There are over 300 additives approved for use in Australia, but have you ever wondered how safe they are to eat?
While these additives are all approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, there is evidence to show that some may in fact be harmful to you and your family.
About 5 per cent of the general population are sensitive to one or more food additives.
Even if you think you can read food labels, they don’t always tell the full story. There are also several loopholes in our labeling system, which companies use to avoid having to list all the chemicals they use to produce our food.
Today I want to arm you with the information you need to read labels properly and make informed choices while shopping for your family.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to spot an additive – they go by both names and numbers, so you need to be aware of what to look out for.
1. Artificial Colours
These go by the code numbers in the 100 range and are used to add or restore colour to foods – mainly for marketing purposes to make the foods look more appealing to kids. In particular, stay clear of:
These are in the 200 range and are used to protect against food deterioration. However, they have also been associated with intolerances, particularly among people with asthma. Look out for:
These are in the 300 range and are used to slow or prevent the oxidative deterioration of foods. We tend to think of antioxidents as healthy, but certain antioxidants can be very harmful.
BHA – butylated hydroxyanisole (320) – is found in margarine and spreads, cereals, gum, potato chips and oils. It’s listed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, but is still among the commonly-used preservatives in packaged foods.
4. Artificial Sweeteners
These are in the 900 range and also include bulk sweeteners like sorbitol, 420. They give products a sweet taste for fewer kilojoules than sugar, but by now you would have heard of some of the health implications of eating these additives.
Some of the worst to look out for:
5. Flavour Enhancers
These are found in the 600 range and are used to improve the flavour and smell of food. The best known flavour enhancer is monosodium glutamate or MSG (621), commonly used in Asian cooking, and often added to soups, stocks, sauces, instant noodles, chips and snack foods. It comes under many names, including Glutamic Acid, Yeast Extract, Hydrolyzed Protein and Natural Flavours. MSG is associated with ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ (a collection of symptoms including headache, numbness and tingling). Regular consumption has been linked to obesity, eye damage, headaches, fatigue and disorientation, depression and more.
6. High Fructose Corn Syrup and Cane Sugar
We often hear a lot about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), but in Australia, cane sugar used more widely because it is cheaper and more readily available. However, they are practically the same thing. HFCS is made up of 55% fructose, 45% glucose, while cane sugar is 50% fructose, 50% glucose.
Part of what makes cane sugar and HFCS so unhealthy is that they are metabolised to fat in your body far more rapidly than other sugars because of their high percentage of fructose. Watch out for HFCS or cane sugar in confectionary, soft drinks, baked goods and snack foods.
7. Trans Fats
These were discovered when food scientists were looking for a replacement for fats that turn rancid quickly to increase the shelf-life of baked goods. Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that is uncommon in nature.
To give you an idea of how unhealthy they are, Australia’s food industry took drastic steps to lower the trans-fatty acid content in processed food since the 1990s. But that doesn’t mean our foods are free from trans fats.
Trans fats are commonly found in deep fried foods, commercial cakes and pastries, canned soups, cake mixes, crackers and snack foods, margarine, dips, frozen foods and popcorn.
The 5% loophole
You may not realise that if an additive is present in an ingredient, and that ingredient makes up less than 5% of the complete food product, it doesn’t have to be listed. For example, MSG may be concealed in ingredients like “chicken flavour” under this labeling loophole.
You may need to use your intuition when it comes to deciphering numbers and complex names. My wife Dayna always says it doesn’t matter what the numbers mean, if it has numbers in it, it’s not worth eating. My rule is if it looks highly processed, it’s probably full of additives.
For more information on food additives, we recommend The Chemical Maze by Bill Statham.
If you have any more questions, you can call us to book a FREE 15 minute chat with one of our Naturopaths to see how we can help you. Call now on (02) 4961 4075.
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