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Chemicals in food - what's your poison?

We are all familiar with food labels; or we think we are. From the basic calorie content per 100g to the amount of carbohydrate, fat and sugar present we scan the ingredients without reading too deeply if the list proves to be endless.

Gluten, dairy, wheat, nuts, eggs and any other potential allergen hazard are often put in bold nowadays but what about those strange sounding ingredients that you’ve always wondered; what is that? And more importantly will it harm me?

There are numerous ingredients that could be mentioned but let’s just concentrate on a few of the more familiar ones that you may have noticed on your weekly shop. By the way, you may find yourself ignoring the label on the back because you have been duped into purchase by the colourful one on the front claiming ‘natural’,’ multigrain’ ‘organic’ ‘no added sugar’.

Remember is that the ingredients are put in descending order of quantity.

E numbers

What’s in a number? Broadly speaking they can be classified as follows; numbers starting with 100 are colours; 200 preservatives; 300 antioxidants, acidity regulators; 400 emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners and gelling agents ; 500 PH regulators and anti- caking agents; 600 flavour enhancers; 900 sweeteners. There are a few anomalies in the numbers list but that’s the gist of it.

The E stands for Europe, these additives offer no nutritional value and are added to regulate and protect food production processes. They give increased shelf life to products, stop bacteria growing and supposedly make it taste better! Whether chemically made or ‘extracted’ from natural foods these additives have still been adulterated and your body will have to process them. Remember the poison is in the dose so if that is all you are eating then your body is working harder than it needs to be. More often E numbers are being dropped on labels as people have begun to associate them with negative consequences so the names are listed instead. Here are a few examples…..

Carrageenan (E407) An extract of red algae or seaweed; this one is actually a bit controversial and you may find it in your alternative milk products amongst other things. There is a distinction to be made between degraded and undegraded carrageenan. Degraded is called poligeenan and is not used in food whereas undegraded is. Mostly carrageenan has been passed as safe but caution is warranted if you have gut issues as it may cause irritation or inflammation in larger doses.

Guar Gum (E412) This is derived from an actual food- the guar bean. It is a soluble fibre so if you have digestive issues it may cause increased gas and discomfort.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) (E621) This big fella has been around for a while; we have all heard of it and probably associated it with Chinese food. It is the sodium salt of a common amino acid; glutamic acid. Free glutamate occurs naturally in many foods e.g. tomatoes and matured cheeses. MSG as a flavouring additive is usually produced by fermenting starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses. MSG is an excitotoxin. While this may stimulate or ‘excite’ your taste buds, to make you want to eat more, it is also stimulating other cells in particular your brain cells. When exposed to high levels of excitotoxins, your body’s cells become overexcited to the point where they may become damaged or even die.

MSG occurs in many processed foods and usually under a pseudonym: Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, soy protein isolate and even just ‘flavouring’ amongst many others. This is one to avoid and various symptoms reported include headache, nausea, palpitations or even drowsiness.

Another excitotoxin to avoid is aspartame (E951) which I am sure you are familiar with. Not only are the metabolites of aspartame neurotoxic but scientists also believe, that by altering your gut bacteria, it may be implicated in the development of obesity.

View this as a bite sized taster to further explore your appetite on the subject of food additives. If you are at all worried about the amount of additives you may be consuming then ditch the processed foods! Sounds simple doesn’t it but if you need a helping hand then why not book a consultation with Catherine or take a look at our processed free, yey convienent, meals!

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