Reading the label: nutritional supplements


One has only to mention the expression «food additives», and many will immediately imagine the unnatural bright orange colors of another sweet for children.

However, the term «food additives» covers more than just coloring matter. The list of additional substances that can be mixed into food during processing is quite long. All these substances are divided into several categories, and manufacturers add them to food products for various reasons, it is clear that additives such as preservatives are added to keep food from spoiling, and products with such additives can last longer on the store counter and remain safe for food. ingestion, other additives are used in foods and drinks to make them taste better and look prettier: for example, fillers are added to give bulk to food; there are additives designed to bind the ingredients or to keep them from clumping together.

Where do nutritional supplements come from?

Big list, right? And in each category there are many different nutritional supplements that are assigned a specific number according to the classification adopted in Europe (or «E number»). In total, 500 additives are allowed for use in food products by law. In addition, the food industry is allowed to use about 4,000 flavors that do not have their own numbers.

Many supplements, in fact, are of natural origin. They are added to food products not only as a substance that performs one of the functions described above; some of them also have additional positive properties, from a nutritional point of view. For example, vitamin E is added to vegetable oil so that it does not go rancid, but, on the other hand, of course, it is very useful when the product has a sufficient content of this essential vitamin. Or the carotenoid lycopene, a pigment used to give food its red color; it is believed that taking this substance in food in large quantities reduces the risk of heart disease.

What is a «European classification number»?

With the exception of flavorings, all food additives approved for use in the European Union are identified by the letter E and a specific number. Over the past few decades, these additives have earned themselves a very bad reputation, and in order not to once again scare consumers away from their products, manufacturers now most often give a list with the full names of nutritional supplements, without indicating their numbers.

At the same time, the very meaning of a food additive with a European classification number is that such an additive has proven to be safe for use in the food industry, and the products in which it is included comply with the standards adopted in the European Union. This is a very flexible system, and if any permitted additive is found to be unhealthy, it may forfeit its number on the list of additives permitted in Europe and, accordingly, be banned from use in food products.

Maximum allowable concentration of food additives

Based on the norms of «permissible daily intake» for each additive, its «maximum permissible concentration» in food products is determined. The «Tolerable Daily Intake» of a supplement is the amount that can be taken daily for a lifetime without harm to health. This amount depends on your age and weight. Those of you, especially children, who drink a lot of fizzy drinks that are loaded with coloring and sugar substitutes are at risk of exceeding the «acceptable daily allowance» of a given supplement.

Of course, what is really ruled out is that all additives are immediately added to all the foods we eat. But an amazing fact: the law allows for such a widespread use of additives that, according to various estimates, we eat about three kilograms of them per year. Usually we always know exactly what additives are present in the foods we eat — manufacturers are obliged to inform us about this. But regarding flavors, they may not give accurate information.

Are nutritional supplements helpful or harmful?

The answer to this question depends on whose point of view you stand on. Food manufacturers are likely to find them useful. There are just not so many preservatives among additives, but flavor enhancers and emulsifiers, clumping inhibitors and fillers are widely used in the food industry. With these additives, you can create a wide range of brightly colored «delicious» foods that can last a long time on the shelf in the store. Many modern food products simply would not exist if the structure of the product, its taste and color were not regulated with the help of food additives.

Some consumers prefer to buy foods that honestly state what additives they contain. Other consumers know that some additives can be harmful to health and avoid products that contain them. A list of nutritional supplements with a description of what problems in the body are most often associated with their use is given in the EXTRA section.

How to reduce the amount of consumption of additives?

If you’re looking to reduce your supplements because you’re sick of the idea of ​​eating hundreds of extra chemicals, then you need to get back to basics. That is, reduce the amount of processed food (semi-finished products, sweets, muffins, cookies, fruit and fizzy drinks, jams, mustard and similar food products), and give the main place in your diet to dishes from freshly chopped organic meat, chicken and fish, as well as fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits.

When you know how and why supplements are used to make foods and drinks, you can objectively assess whether or not you should include them in your diet and make them a part of your life. When you know what role they play, you can, for example, decide whether you want to buy dried apricots that have been treated with sulfur dioxide to keep the orange color of the fresh fruit, or whether you prefer to buy raw, dark brown ones (this is what dried apricots actually look like). ). Whether you buy plain yogurt and add fresh garden strawberries to it, or buy «strawberry flavored» yogurt that contains additives that give it a pink color and strawberry flavor, it’s all up to you.

The widespread use of additives has been criticized. First, and most importantly, some supplements are believed to cause adverse reactions in the body. In addition, manufacturers can use additives to ensure that the consumer does not notice that the product contains much cheaper ingredients than they think, for example, red dyes and meat flavors are added to hamburgers made from cheap fatty cuts of meat, which makes them look prettier. looks and tastes better. However, no matter what is added to them, for our body they have always been and remain pieces of fatty meat.

Source: Adapted from How to Read Labels by Amanda Ursell

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