The CHEM-ELEON iPhone app

Articles about your health, what you eat, our earth and lots of other stuff...


Chem-eleon - The Quick Guide to Additives


On my journey to a greener life I’ve made many changes to my life. One of the most important changes that I’ve made is to be more vigilant about what I eat and what I feed my family. I’ve always considered myself a healthy person who cooks the majority of my meals from scratch. I’ve never resorted to frozen dinners and my backed goods never come from a packet mix.

Even with this mentality it’s still been a challenge and I guess continues to be. One of the things that concerned me were all those numbers in the ingredients of the food I was purchasing.

Did you ever wonder why they are numbers and not named as the full ingredient? Think about it for just a second.....perhaps they don’t want us to know, because if we know what they are we wouldn’t buy the products.

It’s been cumbersome to find websites that list the numbers in a quick reference that I can check whilst shopping. So using the creative talent in my studio Ful-vue and my skillful husbands technical skills, we’ve managed to create an iPhone app that I hope will uncover the secret identity of those little numbers so that we can all easily find out what we’re really eating!

We hope the sales will help us fund EarthFirst, and even if that doesn’t happen at least I now have myself a quick reference that I can use when I do my weekly shopping.

My kids enjoy using it and it keeps them entertained when we shop in the local supermarket, as I read out the numbers for them to look up on my iPhone. As most mums would appreciate, that alone is probably worth it!

So that’s the background to our latest venture, and now for the facts:

Food producers have over 14,000 laboratory-made additives available to help them make food appear fresher and last longer on the shelf. While some additives are harmless, others can cause allergies, asthma, nausea and many other ailments including heart disease and cancer.

Some experts recommend avoiding foods listing more than five ingredients or ingredients that are longer than three syllables. What ever you decide, at least now you have the information to make the choice.

The less highly processed food you eat, the fewer additives you’ll eat. Try to replace processed food with fresh food and you’ll be on your way to a healthier diet.

The different types of food additive and their uses include:

  • Anti-caking agents – Help ingredients from becoming lumpy.
  • Antioxidants (300 range) – Prevent foods from oxidizing and going rancid.
  • Artificial sweeteners (900 range) – Increase the sweetness of foods.
  • Bulking agents – Increase the volume of food.
  • Colours – Used to enhance and colour to food.
  • Emulsifiers (400 range) – Used to stop fats from clotting together.
  • Flavour enhancers (600 range) – Glutamates are used to improve the flavour and aroma of food.
  • Foaming agents – Help maintain uniform aeration of gases in foods.
  • Food acids – Used to help maintain the right acid level.
  • Humectants – Help to keep food moist.
  • Glazing agent – Help to improve the appearance of foods.
  • Gelling agents – Enhance the smoothness and texture of foods.
  • Mineral salts – Enhance flavor and texture of foods.
  • Preservatives (200 range) – stop microbes from multiplying and spoiling the food.
  • Propellants – help propel food from a container.
  • Raising agents – increase the volume of food through the use of gases.
  • Stabilisers and firming agents ( mostly in the 400 range) – maintain even food dispersion.
  • Thickeners and vegetable gums ( 400 & 1000 range) – enhance texture and consistency.

Below is the list of the worst  additives that you should try to avoid:

102-104, 110, 120, 122- 124, 127, 129, 132, 133, 142, 143, 151, 153, 155, 160b, 200-203, 210-213, 220-228, 249-252, 280-283, 310-312, 319-321, 335, 385, 431, 435, 436,  541, 554-556, 620-627, 631, 635, 943a, 950, 951, 952, 954, 1201, 1520

Additives to consider avoiding, because they are suspect:

150a, 150b, 150c, 150d, 160c, 160e, 172, 173, 174, 175, 201, 210, 225, 300, 338, 342,  359, 363, 368, 405, 407, 407a, 409, 421, 433, 466, 408, 507, 511, 512, 518, 519, 530, 560, 576, 579, 622, 624, 625, 640, 900a, 943b, 944, 946, 956, 957, 962, 965, 966, 968, 1400, 1403, 1404, 1412, 1422, 1521

Young children and asthmatics particularly should also consider avoiding these ones:

162, 163, 200, 202, 203, 212, 216, 218, 235, 261, 270, 296, 301, 302, 311, 336, 337, 349, 380, 410, 420, 422, 472e 477, 503, 508, 509, 510, 514, 570, 623, 901, 904, 943b, 953, 1200, 1401, 1402, 1405, 1420

Some quick facts to inspire you to eat a healthier diet:

  • Natural additives aren’t necessarily safer than artificial ones. The natural colouring annatto (160b), for example — typically found in margarine, Cheshire cheese, smoked fish and cakes — can cause allergic-type reactions in some people.
  • Drinks that contain a combination of sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate (212) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C, both naturally occurring and the additive 300) can result in the formation of benzene, a known carcinogen. The amount of benzene formed can increase if exposed to heat and light during transportation and in storage.
  • The use of food additives in Australia is governed by the Food Standards Code and regulated by FSANZ.
  • Children who have lots of drinks that contain a form of benzoate such as non-cola soft drinks, orange juice and cordial could be exceeding the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for Benzoates.
  • Some breads contain Calcium propionate (282) which is used to prevent mould growth. Various inconclusive reports have stated that it’s been linked to migraines and behavioral and learning problems.
  • Some wine and dried fruit containing preservatives sulphur (220-228) can trigger asthma attacks.
  • Flavor enhancers such as Glutamantes (621-625) can be found in many packet soups, flavored noodles, sauces and savory snacks. People sensitive to monosodium glutamate (MSG, 621) may have short-term reactions such as headaches, asthma attacks and numbness when they eat foods that contain large amounts of MSG.
  • If the additive present in an ingredient makes up less than 5% of the complete food product or is not considered to perform a technological function in the final food it doesn’t have to be listed.


What do you think?