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Food Additive: Spotting them and knowing their effects

Food Additive: Spotting them and knowing their effects 

Food Additive, doctor is you

Preservatives, enhancers, dyes... Additives are hidden in all prepared dishes! While there are many fears, they represent progress. What are these additives for? Are they really safe? Can we still rely on the food we are sold?

The artifices of food...

Color, smell, taste... Can we still rely on the food we are offered? The artifices to improve the appearance of dishes are numerous. A round-up of some "tricks" used to make us salivate....

We are eating more and more prepared products. Of course, the rather obscure way of making these foodstuffs leads to many phantasms about additions and transformations designed to improve smell and taste. Without falling into paranoia, it is true that some artifices exist...

Tastes and smells

Taste enhancers are organic substances that, without having a really pronounced flavor, nevertheless have the property to enhance the taste or smell of a food. The best known is certainly glutamate, often used in Asian dishes. Salt, although not considered an additive, would also be used in large quantities by manufacturers for its propensity to exacerbate flavours. A way for food professionals to give taste at a lower cost...

Some enhancers can also bring out odours. This sense is one of the most important in the appetite and feeling of hunger...

Optical illusions

Everyone's heard of dyes. Without them, your mint syrup would not be as green and some of your dishes would look bland... Still, is it really reasonable to worry? If the appearance is artificial, the dye may be natural:






E 120



E 140



E 150

Often, manufacturers don't wait until you unpack the product to make you want to eat it! Not to mention the possible "presentation suggestion" that should be called "artist's views", the colors of the packaging are often chosen wisely: a cardboard with a gradient of browns for a pizza "cooked in a wood fire", a yellow bag for pasta "fresh eggs", etc.

Long live the natural?

Of course, you say to yourself that all this is only about prepared meals and other manufactured products. Now you have opted for natural and fresh products. Yet even the fruits and vegetables you are going to buy are "artificial". They were selected to have the "right" caliber, the right color, the good taste. But we can't blame the producer for trying to be sure to please as many people as possible!

Of course, organic and local products can be an alternative to artificial sensations and standardized foods. But it's your wallet that's going to be toasting! So choose from time to time for "real" products, but do not avoid the products of the mass market at all costs. Most are of good quality, even if it is not guaranteed 100% natural!

What are additives for?

E 432 in your orange juice, E 241 in your margarine... Food additives are everywhere. What are they for? What is the E letter followed by a number? Are they natural or synthetic?

Additives are the ingredients that are incorporated into food products in order to increase their shelf life or attractiveness. They have different properties and origins.

Improving food

The primary purpose of additives is to improve the lifespan of the products we consume. This includes preservatives, which will prevent food contamination by microorganisms such as bacteria. They are designated on the packaging by the letter E followed by a figure between 200 and 300. The most common of these preservatives are sulphites, nitrites or acetic acid.

Also to delay the aging of products, antioxidants are added. They aim to delay oxidation reactions that will rung fats and oils. They are designated on by the letter E followed by a number between 300 and 400. Ascorbic acid, for example, is an antioxidant.

These preservatives are not only intended to sell food for longer: preventing contamination by bacteria prevents foodborne illness (salmonella, listeria, etc.). They will also help maintain the nutritional quality of a food, for example by avoiding the breakdown of vitamins.

Increase attractiveness

The other purpose of additives is of course to increase the attractiveness of food. Many substances are designed to preserve or improve consistency, texture, taste and smell. For example, there are emulsifiers, thickeners and stabilizers that preserve consistency in margarine, ice creams, jams, etc. Emulsifiers, in a salad dressing for example, can be used to bind oil and water. Acidifying agents alter the acidity of food products to increase their flavour. These texture agents are designated on the packaging by the letter E followed by a number between 400 and 500. Taste enhancers, which must enhance the flavour of food, have a number between 600 and 700.

Finally, the most well-known additives are dyes that, as the name suggests, will add colour to the products. They are designated on the packaging by the letter E followed by a number between 100 and 200. These additives include caramel or chlorophyll.

Diverse origins

Contrary to belief, not all additives are synthetic products. Some are all natural, others are natural modified products for example.

Vegetable products

Natural products include thickeners extracted from seeds, fruits and algae, dyes or acidifying agents such as tartaric acid extracted from fruit.

Products identical to natural substances

Some additives are certainly synthetic, but reproduce substances present in nature. Examples include ascorbic acid (antioxidant) or carotenoids (colours).

Products obtained by modification of natural substances

Additives from modified natural products include oil-derived emulsifiers, thickeners such as starches or sweeteners such as sorbitol.

Synthetic products

Colours, sweeteners, antioxidants... Of course, synthetic products exist in all categories of additives.

Don't be afraid of additives anymore!

Additives are a source of mistrust among many people. This fear has often led to the preference of frozen foods to cans and other prepared dishes. It is the one that is behind the success of "dye-free and preservative-free" products. But is there a real danger?

Fear irrational...

Distrust of additives is not new. The designation of additives by barbaric names or E 666s is certainly no stranger. This concern is all the more justified by the mad cow scandals and other surprises. It is normal to ask whether these products do not pose any risks.

However, some of these additives are intended to protect our health! Preservatives thus prevent bacterial contamination: they prevent foodborne illness (salmonella, listeria, etc.). They will also prevent the breakdown of vitamins.

Who's in control?

The use of an additive meets the principle of the "positive list": that is, any unauthorized additive is prohibited. Permission to use a new compound requires a series of controls, both at European and national level. Thus, an additive can only be put on the French market after advice from the Food Technology Commission, the Higher Council of Public Hygiene and the National Academy of Medicine, in conjunction with the Scientific Committee on Human Food at European level. It will have undergone various studies determining its stability in different foods and beverages, the amount likely to be consumed and the distribution in the body. For each additive, a maximum dose is determined per day. The amount ingested throughout the day by consumers should not exceed this value. Periodically, the safety of the product is reassessed.

Low risk: food intolerances and allergies

The only real risk is allergies or intolerances. For example, there have been cases of gum arabic allergy. Intolerances to certain dyes or preservatives may also exist. But rest assured, less than 1% of people are allergic or have intolerance to these substances. On the other hand, asthmatics are more sensitive to certain preservatives (sulphites). Also, if you are allergic to certain food additives, check the composition of certain medications that may contain the same substances.

Better known, the case of glutamate. This flavour enhancer is believed to be the cause of the Chinese restaurant syndrome, characterized by a burning sensation and headaches, 20 minutes after eating dishes from Asia. This syndrome affects about 2% of the population. But the responsibility for glutamate has never been clearly established.

Food additives are thus, on the face of it, safe. So you don't have to throw stones at them. But don't hesitate to prepare your own dishes based on fresh produce!
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Lenovo Many GEOs
Lenovo Many GEOs