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Additives in Food


Many foods contain additives, but you can't usually taste or see them. Only a look at the back of the packaging reveals these ingredients. However, only a few consumers know what ingredient names such as "E127" or "Erythrosine" mean. The following is an overview of the topic: What exactly are additives, what are they good for and how harmful are they?

What are additives?

Additives are used to change the properties of foods, such as taste or shelf life. Additives also compensate for unwanted changes in the production process. For example, structure, colour or vitamin content can change when heated. Additives are therefore often used with a high degree of processing and a large number of (technical) procedures. Conversely, it can be assumed that foods with a low degree of processing tend to contain no or few additives.

Approximately 320 additives for conventional foods are currently approved throughout the EU. These are the so-called "E-numbers". In organic products, on the other hand, only about 50 additives are permitted. Artificial vitamins and aromas, for example, are prohibited.

If you want to reduce the intake of additives, you should always use foods that are natural or little processed (not too intensively heat- or cold-treated). Therefore we recommend choosing organic products over conventional products.

Typical additives and their purpose

A typical additive found in many foods is glycerine. It has the E-number E422, is used as a humectant and sweetener and is not approved for organic products. It is usually chemically manufactured. Another substance that is often used is the emulsifier lecithin or E322, which is obtained from soybeans or sunflowers. It serves as an antioxidant, stabilizer and flour treatment agent. Other additive groups are raising agents (such as yeast), colorants, flavour enhancers or preservatives.

Despite their many functions, additives are often not required to maintain product quality. In order to preserve shelf life, consistency or nutrients, it is also possible to use special production techniques, recipes and qualities of products. This would allow food to be produced in superior quality, but the costs would probably increase (e.g. in purchasing) as well. The prevailing opinion is that cheap food often contains many questionable additives and food with many additives cannot be wholesome and healthy.

Are all additives harmful to health?

More than half of the more than 300 approved food additives are considered to be safe. So far, no health hazards have been scientifically proven for these substances. In theory, all e-additives should be safe, as they are authorised by the EU according to this requirement. However, there are some substances for which the health safety is doubted.

In particular, the consumer advice centre advises people with pseudo allergies, asthma and neurodermatitis against certain preservatives. These include, for example, sulphur dioxide or E220, which can cause asthma attacks in asthmatics. The flavour enhancer glutamate and the stabiliser sodium citrate can trigger pseudo allergies. Emulsifiers and various colourants may also be associated with adverse health effects.

Some additives may affect digestion and nutrient intake and may endanger people with certain metabolic characteristics or diseases. They are also suspected of contributing to the development of diseases.

There is a flyer from the consumer advice centre with which you can see at a glance which additives are harmless and which should be enjoyed with caution (PDF-Download).

How to avoid additives

To achieve this, you should avoid industrially produced food whenever possible. It is best to cook on your own and use untreated (organic) food. Fresh fruit and vegetables or raw meat are legally forbidden to change. You can therefore be sure that no additives are contained. Basic foods such as coffee, tea, mineral water, honey, milk, butter, vegetable oils or pasta, etc. must not contain any additives either.

When buying packaged food, it is advisable to check the degree of processing and take a look at the table of contents. It is also recommended not to be driven solely by price. There is often a high-quality product available which does not contain any additives.

As a natural alternative to heavily processed muesli bars and other sweets like chocolate bars, our foodloose organic bars are ideal. The ingredients of our bars are simply mixed with heated agave syrup and coconut blossom sugar, rolled out on a conveyor, dried and cut into bar shapes. While many conventional muesli bars contain a lot of sugar and fat as well as additives such as emulsifiers and aromas, fat additives and salt, we deliberately avoid such additives completely in our products.


Photo credit: © REDPIXEL / Fotolia

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