Are Food-Like Additives Really Bad For You?

Titanium in chewing gum, antifreeze in salad dressing and jet fuel in cereal: The unpalatable additives lurking in our food… but 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.

Sugar can contain silicone dioxide or sand. Cereals with added vitamins may contain jet fuel

(Sugar can contain silicone dioxide or sand. Cereals with added vitamins may contain jet fuel (right)

He told FEMAIL: ‘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.

Go easy on the chewing gum as is contains titanium dioxide which may not be entirely harmless to humans 

(Go easy on the chewing gum as is contains titanium dioxide which may not be entirely harmless to humans)

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.

Propylene glycol is a clear liquid that tastes slightly sweet and is not noticeable in salad dressings.

(Propylene glycol is a clear liquid that tastes slightly sweet and is not noticeable in salad dressings.)

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.

‘The European Union recently scrutinised all the research on BHA and BHT and concluded that it is safe.

‘Another similar substance, TBHQ, is an antioxidant that is only unhealthy if consumed at very high levels – far higher than you would ever get from eating food. 

‘THBQ helps keep food fresh and the fact that is added to varnishes is irrelevant to its safety in food – you certainly aren’t eating varnish,

‘Vitamin C, for example, is added to photographic developer solutions and we certainly wouldn’t want to cut vitamin C out of our diet.

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.

‘The EU has strict on the levels that are allowed in food, meaning you needn’t worry too much if a tiny bit goes on your ice-berg lettuce.’

Chicken breast is plumped up with flavour enhancers.Propylene glycol is an ingredient in some 'non-toxic' antifreezes and is also found in some salad dressing

(Chicken breast (left) is plumped up with flavour enhancers.  Propylene glycol is an ingredient in some ‘non-toxic’ antifreezes and is also found in some salad dressing (right)

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 and has been shown to be safe in the low levels permitted under EU law. Oddly enough, because 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.’

ToxicHungr’s Take On This…(and rant)
If you don’t mind drinking and eating (antifreeze, jet fuel and miscellaneous) chemicals raw, then everything’s okay if your body’s designed to injest, obsorb and digest it. Other than that, when is it okay to take even a small amount of these ingredients period? There’s a reason why the body don’t digest and use these chemicals, and there’s a reason why we advocate eating organic. Your body’s cells communicate with everything the body takes in, if it disagrees with it, there’s a conflict within the immune system. Although we are aware that the human body has evolved over the past hundred years into the industrial revolution, there is a balance with the body itself. We take in toxins everyday without our control (air, environment), but what we can control is the foods that goes into our bodies.
Just be aware of what these chemicals do TO the body apart of what real organic nutrients do FOR the body, and make the choice you feel is right for you. Good eating. -TH
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