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Food additives and preservatives. What do they actually mean?

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FLIZZBANNERS

With family life seemingly busier than ever, it’s hard to take the time to break down food labels and try to understand exactly what additives and preservatives are in your kid’s foods. Pure Goodness writer Felicity Gatfield helps crack the code.

You often see the words “no additives” or “no preservatives“ on food packaging or in advertising, but what do they actually mean? Preservatives are a type of food additive that are added to food to prolong shelf life and prevent the products from getting broken down by microorganisms.

What are food additives?

A food additive is defined as any substance that is added to food to achieve a technological function, which could include preserving or altering factors such as taste, texture or colour. Food additives aren’t actually foods themselves, so they’re also not classed as ingredients. Food additives can be obtained from nature or they can also be synthetic (artificial). Some food additives that occur naturally in foods include vitamin C or absorbic acid (300) that is found in fruits.

In Australia, it is a requirement of the Food Standards Code that all ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount of the food they make up by weight. The food additives are required to be identified by their class name and individual name or code number.

Are food additives safe?

Most food additives are safe and have been approved for use in Australia, however there are a growing percentage of the population who have adverse reactions to food additives. One factor to consider is the increasing amount of allergies and intolerances in our society. The number of those with allergies to food ingredients such as peanuts, is steadily increasing. This might be because people are also experiencing reactions to food additives that are currently considered ‘safe’?

There are over 400 additives that have been permitted to use in Australia, and around 50 of them have been proven to cause some kind of adverse reaction. This can occur from natural and synthetic additives, as well as from the chemicals that are found naturally in foods such as salicylates and amines.

Common food additives that cause an adverse reaction include:

  • Nitrites 249, 250 and Nitrates 251, 252
  • Sulphur Dioxide 220 and Sulphites 221-228
  • Butylated Hydroxanisole (BHA) 320 and (BHT) 321
  • Tartrazine (102)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) 621

It is amazing just how many products contain MSG and you don’t even realise. MSG can be labelled either as MSG, flavour enhancer, glutamate, 627, 631, 635, or ribonucleotide. Next time you pick up a packet of flavoured chips or flavoured biscuits, read the labelling, it will probably contain some form of flavour enhancer – MSG!

So why should we avoid MSG? It can cause:

  • burning sensations of the mouth, head and neck
  • weakness of the arms or legs
  • headaches
  • upset stomach
  • hives or other allergic-type reactions with the skin

Not every family can afford to buy organic produce, or have the ability to buy ‘health food’ products. However, it is easy enough to choose natural and fresh products when you do your shopping. Read the back of the labels and think to yourself, do you really want you or your children consuming these artificial chemicals? If your child hasn’t been sleeping well, or has been irrational with their behaviour, look back on what they’ve eaten that day!

Felicity from Pure Goodness will be launching a new lunchbox ebook with 20 recipes perfect for school lunches. The recipes contain hidden vegetables and fruits, without making them seem too ‘healthy’ to children. There are recipes for healthier versions of  Tiny Teddies, Roll-Ups, muesli bars, and many other packaged foods, but without the added sugar and preservatives. ‘Like’ the Pure Goodness for Kids Facebook page or subscribe to the newsletter to find out when the book will be available.

More on food and healthy eating:

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