Drop Down MenusCSS Drop Down MenuPure CSS Dropdown Menu

Monday, October 5, 2015

The unpalatable additives lurking in our food... but are they really bad for you?

Titanium in chewing gum, antifreeze in salad dressing and jet fuel in cereal: are they really THAT bad for you?
Food researcher Dr Stuart Farrimond says certain additives can be good
Avoiding ready-made and processed foods is the best way to eat healthily
Steer clear of chewing too much gum as it may not be entirely harmless 

There are lots of scary stories about the unusual ingredients added to foods to preserve them. From sand in sugar to flavour enhancers in chicken breasts and even jet fuel in cereal, there seems to be a whole host of unsavoury additives lurking in our food. However these ingredients are not always obvious from the additives, preservatives and extracts listed on the back of the packaging - couched in scientific terms too difficult to understand.
But according to science communicator and food researcher Dr Stuart Farrimond, some of these additions are not all that bad. He told: 'The truth is rarely as scary as the headline. 
'At the end of the day, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and cooking with simple ingredients, while avoiding too many pre-made meals and processed foods is the best way to eat healthily. 'I think it's important to not cut out all treats - where would we be without chocolate and ice cream? Moderation is key.' Here Dr Farrimond explains what each one of those ingredients mean. 

Titanium dioxide in chewing gum
Listed as:  E171
Dr Farrimond explained:
'Titanium dioxide is a rather unexciting white powder that is used as a pigment to in foods, paints and sun creams to make them look whiter.  'You find it in tablets and capsules, cottage and Mozzarella cheeses, horseradish sauce, lemon curd and toothpaste. ">It is highly purified and used in small amounts in foods; it doesn't contain lead, as some website claim. On an ingredients list you will find it hiding as E171 and, although the European Union considers it safe, there has been some research that it may not be entirely harmless. 'It's been in foods for a long time and in the low concentrations found in foods it's almost certainly fine.  'The European powers-that-be are nevertheless going over all the latest evidence and reviewing whether it should still be allowed in food products at its present levels.  'If you're concerned, I suggest skipping anything that has E171 on the ingredients list - and go easy on the chewing gum, remembering to spit and not swallow.

Carcinogens BHA and BHT in frying oil. Can also contain TBHQ, used to make varnishes and resins
Listed as: BHA is E320, BHT is E321 and TBHQ is E319.
Dr Farrimond said: 'BHA probably is a carcinogen but only if you consume it at very high doses. In the levels it is found in food it is not something to worry about and some experts think it could even be good for us in small doses.  'BHA and its sister substance BHT are antioxidants- similar to some vitamins - and are added to some fatty foods to stop them going off so quickly.
Antifreeze in salad dressing Listed as: Propylene glycol or E1520
Dr Farrimond said:
 'Propylene glycol is not antifreeze. The similar sounding ethylene glycol is usually one of the main ingredients in antifreeze - and that is highly poisonous. That said, propylene glycol is an ingredient in some 'non-toxic' antifreezes because it is much safer than ethylene glycol. 'Propylene glycol is a clear liquid that tastes slightly sweet and it goes under the codename E1520 in Europe.  'It has been added to foods and medicines for about fifty years as it helps to keep them moist and long lasting.

Jet fuel in cereals with added vitamins 
Listed as: E321
Dr Farrimond said: 'This is a very useful antioxidant that is added to everything from cosmetics and fuel to some fatty foods.  'You'll see it listed as E321 on some foods. It is an anti-oxidant - like many vitamins and supplements 0 some experts think that in the low doses found in food it could be good for us and actually help fight cancer. Lots of helpful substances come from some strange places. Insulin for diabetics, for example, is grown in bacteria.  'Quorn meat substitute is a product of fungi and - yes - some vitamins and additives are produced from a petroleum base. It might sound scary, but it's exactly the same vitamin E molecule that is produced in plants – you are not consuming petrol.'

Sand in sugar
Listed as: Silicon Dioxide, silica or E551
Dr Farrimond said: Sand is mostly silicon dioxide but, then again, silicon dioxide is pretty much everywhere - in the earth, in water, in plants and in us.  'It is completely harmless and the silicon dioxide in food is refined and powdered. It's not the sort of thing you would normally add to your cooking, so the idea may put you off eating anything with it in even though no one ever died when sand got in their sarnie on the beach.

Wood pulp in various processed foods
Listed as:  Cellulose
Dr Farrimond said: Cellulose is the 'fibre' that you find in fruit and vegetables - helping to give it bulk. Cellulose isn't digested, it passes straight through us and helps to 'keep us regular'. Most of us don't get enough fibre in our diet because we don't eat enough greenery. Of all the food additives, this is one of the least worrying.

Chemical fillers in chicken breast
Listed as: Flavour enhancers and added protein
Dr Farrimond said: 'The amount of added water in supermarket meat is truly scandalous. It is quite normal for chicken breasts to have been 'plumped' with 10 to 20 per cent extra water, sometimes more.  'It's been done for years and while food manufacturers argue that it makes for a more succulent meat, it is really a crafty way to make cuts of meat seem bigger than they actually are. All the water comes off in cooking, and the meat will ultimately shrink back down to its real size. 'Plumped meats sometimes have some added extras, including added protein and flavour enhancers to make them taste a bit better - but it is the water that you really should be shedding tears over.  'Whole chickens aren't allowed to be plumped in the same way that cuts are, so buying a whole bird makes more economical sense. Check the label before you buy to see how much meat is really in your meat.'