Food additives: code, role and health risks

Additives are all clearly visible on the labels of the food products we buy. But what are they for? What are the potential health risks? A little clarification is in order.

The term “additive” designates any substance which is not a normal constituent of foodstuffs, intentionally added during their manufacture to improve their technological, organoleptic or nutritional qualities. Their use is limited to the maximum concentration of 1% (except in special cases).

The term “processing aid” is used to designate additives which have only a temporary effect during the manufacturing process, and which do not remain in the food, except in trace amounts.

The legislation provides that the consumer be warned of the presence of additives in the food: each substance is listed under a code number: E , followed by the category number, followed by 2 or 3 other digitsthus E 110 designates a colorant, E 210 a preservative, E 310 an antioxidant…..

The ADI (or Acceptable Daily Intake) is determined from animal experimentation and corresponds to the no-effect dose in the laboratory animal divided by 100 (e.g.: If an additive has no effect on the animal at a dose of 1g/kg of weight, an ADI of 10 mg/kg of weight for humans will be accepted)

Some additives are listed as being able to induce allergenic, irritant or carcinogenic reactions

Despite the recommendations of the “food codex”, many additives are authorized without toxicological data or without sufficient hindsight to assess the risks generated by their regular consumption. Numerous studies are in progress, concerning three major risks: allergic reactions, carcinogenic potential, metabolic effects (digestive disorders, decalcification, hyperlipidemia, kidney stones, etc.)

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NAMECODEDRoleIt is found in…Risks and Adverse EffectsTartrazine

Orange yellow S

Amaranth Erythrosine

E 102

E 110


E 127

yellow dye

orange dye

Red dye

Red dye

Yoghurts, syrups, ice creams, creams, liqueurs, sweets Risks of allergies (cross-sensitivity with aspirin) Amaranth

Patent Blue V

Bright acid green

E 123

E 131

E 142

Red dye

blue dye

Green dye

Caviar and substitutes

Sweets, pastry decorations, candied fruits, syrups

Carcinogenic potential Benzoic acid and derivatives From E 210 to

E 219

Preservatives Caviar, prawns

Non-alcoholic drinks


Carcinogenic potential

sulfur dioxide

And all sulfites and bisulfites derivatives

From E 220 to

E 227

Preservatives Wines, beers, ciders


Caramel dried fruits

Mustard, Mayonnaise

Irritants of the digestive tract

Inactivation of vitamin B1


Diphenyl and derivatives From E 230 to E 233 Preservatives Surface treatment of citrus fruits and bananas Allergic reactions of the skin and mucous membranes

Cause liver and kidney damage in experimental animals

Nisin E 234 Processed cheese preservatives Allergic reactions (antibiotic) Nitrites and nitrates From E 249 to E 252 Preservatives Charcuteries

Salted or canned meats

Interfere with the uptake of oxygen by hemoglobin

Formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines

Lactic acid

(of synthesis)

E270 Acidifier Sodas, confectionery

cheese dairy products

Potential for toxicity in young children Phosphates and polyphosphates E 450 Thickeners stabilizers Charcuterie


Processed cheeses

Block the action of digestive enzymes

Could induce decalcification in children

Salts or esters of dietary fatty acids From E 470 to E 480 Emulsifiers Biscuits, pastries


Sauces and seasonings


Could block the action of certain digestive enzymes and lead to intestinal disturbances Acids and derivatives of maltol


From E 620 to E 637 Strengtheners


Prepared dishes



Side effects on metabolism and growth

Neurotoxicity, headaches, malaise

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