article updated on 19/09/2023]
The European Union authorizes more than 350: preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, colors, sweeteners, etc.
But, despite these safeguards, some of these substances are not completely harmless, around 90 all the same!
When in doubt, take the time to read labels and track down suspicious additives.
Before reading on
I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.
The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.
Here is a top 5 additives to be wary of.
What is a food additive and what is it used for?
Food additives are substances added in small quantities to industrial foods to improve their flavor, texture, appearance… and that’s why the food industry has gotten into the habit of distilling it almost everywhere.
It should be noted that certain additives are natural and harmless to our health (although natural does not necessarily mean non-toxic, as is the case with many mushrooms for example), but most are chemical and a priori have no reason to be added to what we eat.
Few processed food products do not contain food additives.
We recognize them on the label of your food because they start with the letter “E” followed by a number and are broken down into several groups depending on their role:
- conservatives ;
- THE antioxidants ;
- texturing agents (including emulsifiers and starches modified);
- flavor enhancers;
Food additives must be listed on product packaging and must appear on the list of authorized products, otherwise their use is prohibited.
It is estimated that a child would now consume up to 100 of them every day!
Top 5 additives to be most wary of:
1. E211, from its pretty little name sodium benzoate.
It is a preservative authorized mainly in flavored drinks, low-fat jams, candied fruits, condiments, sauces.
It could promote ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), can trigger allergies (rhinitis), hives, edema in allergic people.
Avoid especially in cases of allergic conditions and in children.
As a precaution, avoid in case of predisposition to cancer. (INFOG)
2. E951, the famous Aspartame
This is one of the most controversial additives!
Several studies have suggested a risk of cancer in rodents that consumed it for several months. Furthermore, studies have warned of neurological risks (epilepsy, headaches), weight gain, and more recently, the increase in premature births. But Europe did not consider it necessary to lower the current acceptable daily intake (ADI)
Let aspartame “addicts” rest assured: we very rarely exceed the ADI.
An adult weighing 60 kilos is therefore entitled to 2.4 g of aspartame per day, or 6 liters of a “Light” cola drink.
The problem is that, in low-fat products, aspartame is generally combined with other sweeteners. However, we know nothing about the combined effect of these molecules.
3. E150c and E150d, caramel colors
They are found in colas, balsamic vinegar, carton sauces and many confectioneries. However, in mice, one of their by-products induces lung cancer or leukemia when consumed for two years. This is why the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified these dyes as “possibly carcinogenic”.
But to date, no studies have been conducted in humans.
When in doubt, however, it is more prudent to limit consumption.
4. E320, the antioxidant BHA
It is one of the most used by the food industry, particularly in chewing gum, soups and purees. According to IARC data, it is a possible carcinogen for humans after several years of daily ingestion. In addition, studies identify it as an endocrine disruptor: even at low doses, it could alter hormonal metabolism. In children, large consumers of instant purees and chewing gum, we cannot exclude excesses of the admissible dose.
5. E249 to 251, nitrites
Nitrite-based additives are used as preservatives in cold cuts or industrial meats.
They prevent the development of dangerous microorganisms like listeria, salmonella…
They are classified as “probably carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). They could explain the increased risk of digestive cancers when we regularly eat cold meats.
I present to you top 3 in video this time:
Is everything that starts with an E necessarily dangerous?
An additive that starts with an E is therefore not necessarily dangerous.
For example, agar-agar (a natural gelling agent made from algae) also has the code E406 and is not a priori toxic. But overall, we often find the full names of these natural additives on product labels because they are less scary than their E code.
Conversely, labeling that presents a “natural flavor” appears safe. However, this aroma unfortunately does not really come from the product that we expect to consume. It reproduces the expected aroma on the basis of natural substances to which solvents, emulsifiers or preservatives can be added, without declaration. To be sure that you are consuming a natural aroma that comes from the food you want to consume, it must be indicated on the label “natural flavor of…”.
Another E-free additive that deserves a little attention is citric acid. Apparently lemon juice, right? Well not really… Most of the time, it is a derivative of micro-organisms like the fungus Aspergillus niger, which is also sometimes transgenic…. Despairing and therefore impossible to know what you are really buying… The best way not to make a mistake: buy as many fresh, unprocessed products as possible, to prepare yourself.
To make a good choice at the supermarket, favor products with the shortest possible list of ingredients.
Prefer a composition of foods that you can find in your cupboard, such as flour, milk or even sugar.
To sum up :
- Some authorized food additives are dangerous
- Choose products whose ingredient list does not include more than three additives.
- Favor organic products, they all contain fewer additives
- Limit the share of industrial foods in your menus