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Additives. Part II.

The numbers on my blood pressure reading have hit 4 figures. Top and bottom.

It’s official, I’m feeling a little more ferocious than usual. Why? Lots of brilliant discussion around additives last week, so I’ve been asked to broaden my research, and look beyond energy bars to see what other monsters are hiding in our food. The findings have left me feeling a little, erm, vexed shall we say? It’s pre-watershed, so we’ll have to stick with that.

Always one to look on the bright side, there is a reason for additives…

“COST SAVING” shout the hecklers. Well, yes, admittedly there is that. My husband loves a Bakewell Tart, and on the day/s when I love him (!) I turn into a real life Feeder, shoving homebaked calories down his gullet in some rather strange display of affection. Out come the familiar ingredients: raspberry jam, flour, butter, whole eggs, almonds, butter and sugar.

However, home cooking isn’t quite the same as mass produced cooking. The folk responsible for this would approach the tart baking session in quite a different way. A great journalist in the Guardian described this brilliantly:

“Mmm, what alternative ingredients can we use to create a Bakewell tart-style product, while replacing or reducing expensive ingredients – those costly nuts, butter and berries? How can we cut the amount of butter, yet boost that buttery flavour, while disguising the addition of cheaper fats? What sweeteners can we add to lower the tart’s blatant sugar content and justify a “reduced calorie” label? How many times can we reuse the pastry left over from each production run in subsequent ones? What antioxidants could we throw into the mix to prolong the tart’s shelf life? Which enzyme would keep the almond sponge layer moist for longer? Might we use a long-life raspberry purée and gel mixture instead of conventional jam? What about coating the almond sponge layer with an invisible edible film that would keep the almonds crunchy for weeks? Could we substitute some starch for a proportion of the flour to give a more voluminously risen result?” And so on.

The strapline for these additives seems to be: “when technology meets nature, you save”. There’s no question that processing food, adding additives, is a revenue stream. Is that such a bad thing though? What about people who can’t afford to buy fresh all the time? Mass produced processed food can be easier on the pocket…morally wrong that this is the case, but sadly sometimes true. I think though my real issue is that if this is the food people are buying, out of choice or necessity, it should NOT pose a health risk to us. I don’t think it is right that additives used in food could equally be used in a flipping flapping fly spray! Gggrrrr.

It has to be said though that not all additives are as bad as each other. I’ve tried to pull together a list of the worst offenders, using not just one (potentially biased) source, but several.

Top of the list are food colourings, notably:

  • E102 (tartrazine)

  • E104 (quinoline yellow)

  • E110 (sunset yellow FCF)

  • E122 (carmoisine)

  • E124 (ponceau 4R)

  • E129 (allura red)

The NHS recognize these additives as being “closely linked to hyperactivity in children”. They can be found in loads of foods including sweets, cakes, ice cream and soft drinks. It’s ironic though that the E number actually means they have passed safety tests and are approved for use in the EU.

Other additives to avoid:

Sodium Benzoate (E211): used in food and fireworks. Say no more.

Sodium nitrite (E250)

Propyl gallate (E310)

Aspartame (E951): an artificial sweetener 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Acesulfame-potassium (E950)

Cyclamic acid (E952): used in the production of paints and plastics, and as a sweetener in food.

Trans fats: linked to high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, but still widely used in some baked and fried food. Avoid labels that mention hydrogenated fat, partially hydrogenated fat, semi hydrogenated fat or shortening.

Another area that is worrying is “washed” and “ready to eat” salads. There are lots of concerns over the chlorine added to the water used to wash pre-cut salads to control pathogens and keep the leaves fresh. Unless the label states that the leaves have been washed in spring water, there will have been chemicals added during the washing process by the manufacturer.

Like my blood pressure wasn’t high enough already, I then came across a blog on the BBC website (PLEASE) that suggested using flavouring to get our children to eat vegetables???!!! Surely this would negate any of the beneficial effects of eating them in the first place?! "Hey, little poppets, don’t you like your vegetables? No? Well, stick some of these here poisons on them and you kids will just love ‘em."

The reason a lot of sprogs don't like vegetables is, in my humble opinion, because of the whole additive industry. Why would they find vegetables tasty when the pizza, crisps, fizzy drinks and sweets they have access to are all filled with E numbers, which overexcite the taste buds leaving normal foods flavourless in comparison?

My conclusion is foregone. Process less. Use additives less.

I’m prepared to accept that the food I buy will stale over time. I’d way rather that than buy ‘food’ that owes its existence to technology. Everything nature can do, man can NOT do better. Unless of course ‘better’ simply means more profitably…


Swallow This: serving up the industry’s darkest secrets


I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.

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