OK so I know that I am always encouraging you to make fresh healthy food yourselves, but let’s face it, sometimes there isn’t enough time in the day. I want to talk about things that you will commonly find in your ready made food; what they are, and what they means to your health; this way you can make an informed choice about what to pick up and more importantly what to put down.
So what is an additive? It is something added to your food to make it last longer, taste better, look palatable, make it easier to manufacture, or cheaper to produce. Within the European Union additives are labeled with an E number which means that the additive has been accepted by the European Community. Many of these officially sanctioned products are still banned in some EU countries, and also in Scandinavia, Russia and Australia. If a number appears without an E then it has not been cleared for use by the European Community, but may be used in the UK. In the US a different system is used which includes numbers instead, although the additives are the same. The food and governmental bodies have said for years that the range of additives are safe for human consumption, however, as you can see many countries cannot agree about what is and isn’t safe.
Over the years some additives have been withdrawn due to health scares; 28 food additives (including the infamous Sudan 1) have been banned, mostly because they carry a cancer risk, or contribute to organ damage. 15 of the 28 banned were food colorings. Out of 45 current E-numbered colourings, 23 are banned in one or more countries, and yet available in the UK. A further 21 colourings are recommended to be avoided by the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group, along with 49 other E-numbered food additives (including sweeteners) linked with- and also commonly found in children’s foods.
We will start this week with food colourings; these are added to make our food look more interesting and palatable. Often these are added in large amounts to children’s food, as they make the food look more exciting. Unfortunately, many colours are linked toand as well as a host of other problems such as eczema and asthma. E Numbers 100-181 are all colours. Often they will be given their number and name, which can make is easier for you to identify them. Some of these are made from natural plant products, for example E162 or Betanin is made from beetroot and has no known side-effects. Being vegetable in origin does not always make an additive safe; E123 (Amaranth) a red colour is derived from a small plant, and is banned in USA, Russia, Austria, Norway and other countries and found in jellies, sweets, cake mixes, and fruit fillings. It is known to provoke asthma, eczema, and , possibly to increase risk of certain cancers, and in animal experiments caused birth defects, and foetal deaths.
Others have names which sound natural but are not, for example E150 or Caramel; the most commonly used group of colours, found in a wide range of foods,; beer, sauces, puddings, sweets,, chocolate, buns. This group comprises E150a, b, c, and d also named, plain caramel, Caustic Sulphite caramel, Ammonia Caramel and Sulphite Ammonia Caramel-( I am not sure I like the sound of ‘caustic’ or ‘ammonia’ in my food). The UK food guide and the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group recommend that these colours are not given to children, but you will find them in many kids’ foods and drinks.
Some of the numbers have names which make them sound rather harmless; E155 or Chocolate Brown HT, sounds almost delicious until you discover that this colour, often found in chocolate cake, and chocolate cake mix, is derived from coal tar, is not recommended for consumption by children, and is banned in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. It is thought to cause allergic or intolerance problems, particularly in asthmatics; somehow it doesn’t sound so harmless when you know the details.
Several colours are of animal origin, and vegetarians may wish to avoid them, such as E170 Calcium Carbonate, found in toothpaste, canned fruit, vegetables and wines, which can be sourced from animal bones (or rock minerals), or E120 Cochineal which rather charmingly is made from insects- yummy.
Out of the 45 E numbered colourings, only six have no reported side effects. Many of the side effects are anecdotal, although the sheer number of people reporting them is surely an indication that something is wrong. Many studies have linked colourings to health problems, particularly in children, although the findings are often rejected by the Food Agencies. One British study found that a quarter of toddlers suffered adverse effects after consuming foods containing 3 food colourings. Although these additives have been tested for ‘safety’, it is curious that many countries still do not think them safe enough to use in their food. The additives have also never been tested for safety in combination with other additives although they are rarely used alone.
Just for fun, here is the low-down on the colours inside a packet of a popular multi-coloured chocolate bean; a favorite children’s treat;
o E110 (sunset Yellow), banned in Norway and widely found in sweets, pies, cakes, sauces, puddings, canned fish, ice cream, jelly, cheese sauce etc; urticaria (hives), runny nose, nasal congestion, allergies,, kidney tumors, chromosomal damage, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, increased incidence of tumors in animals.
o E171 Titanium dioxide a white colouring known to pollute waterways, but with no reported effects in humans.
o E104 Quinoline Yellow, can cause dermatitis; banned in USA and Norway. It is recommended by several organisations that this colour is avoided by children.
o E124 Ponceau a synthetic red colour derived from coal tar; carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in animals, also can produce bad reactions in asthmatics and people allergic to aspirin; banned in USA & Norway. It is recommended by several organisations that this colour is avoided by children.
o E122 Azorubine, Carmoisine a red colour derived from coal tar; can produce bad reactions in asthmatics and people allergic to aspirin; banned in Sweden, USA, Austria and Norway. It is recommended by several organisations that this colour is avoided by children.
o E133 Brilliant blue an aluminium or ammonium salt; banned in Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Norway. It is recommended by several organisations that this colour is avoided by children.
o E120 Cochineal, a red colour; made from insects; the hyperactive children’s support group recommends that this colour is avoided. It is recommended by several organisations that this colour is avoided by children.
The chances are that when you are buying sweets, cakes- any manner of ready made food, you will be buying products which contain colourings. You may decide that the evidence is unconvincing, or you may decide that it is not worth risking the harmful effects, especially with your family. There is little doubt now that many children are adversely affected by food colourings, and several Local Education Authorities in the UK are attempting to ban food colourings from their school meals and machines. The good news is that you can avoid them by selecting products marked ‘no artificial colours,’ by buying organic products, or by getting the raw ingredients and making things yourselves.
I do hope that this will encourage you to look on the backs of food packaging, and check what lies within. Even if you cannot avoid these nasties all of the time, it may be a good idea to steer clear of them where possible, especially in what you feed to children and teenagers.
For a full list of additives, colourings, sweeteners and flavourings write to:- Hyperactive Children’s Support Group at 71 Whyke Lane, Chichester PO19 7PD or Telephone 01243 551313.
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