23 Mar 2016
There are over 300 food additives and preservatives approved for use in Australia.
So, what are the food additives and preservatives in your food?
Colour additives typically restore or add colour to foods. They have lovely sounding names like amaranth purple (123) and indigo blue (132). However, according to some authorities, when mixed with the preservative sodium benzoate (211), they can increase hyperactivity in some children. Sunset Yellow FCF and ‘natural’ additives like annatto (160b) are typically found in margarine and confectionery and can cause allergic reactions in some individuals.
These additives protect food against deterioration and in soft drinks that combine potassium benzoate (212) and ascorbic acid (300), can result in the formation of benzene, a known carcinogen. Processed meats containing sodium nitrite (250) and sodium nitrate (251), have been listed by some researchers as ‘probably harmful’ to humans, calcium propionate (282) which prevents mould growth on bread has been linked to migraines and preservatives that contain sulphur (220-228), often found in dried fruit, can trigger asthma attacks.
These prevent foods with fats and oils, such as margarine, from going rancid, and butylated hydroxyanisole (320) is cited as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’.
Artificial sweeteners are typically used in diet foods and drinks and reports link many of them to cancer. Aspartame given to rats in simulated doses around the levels considered safe for humans increased their risk of certain cancers and in humans has been linked to headaches, allergies and behavioural changes.
These improve the flavour and/or aroma of food and monosodium glutamate (MSG, 621), found in things like packet soups and flavoured sauces, have been shown to give people reactions such as numbness and headaches.
And a range of other numberless additives listed as ‘processing aids’ don’t have to be qualified as they aren’t considered to perform a ‘technological function’ in the final food and/or they make up less than 5% of the complete food product.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) reviews the safety evidence of food additives before they’re approved for use and regulate them via the Food Standards Code. Exposure assessments are based on estimating how much of a food additive would be consumed if permitted for use, compared to the acceptable daily intake recommended by scientific experts so as not to damage your health.
It’s a confusing issue for consumers and health experts and manufacturers globally are continually engaged in this nutritional tug-of-war. Your best bet? Check food labels and do your research. Although experts believe a small number of dietary additives aren’t problematic for most people, the more processed foods you eat, the more additives you’re eating too. Fresh is best. Now that’s food for thought.
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