Our diets are crammed with chemical colourings, flavourings and sweeteners, says food writer Joanna Blythman. Although these additives are perfectly legal, their effects can be hair-raising. Here she lists 10 of the worst offenders – along with the foods that contain them.
1. Monosodium glutamate E621 . What is it for? Adds flavour to over-processed food and allows producers to skimp on natural ingredients. What is it in? Chinese food, potato snacks, cup noodles, tinned meat pie, tinned soup, lunchbox treats. What’s the problem? Some people’s reactions include nausea, headache, tiredness, respiratory problems and burning sensations.
2. Chemical colours including E102,Tartrazine, E104, Quinoline yellow, E107, Yellow 2G. What is it for? Bright colour. What is it in? Glace cherries, fizzy drinks, sweets, jellies, tinned fruit, farmed salmon, trout, sausages, red cheese, cooked meat, alco- pops. What’s the problem? Some provoke extreme reactions in children. Physical symptoms include nausea, eczema and anaphylactic shock.
3. Calcium propionate E282 What is it for? Prolongs shelf-life of wheat products by inhibiting the natural growth of mould. What is it in? Bread, rolls, croissants, cakes. What’s the problem? Some children start climbing the walls as soon as they encounter it. Linked with aggressive behaviour, hyperactivity and sore stomachs.
4. Propyl gallate and gallates E 310-312 What is it for? Stops fats going rancid as quickly as normal and so extends the shelf-life of foods. What is it in? Salami, long-life meat products, frankfurters, tinned soup, chewing gum. What’s the problem? Some authoritative studies on laboratory rats and mice suggest that there may be a causal link with cancer.
5. Artificial and natural flavouring What is it for? Fake flavour. What is it in? Sweets, crisps, sweet drinks, herbal teas, cakes, ready- basted meat, sausage, margarine, flavoured waters. What’s the problem? Some components in flavourings have been shown to cause depression of the central nervous system, bronchial, eye or skin irritations. Some are carcinogenic in animals.
6. Butylated hydroxyanisole E320 and Butylated hydroxytoluene E321 What is it for? Stops fats turning rancid. What is it in? Breakfast cereal, chewing gum, crisps and potato snacks, biscuits, oils and fats. What’s the problem? Most studies indicate it is safe but some show that it causes cancer in rats.
7. Sulphur dioxide and other sulphites E220-28 What is it for? Stops the natural discolouration of foods and bacterial growth. What is it in? Dried fruits (vine fruits, stone fruits), soft drinks and wine. What’s the problem? It destroys vitamin B1 in food and can cause extreme reactions, from sneezing and runny eyes to wheezing, asthma and even death.
8. Caffeine What is it for? Mildly addictive so helps get buyers hooked on a product. What is it in? Natural in coffee and tea but is added to colas and chewing gum. What’s the problem? Too much caffeine means your body metabolises calcium less well so increases risk of osteoporosis. Increases risk of miscarriages and slows down foetal growth.
9. Hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP) What is it for? Gives savoury taste to over-processed food. What is it in? Gravy, stock and sauce mixes, ready meals, tinned soup and stew, vegetarian meat substitutes. What’s the problem? Components include MSG and amino acids from soy or corn. Studies on baby animals link imbalance of these with brain damage.
10. Sweeteners (including E953 Isomalt, E965 Maltitol) What is it for? Low-calorie sweetness. What is it in? Low-calorie food, drinks and desserts. What’s the problem? Linked with cancer in lab rats.
FUENTE: “Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets” by Joanna Blythman, ed. Harper Perennial