As a Naturopath I often have discussions with patients about possible allergies.
I often have to point out the importance of taking note of the ‘additive’ numbers on food labels.
It appears that many people apart from not realising which common additives can cause common allergies also do not understand the relevance of the ‘numbers’.
Food additives are used for many purposes such as to improve taste, appearance, add nutrients, lengthen shelf life or to allow a food to keep without refrigeration. Not all are ‘bad’.
Food additives can come from plant or animal sources, others are synthetically made.
Most food additives listed on labels are in the form of a numbered code (from100 – 1520), which is based on a worldwide system.
If the code has ‘E’ in front of it, it denotes that it is an additive used in the European
Numbers 100 – 199 are colours.
The use of some colour additives in foods is controversial. Many have been blamed for conditions such as ADHD and hyperactivity in children, however there can be many other possible causes for ADHD and hyperactivity.
However some colours such as the ‘coal tar’ derived ones remain questionable by some people.
These are the numbers for the coal tar dyes:
102 Tartrazine. The yellow colour added to many soft drinks. Some people are intolerant to tartrazine, and may cause symptoms similar to hay fever and in others skin irritations or acne.
104, 110 (both yellow).
124, 127, 129 (all red).
132, 133 (both blue).
142, 143 (both green).
151 (black) and 155 (brown).
150a – 150d are ‘caramels’, made by heating sucrose or glucose with sulphur dioxide, sodium hydroxide or ammonia. Impart a brown colour. The safety of these has been questionable.
120 is cochineal, a red colour extracted from the dried body of the female insect ‘dactylopius coccus costa’. Generally considered safe, but may present problems
to any one sensitive to carminic acid.
Not all colours are questionable however.
100 is Turmeric or curcumin, 101 is riboflavin (a B vitamin) and both are yellow colours and quite safe!
140 is Chlorophyll (green), 160a is Carotene yellow/orange), 160d is Lycopene (red), all nice antioxidants.
Some other important numbers to note are 220 – 227. These are the sulphites.
They are added mainly to wine, beer, cider, fruit juices, syrups, dried fruits and vegetables as an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and antioxidant. They maintains the colour of the product and prevents browning.
Health wise this group have long been associated with asthma. They can also cause the facial stuffiness, reddening of the nose and headaches often associated with drinking wine and beer.
621 is Monosodium glutamate or MSG. A common flavour enhancer, especially in Asian foods. This additive has been controversial for some time and often blamed for the occurrence of asthma, hives, stomach pains and cramps.
It is not allowed to be added to baby foods. However MSG does occur naturally in
foods such as cheese, tomatoes and fish.
249, 250 are nitrites and 251, 252 are nitrates, added to meats to prevent pathogenic bacteria forming. Also used as a fixative for the red colour in preserved meats.
There has been concern over the use of these additives as they combine with amines to form nitro-amines which are among the most common cancer forming compounds.
More recently scientists have found that by using Vitamin C combined with very small amounts of nitrates and nitrites the food can still be preserved but nitro-amines do not
I am not sure what the relevant levels are for this to be the case.
300 is ascorbic acid or Vitamin C.
307, 308 and 309 are Vitamin E, 322 is Lecithin.
330 is Citric acid.
Aspartame has the code E951.