Although it seems incredible, additives have defenders. There is no shortage of nutritionists – close to the industry – who praise them for their usefulness, above all to improve the conservation of products, and then usually ensure that they are safe because they are consumed in minimum quantities and have passed legal sanitary controls.
But they should add “today…”, because we do not know if in the future any will be banned when new toxicity studies appear.
An example of the above is what happened in 2006 with the preservatives E-216 and E-217 when their harmful effect on the endocrine system was discovered. Another indicator of the questionable safety is that additives currently authorized in some countries are prohibited in others. But the problem of additives goes much further.
Processed foods filled with additives under suspicion
There is a direct relationship between additives and processed foods: the more additives, the more processed the product and the less healthy it is.
The effects of the additives may be lethal. According to the statistics, over 10 million people around the world lose their lives per year because they follow a poor diet, with an excess of processed foods, which represent a majority of the shopping basket of an average family. These products are responsible for at least half of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and stomach and colon cancers.
For the sake of everyone’s health, it is necessary that real and natural foods recover ground against their processed counterparts.
Eat real food, the best way to avoid them
A historic advocate of real food is journalist and food expert Michael Pollan. His three criteria are known to be nourished with real food:
- Avoid products that contain unknown ingredients or whose name is unpronounceable, which in a stroke leaves out thousands of “food” that clutter the shelves of supermarkets.
- Reject those that contain more than five ingredients.
- Do not buy those containing high fructose corn syrup.
The application of these recommendations means giving up practically all foods that contain an additive. But it is true that not all additives are the same. Some are totally natural and harmless. Therefore it makes sense to ask which are the most worrying additives.
The most questioned food additives
We can divide them into six groups, according to the purpose with which they are usually used in food.
The coloring additives give an attractive and appetizing image to the products, especially for children, who are precisely the ones who are most affected by their consumption.
Dyes have been questioned as:
- E-102, E-104, E-110, E-122, E-124, E-127: They are suspected of favoring childhood hyperactivity. Since 2010, the food that carries these colors should indicate on the label that “may affect the activity and care in children.”
- E-133: It is used in ice cream, sweets and drinks and is prohibited in Switzerland because it can favor asthma attacks.
They lengthen the natural period in which putrefaction or mold appear, but do not completely protect against mycotoxins, but paradoxically they can favor their formation when the preservative effect loses strength.
Among the preservatives under suspicion we find:
- E-211: It is related to childhood hyperactivity, although the studies are inconclusive.
- Hydroxybenzoates E-214 to E-219: They are related to detrimental effects in the endocrine system (estrogenic action) and trigger allergies relatively frequently. The E-216 and E-217 are already banned and the rest should be banned, according to nutritionists.
- Sulfites E-220 to E-228: They can inhibit the use of vitamin B1 and in sensitive people can cause headaches, dizziness or asthma attacks. Products that contain them are required to highlight their presence on the label due to their allergenic potential.
- Nitrates and nitrites E-249 to E-252: They are generally used so that the meat products have an intense red color and to prevent the appearance of botulinum toxin. They can be toxic by binding to human hemoglobin because they produce methemoglobinemia.
By not acting directly against germs, antioxidants are not legally considered as preservatives, although the industry uses them as such because they extend the shelf life of food. They slow down the chemical decomposition, the rancidity of fats or the generation of brown spots in the fruit.
Pay attention to:
- Galatos E-310 to E-312: They are attributed the risk of causing dangerous cyanosis (insufficient oxygenation of the blood) in babies. They can affect the immune system.
- Butylhydroxyanisole (E-320 or BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (E-321 or BHT): Allergens, it is suspected that they can promote the development of cancer and immune, hepatic and hormonal alterations. They are probably the most questioned food additives currently and their prohibition in the short or medium term is likely.
- Sodium orthophosphate E-339: Used in soft drinks, it reduces the absorption of calcium, iron and magnesium.
4. Thickeners and emulsifiers
Thickeners and emulsifiers (from E-400 to E-500) are used to achieve a certain “texture”, such as creaminess or consistency. They are considered safe, but there are doubts.
E-480 and E-466: A study by the State University of Georgia (United States) discovered three years ago that these two additives alter the composition of the intestinal microbiota and may favor the metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes and disease inflammatory bowel The study was carried out with laboratory animals but the results are probably extrapolated to people.
5. Flavorings or flavor enhancers
Flavor enhancers are used to supply the quality deficiencies of industrial products and to increase their addictive capacity. Among the most questioned are:
Glutamates E-620 to E-625: Intensify the taste and can cause in sensitive people the “Chinese restaurant syndrome”, with symptoms such as pressure at the temples, headache and stiffness. In laboratory animals there have been problems of fertility and learning, attacks of hunger and obesity.
Its objective is to reduce the calories of processed products so that they do not favor obesity, but its real effect may be the opposite, because they stimulate the appetite and accustom to the sweet taste. Also some have other negative effects.
- Acesulfame K E-950: Causes alterations of the genetic material, according to studies done with animals.
- Aspartame E-951: Under suspicion of favoring a variety of diseases, including cancer, but the studies are contradictory. Chemically it looks like peptides and hormones, so it could be a confounding factor in the body. According to various nutritionists, it should be prohibited until the controversies are clarified.
- Sacarina E-944 and sucralose E-955: They are controversial sweeteners that should be avoided.
What is hidden behind some food additives
Many vegetarians and vegans do not know that a good number of additives that they may consume are of animal origin. There are many additives can be of animal or vegetable origin, which requires to be informed with each manufacturer.
The additives that are exclusively of animal origin are the following:
- E-120: red dye obtained from cochineal
- E-441: gelatin, obtained from skin, bone and cartilage
- E-542: from bones
- E-901: from beeswax
- E-904: from worms
- E-910, E-920 and E-921: usually obtained from hairs
- E-913: from sheep’s wool
- E-966: from milk
It is also not easy to know from an additive whether it is transgenic or is in the form of nanoparticles. Both characteristics are related to suspicions about their safety for health.
When an additive contains nanoparticles less than 100 nanometers in size, it is mandatory to declare its presence on the labels. It contains nanoparticles E-551 or titanium dioxide, related to disorders such as Crohn’s disease.
There are also additives obtained by transgenics, directly or indirectly, such as lecithin or E-322, which can come from genetically modified soybeans.
Another possibility is that transgenic microorganisms have been used for the manufacture of the additive, such as in the preparation of vitamins C, biotin, B2 or B12, aspartame (E-951), xanthan gum (E-415) or vitamin A enhancers. flavor (from E-620 to E-625).
Finally, remember that it is difficult to find foods prepared without additives and that quality foods do not need to improve their taste or color. Therefore, it is best to always opt for natural and fresh foods from a trusted supplier.