Food additives can be found in practically all industrially manufactured products. They make them last longer or improve the taste, aroma or texture.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines food additives as substances that are added to food in order to maintain or improve its harmlessness, texture, freshness, taste or aspect.
Some of them have been used for a very long time, as is the case with salt, for example, which is a perfect preservative. However, other food additives were only developed using modern industrial processes.
The use of additives is initially justified by technological necessities. The main aim is to guarantee the correct preservation of the food, to maintain the nutritional quality or to improve the stability.
However, food additives are also widely used to improve taste or texture. In theory, they must always take into account the recommendations of the relevant authorities, such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
Classification of food additives
The food additives have different origins: some are plant extracts, animal or mineral components, or synthetically produced substances. The industry uses thousands of additives that are added to food for specific purposes.
The WHO and FAO differentiate between three large groups of food additives:
- Flavoring substances: These substances improve the taste or aroma of the food
- Enzymes: These are natural proteins that serve as catalysts for chemical reactions and must not be present in the end product.
- Other additives: These include, for example, colorings or sweeteners.
Food additives and health risks
Each country has specific organisms that analyze the effects of food additives on human health. At the international level, the WHO and FAO are responsible for this. They have formed a mixed team of experts on food additives, the Joint FAO / WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
In order to know whether certain substances are harmful or not, the daily permitted dose is taken into account. So it is about the amount of the additive in a food or drinking water that a person can consume per day without causing any health changes.
Determination of the risks
The health risks from the consumption of food additives are specified in the Codex system . Several intergovernmental organizations are involved, which assess the hazards of each substance and draw up a list, draft standards, guidelines and recommendations.
The first step in risk assessment is to identify the potential hazards. Among other things, toxicological aspects are taken into account.
After this analysis, it is necessary to determine the recommended daily amount in relation to body weight. There must be no health risks. Then possible dangers are characterized.
The most famous side effects
Food additives can trigger different reactions. Substances that are not approved, but are used anyway, are particularly risky. Medically, there are three major groups of reactions:
- Allergic reactions: It is an immune response to substances that can cause allergies. These include dyes, for example.
- Intolerance or idiosyncrasy (hypersensitivity): The causes of intolerance are mostly unknown.
- Endocrine disruptors or neurotoxicity: This occurs when the substances affect the synthesis or release of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Food additives: what are the side effects?
Food additives can cause various symptoms or illnesses. We have compiled a short list of the most common symptoms, but there are many other side effects.
- Discomfort of the respiratory system, such as asthma or rhinitis: These are usually caused by dyes that act on the central nervous system.
- Skin complaints such as rashes and contact dermatitis: This is often caused by preservatives and dyes.
- Impairment of the central nervous system and the endocrine system.
Food additives: Final remark
Food additives are present in most of the manufactured foods that we consume on a daily basis. It is therefore very important to read the product description carefully when shopping in order to identify any harmful substances. If you have an allergic reaction to a food, you should definitely get a medical examination!