Vlog – ‘Introduction’ : Script and Link

Link to the vlog – Mathew Bose Introduction. In which I try to explain why I’m doing this…!

A more or less transcription of the vlog is below:

I don’t know about you but I find the billions of pieces of nutritional and health advice that are hurled at us morning, noon and night a tad overwhelming so I’m trying to find some kind of path through it all here.

I’ll be exploring all the things I find interesting relating to all things health and nutrition..and probably more besides because I love a tangent…

This will be a kind of virtual scrapbook for all the things I think are worth investigating and learning about to help me take charge of my own health care…and hopefully you’ll find some of it interesting too and perhaps even useful…!

I think the key to a good general health, in the modern western world, lies in understanding exactly what stands between us and a healthy lifestyle – which to me means one filled with relatively disease free, graceful ageing!

There are, in fact, 5 established barriers to healthier choices which are headlined as biological, time, economics, social and psychological. All pretty important and necessary to explore in their own right – and, of course, many of us have several at once!

But I think there is an overarching, super headline, to all these – knowledge. Knowledge is key to overcoming all the barriers. Knowing how things work, knowing what the effect of foods, exercise, water etc has on your body, knowing the ways to avoid unhealthy choices and so on. Knowledge is power, right? The power to gift ourselves a good healthy body and mind.

I think many people turn to nutrition because of their weight or an illness draws them into thinking about making changes. As time goes on it becomes clearer and clearer to me that imposing something, such as a diet, on your body rarely works. There may well be results within the short controlled initial period but then what..?

It is logical that we should be working in unison with our bodies and our minds, right, not bolting something on and forcing it to submission.

There is a new understanding regarding our bodies and health these days and the old ‘rules’ we were brought up on like ‘fat makes you fat’ and ‘just eat less and move about more’ are being proved to be false and useless.

So, everytime we are advised to follow some nutritional rule for our greater health I’m asking why? Eat less sugar? Yes, ok…but why? Don’t eat refined carbs? Ok, great…but why? Do some exercise? Sure, but why? And so on…because I think understanding the why to these things will make it easier to follow and achieve what is actually a lifelong, lifestyle change.

I’m also hoping to use the answers to these questions to build some kind of framework, a blueprint from which to begin to overcome these barriers and build a strong body that can heal itself and consequently change our lives for the healthier…for good.

Common sense suggests many things contribute to this. Our genes, the food we eat, the life we lead, our financial and geographical access, our mentality and so on…

If we were able to strip back everything to discover exactly what we have to do to live a full, vital, healthy life what would that look like? Is it possible to find out definitively? Is it possible to achieve even? And ultimately would we want to do the necessary things to achieve it?

I don’t want transient faddy waffle – I want actionable and practical things to do to reach my optimal health and if I find them I will bring them to you. And I hope, in turn, you’ll show me things and together we will be un-stoppably awesome.

Link to the vlog here.

Power balls…

Ok. So we know sugar is the proverbial Devil. Boo to sugar! We wave our banners and we join the marches to ban it from our lives before it kills us. Out! Out! OUT! Fists are shaken at the sugary world  around us and tears are shed about our waist lines. But all the while we have our minds on that secret Curly-Wurly in the glove compartment…right? Oh, just me then…#awks

Anyhoo…moving on.

One thing that is definitely true is that it’s harder to kick any of these worst habits when those around us are indulging happily and have no intention of paying any mind to the warnings from either their own bodies or any health experts. It takes mega will power and single minded focus. Of the many established barriers to healthy eating one is the thorny subject of who buys the food that comes into the household and why. This person is referred to in the health world as ‘The Gatekeeper’. A rather Hollywood title for the person lumbered with the weekly shop. We shall look at this minefield and enormously responsible job, that is fraught with pressure, elsewhere.

From the many people I’ve discussed this with I hear the same complaint and wrangle. Upon returning they are faced with the likes and dislikes of those that don’t do the shopping peering into the fridge and cupboards disappointed at the lack of their favourites. The lack of sugar laden, vitamin stripped empty calories which they see as the ideal foodstuffs. The stoic Gatekeeper then begins the Nutritional Value of Food lecture from the very top for the umpteenth time but gets the same response. Unprintable but easy to guess! I feel their pain and admire their tenacity but I also know, more often than not, it ends in a defeat. The biscuits and the crisps return alongside the mostly ignored healthier offerings…two types of bread now instead of one and so on…

In my house – I’m The Gatekeeper. I rule. BUT I also know that inside me there is a Curly-Wurly chomping, prosecco swilling version of myself with the the most alarmingly cavalier attitude to nutrition. So, I understand that look on His Nibs face that reads a tad disappointed that there isn’t a packet of dark chocolate covered digestives (the ideal breakfast apparently) and no Hoola Hoops (the ideal snack apparently – especially when eaten with a block of cheese! The Hoola Hoop becomes a kind of mini cookie-cutter when pressed into the cheese…oh lord…ok, I admit it’s rather nice actually but cannot be condoned!!)

So, the birth of the Power Nutrition Ball. The PNB.


These little beauties pack a sensationally healthy punch and provide sweetness that (hopefully) can satisfy the cravings. As you will know (and I’ve banged on about endlessly on here) sugar creates addiction and the weaning from it can take some doing. It should be a slow process that essentially begins with the retraining of your tastebuds away from sweet and into a more general, multi dimentional palate.

Just a note here to say that although sugar is usually targeted as a specific single item to avoid in its various forms – the word ‘sugar’ should also be taken to include all refined grains, juices, alcohol, processed foods and even fruit to some extent. Basically anything that ‘acts’ like quick release sugar in the body or has hidden sources of sugar in it. And I’m here to tell you that’s a hell of a lot of stuff. You’ll be amazed actually…

Even these PNB’s have dates in which some would argue are a concentrated hit of ‘sugar’ but more about that anon. I wanted to create something that would pack a good nutritional punch, be slow release and yet actually be nice to eat!

Here are a couple of my favourite mixes so far but honestly there are many more variations of this and you will want to adjust and exchange things as your palate and inspiration dictates.


You will need a food processor. I use a mini bowled one. Either way, but especially with the bigger processors, always check that the mixture is fully integrating as you go along. As with all my so-called recipes I am rubbish at amounts as I made it up as I went along. So the quantities below are a rough guide. There are a couple of things that I will point out. I would add the ingredients in the order below as the oats and seeds need to be pretty finely chopped/powdered.




Then add the other stuff slowly because if you go too far and want a drier mix it’s harder to add oats in later as they don’t chop finely enough and you’ll have to do them separately and blah, blah, wrangle, wrangle…

4 tablespoons organic rolled oats

1 tablespoon of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseed)

1 tablespoon cacoa powder (I use a blend that comes with powdered flaxseed and berries too)

5 organic medjool dates

2 organic prunes

1 organic dried fig

1 – 1.5 tablespoons nut butter (I used cashew here)

Makes about 25-ish

OR try these:


3 tablespoons organic rolled oats

1 tablespoon of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseed)

1 tablespoon cacoa powder (I use a blend that comes with powdered flaxseed and berries too)

2 organic medjool dates

11 raspberries – as that’s how many I had left!

1 tablespoon organic nut butter (I used almond here)

Makes about 15-ish – and the dry ingredient amounts here will perhaps need a tad of adjustment due to the fresh fruit element.


As you add the dried fruits the mixture may ‘ball’ together but remain ‘choppy’ – the nut butter will ‘clump’ everything together (these are all technical terms I’ll have you know!) What you are after is a mixture that presses together firmly and stays ‘glued’ – if it’s still crumbly when pressed then add more nut butter.

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Keep in mind you will be chilling these so they ‘set’ a little. If you are making bars then you might even want the mixture firmer to hold that shape. BUT do keep pressing bits to check the consistency as you don’t want it too claggy as you’ll never roll the buggers and there’ll be temper tantrums. Guaranteed.

A heaped teaspoon full pressed and rolled firmly between the palms creates the finished product. If you’re old enough to remember plasticine or were poor like me (cue violins…) and plasticine was a considered a luxury toy (those violins are deafening…!) then you’ll know the technique for squishing this mixture together without any further ado. Others will take longer to master the wily ways of it. Some posh, flashy folk then roll these in cacao powder or desiccated coconut…the options are many! As with everything it’s all about your own tastes and experimenting to find the exact combination that rocks your tastebuds!

Keep them chilled and they last for a while and, of course, can be carried around for snacking during the day – keeping you away from that beckoning Curly-Wurly!

Good luck!

A smattering of nutrition info regarding some of the above:

OATS: Oats are instantly better than many processed grains as the hulling process doesn’t strip them of their ‘bran’. Also, they contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan which can slow down the absorption of sugars creating a slower release of glucose energy into your system. It is also thought to bind to fats slowing their absorption too and subsequently assisting the reduction of ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Oats contain very good sources of the minerals phosphorous (bone structure, healthy functioning of cells) and magnesium (nerve and muscle function and key to the production of energy) and the trace minerals manganese (needed for bone and skin health and helps regulate blood sugar) and molybdenum (assists in the detoxification of the body). It has a good hit of B-vitamins and that all important fibre – both soluble, mentioned above, and insoluble too which ‘scrapes’ through the intestines keeping everything moving along nicely!

Oats are technically gluten free. However, they contain a protein called avenin which is similar to gluten so those who are coeliac may still be sensitive to them – but the real problem lies in the fact that many are prepared in places where other gluten rich grains like wheat, rye and barley are produced making them susceptible to cross-contamination and unsafe for coeliacs. So, if you are avoiding gluten then search for pure oats that have been produce in a gluten free atmosphere.

DATES: Dates are an ancient bite size powerhouse of vitamins and minerals bound with great fibre. Naturally sweet and easy to digest so you can make full use of their health benefits. All round lush then…!

CACAO: Cacao (cocao) is generally believed to be a good source of antioxidants but the presence of flavonoids gives it its current healthy image. Flavonoids are a class of phytonutrient (the chemicals plants use to fight disease and bacteria) which are responsible for the pigmentation in the plant. They are getting a lot of attention in research these days as consumption of them is thought to give vital support to the main body systems (like the nervous and cardiovascular) and they are powerful antioxidants too, plus have anti-inflammatory skills which also assist the detoxification of the body.

BUT before you rush out to buy ten boxes of Milk Tray – the powdered cacao bean is more nutrient rich than the end processed result that we know as chocolate. The further the original roasted and ground beans go into the processing procedures the less the nutritional value. That’s why a 80% dark chocolate bar is going to be heaps better for you than a Curly-Wurly…but you guessed that, right?!

Green bread anyone…?

The other day I was sitting down to lunch with a few others at a canteen type location and while they all tucked into the catering offerings, I was preparing a lunch for myself that was about to cause some quiet sensation.

The first comment was, ‘@$*!ing hell…! Is that bread moldy!?!’ and it went on from there. Fair dos really as I was smearing cashew butter and avocado onto what looked, for all the world, like a piece of bread currently sporting a lab bacteria experiment. It wasn’t obvs.

It is quite simply my homemade bread as shown in this previous post Awesome Bread…! but this time with spirulina. The added ingredient responsible for the scrunched up noses and suspicious looks!


Quite frankly I’ve taken to adding spirulina to my bread because it’s about the only way I can actually enjoy it! The packaging, along with many websites, extol the virtues (fact) and suggest it is delicious sprinkled and added to a variety of things like smoothies, pasta sauces, stir fries, dips and dressings (fiction). It has a deep earthy taste that turns claggy and bitter in your mouth and smells like weeks old water that a bunch of flowers has sat in or a stagnant pond. This latter is not that surprising when you know it is actually blue-green algae.


Actually, blue-green algae is the more accessible term adopted for what is, in truth, a type of bacteria that grows in water by harnessing the warmth and power of the sun. Merrily it has photosynthesised itself into creation, quietly going about its bacterial business for eons when some bright spark comes along and discovers, what this unicellular ancient mariner knew all along, that it’s a powerhouse of health and goodness.

So, why spirulina?

Good question and one that, as with most things, requires a slightly lengthy answer! Well, I’m not famed for my simple answers am I? And, after all, health is a serious business.

It has been credited with many health benefits – some borne out by research and generally accepted to be true, and others that remain the subject of doubt and debate. As with all things labelled ‘superfoods’ (awful expression) its health benefits are seemingly endless. So, hopefully, it:

  • is an all round brilliant anti-oxidant
  • helps balance blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • assists in the protection against stroke, cancer and anemia
  • helps raise the ‘good’ cholesterol HDL and lower the ‘bad’ cholesterol LDL
  • is generally anti-inflammatory especially in cases of allergic rhinitis
  • is generally immune boosting and assists the body with fighting auto-immune diseases
  • supports and assists healthy gut bacteria function…

…even if it does a little of each of these or simply assists with just one then it’s worth a go, right?

It’s the amount and quality of the protein that gives spirulina it’s reputation – a rare plant based protein that is a complete protein – meaning it contains all the essential amino-acids (called essential because they are vital for the body but cannot be made by the body, unlike non-essentials, so must be provided through the diet). It’s variously reported to be between 65 and 70% protein – which make it one of the highest of all known foods. It could rival eggs as the poster child for complete protein outside an animal product (I might add that a poached egg on this bread is a divine combination – a marriage of the super-proteins!)


It is similarly lauded for its essential fatty acid content. The ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 in spirulina is considered ideal. Usually we have too much Omega 6 compared to Omega 3 in our diets but it’s not that either is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it’s really about the amount of each. They have their own benefits but the source and ratio to each other is the key factor. The ideal Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio is anywhere from 1:1 up to no more than 4 or 5:1. Spirulina is 1.5:1…!

It has no hard outer cell wall so is easy to digest and is low in fat and sodium but high in protein and packed with vital minerals especially copper and iron, but it has a good dose of others like manganese and potassium too. It has small amounts of just about every nutrient we need. Although high in several key vitamins from the B group its claim to be high in vitamin B12 is seemingly untrue. Long has a search gone on for a plant based vitamin B12 to help the diets of vegetarians and vegans (the best sources of vitamin B12 are animal products) but the truth seems to be that the vitamin B12 in spirulina is what’s known as a pseudovitamin and therefore not effective in humans.

There is (currently) an added feel good factor to spirulina as it has an almost singular reputation of not being detrimental to those communities who harvest it, unlike other fashionable foods like coconut water. It is also being investigated as a way to combat world hunger and malnutrition. That’s no casual statement as its hardy ability to grow just about anywhere and survive just about any conditions, coupled with its host of health benefits and mega protein levels, actually make it seem like a proper contender.

So get adding it to your bread mix because perhaps it does deserve that superfood moniker after all…?


The health benefits of the spelt flour and various seeds used in this bread are all explained in the bread-making article Awesome Bread…!


Banana bread or muffins…(no added sugar)

Got some of these…?


It happens. Those good intentions of eating the whole bunch through the week. Well, this is a perfect way to use them and, in fact, I go to my local Co-op and search out the most over-ripe ones deliberately. So horrified is the lady there that she gives me them discounted and clearly thinks I’m a loon.

Makes 6 largish muffins or 1 loaf .

Pre-heat oven to about 190

200g of flour (I use a combo of wholemeal and Spelt – too little gluten will make the muffin heavier – but experiment with just about anything you fancy or have lying around)

1 tsp of baking powder

½ tsp of bicarb of soda

100g of dried fruit (I use strawberries, cranberries, cherries and blueberries. Supermarkets pre-pack and pre-weigh these…the darlings. But anything you fancy obvs. Go crazy. Figs are lush in this. Also, feel free to use fresh berries and fruit but all fresh with no dried can make the end result a bit mushy)

4 medium size super ripe bananas

1 tbs of butter – I believe in butter and strongly disapprove of any other versions and ‘spreads’…urgh even the word is grim.

A good dash of vanilla essence – I use a cap full

1 large egg

120ml of milk or quarter pint-ish? – sometimes the mixture doesn’t need as much or even any milk. It depends on the squishiness of the bananas and the amount of butter you’ve hurled in. You just need to judge this by eye when the time comes.

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In a mixing bowl put the flour, baking powder and bicarb and mix well. Then add the dried fruit.


Mix well to coat. Then squish the bananas into this mixture and give them a good bashing.

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I like to get involved so I tend to use the best universe-given implements around and mush the bananas into the mixture with my hand. It’s very therapeutic…this is the point when recipes usually say twee things like ‘kids’ll love it!’ but I unashamedly admit that I love it!)


In a separate bowl place the butter – I melt it for simplicity’s sake with a quick blast from the microwave but you could just do the following with soft butter and beat it (all very violent isn’t it?) all into submission – and add the vanilla essence.

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When the butter has cooled a bit (if nuked) break the egg into this and whisk together with gusto.

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Add the whole lot to the dry mixture. Gently combine. Don’t over mix.

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Then slug some milk in if needed. Dunno exactly how much really I just sling some in until it looks right (helpful eh?!?) Remember sometimes it doesn’t really need it! ‘Til it looks like this:


Divide into the muffin tin, or pour into loaf tin, and cook, rotating if necessary, for about 30 mins – depending on your oven and if you’re using a loaf tin it will definitely take longer (maybe another 15 mins or so) but once a cocktail stick (I use a chopstick – because it’s to hand) comes out clean, well, clean-ish (as the texture of this is so dense) it is/they are done baby!

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Allow whole loaf/muffin tin to cool on a rack for a while, maybe 30 mins, and then remove the loaf/muffins onto the rack and allow to cool fully before storing in air tight container until needed for healthy snacking. Or sling a scoop of ice cream over while they’re warm for a lush dessert…which ain’t so healthy but totally rocks.

The unrefined and different varieties of flour make for a less spongey and springy product. This combo makes a dense and compact loaf which I much prefer. I want a rib-sticking, slow release snack for energy but with mega taste. You must, as ever, do as you please…


Awesome bread…!

Ok, firstly I have to admit I make this in a bread machine…if that makes me wrong then I don’t wanna be right, baby! Yes, I like making bread from scratch and the visceral feel of it is luscious and the getting down and dirty with the ingredients is compelling but…I’ve got heaps of books lying around unread…so it’s all about priorities. A friend makes a sourdough loaf (which is lovely) born from a jar rescued from an episode of Quatermass, which takes ALL DAY to wrangle. Lord have mercy…and say no more…

Second point about this bread is that it is something I made for myself initially without thought to recipe posting but only thinking of my diet. It’s a splendid mix of complex slow release carbohydrates with proteins and micro nutrients that make it almost a dietary sin NOT to eat!

Incidentally, as always and ever, I use the word ‘diet’ as in food intake (literally ‘the diet’) rather than those ridiculous Tenko style regimes of eating that only fools put themselves through in vain efforts to lose weight. Diets don’t work!! It’s an eating life style change that is needed…and breathe…(someone burn this soapbox please, I’m boring myself….)

So it goes something like this (I know people bang on about the exact science of baking but I have made this loaf a hundred times and each time with some variation and fluctuation in amounts for various reasons (usually because I’m too busy talking…) and it’s ALWAYS turned out gorgeously):

340ml of warm water (what with my eye sight and the ancient plastic jug I measure with this is an average figure!)

500g of wholegrain spelt flour (I suspect other whole grain flours work but there’s a gluten content fluctuation wrangle which I simply cannot get into here – anyway the steely eyed silver fox Mr Hollywood has covered this a zillion times)

1 and a half teaspoons of fast acting yeast

2 tablespoons of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil (cos that’s what I have – other olive oils will work too – avocado is a good option)

Handful of mixed seeds – I use pumpkin, sunflower, linseed (flaxseeds) and sesame seeds because that’s what comes in the packet I buy! Also, I know ‘handful’ isn’t very useful but I never measure it and it’s a question of taste too. I s’pose it’s anywhere between 50 – 100gs

Optional – 75g of mature organic cheddar – or just break a chunk off and grate it in like I do…don’t judge me! I like a more ‘savoury’ bread so this completes that taste spectrum but just leave it out if you don’t fancy it. Please yourself. Please.

I don’t add any salt and I add the ingredients to the machine in the order above. I then set the machine to rapid bake (shortest baking time setting) and press start.

It’s arduous I must say…I am completely knackered after all that effort and need to sit down and read my book for an hour…well, for 58 minutes actually cos after that it’s done!

Now my machine produces the most wondrous loaves, perfectly cooked and browned on all sides and the bottom…but not the top. Dunno why and I suspect there’s a knack but I’ve got into the habit of chucking it under the grill for a few minutes to sort it out that way. Bit Heath Robinson I’m sure but nonetheless delicious. Actually…I only did this once and completely for show. Now I can’t be arsed so I just eat it with it’s paler top. Tastes the same after all…

Obviously, due to the lack of anything resembling a preservative this loaf will not keep for very long. Depending on how many people and how much bread you eat etc. it will keep for a few days in an airtight container but get crumblier and probably be in need of a toasting to rejuvenate it! To avoid this I slice it when it is cool and freeze it to use whenever desired (I place pieces of foil between the slices to prevent them sticking together and me having to launch them at the counter top in an attempt to free a single slice…the voice of experience!) It toasts beautifully from the freezer in a toaster and provides an anytime chance for a healthy snack.

If you are not making this in a bread machine then be aware that the gluten in spelt is much more delicate than it’s modern cousin wheat and needs more careful handling. Halve both the kneading and the proving times than those of wheat, especially the latter because if the loaf goes too far during the proving process it will collapse and ruin. The more fragile nature of the gluten in spelt also means it is easier to digest and often those who are wheat intolerant can manage it.

Spelt has a far broader range of nutrients (especially minerals) than it’s modern day relatives and the wholegrain element of it is the clincher. I cannot say this often enough but fibre is an utterly vital part of your dietary intake, yet it has to be the most overlooked.

Seeds are a gift from nature to our health. Portable and easy to fling into just about anything, they pack a substantial nutritional punch for their size! Their speciality is minerals and these elements of our body’s function are often mysterious I think so I’m listing them here to show, at least, how intrinsic they are to our survival.

Pumpkin seeds are noted for their high mineral content, especially zinc (used throughout the body to maintain efficient flow of all processes, boosts immune and nervous system function, used to metabolise carbohydrates and protein, maintains the prostate, helps the formation of insulin and collagen, used in the contraction of muscles) and manganese (helps metabolise fats and proteins to create energy, used in the forming of healthy bones, tissues, nerves and cartilage and for a healthy reproductive system). The seeds have vitamin E (proper functioning of the reproductive and immune systems, prolongs the life of the red blood cells, maintains nerves and muscles, helps metabolise polyunsaturated fatty acids, powerful antioxidant value (especially fats in cells), anticoagulant – said to reduce the risk of heart disease, reduces blood pressure and promotes healthy hair and skin) but also versions of vitamin E that are also a key part of the complex antioxidant processes within the body, providing the body with a better antioxidant platform than just regular vitamin E by itself.

Sesame seeds are noted for their mineral content too. They are high in copper (used to make red and white blood cells, vital for infant growth and brain development, assists immune system (and helps defend against infection), used for strong bones and blood vessels, protects nerve tissue and as an antioxidant it mops up and deactivates free radicals), magnesium (part of the strong bones and teeth triad of minerals and helps build body tissue, used in the muscles to create contractions, assists nerve function, used to activate metabolism and energy production, used in enzyme activation for regeneration, said to be useful against PMS as it combines with calcium to form a natural muscle relaxer) and calcium (essential for strong bones and teeth, used in nerve and muscle function and signalling, used in the muscles for contraction (including heartbeat), blood clotting, said to lower risk of colon cancer, regulates fluid balance) but also contain iron (needed for making haemoglobin (in red blood cells) that transport oxygen/carbon dioxide to and from cells, used in growth, energy production and metabolising B vitamins, helps fight fatigue and resist disease through assisting the immune system, assists the body remove unwanted substances) and phosphorous (used in all the chemical and metabolic processes of the cells and their structure, works with calcium to grow and maintain strong bones and teeth, involved in regulating the heart, kidney function and nerve impulses, helps maintain the HP balance of blood).

Sunflower seeds are high in polyunsaturated fats (Omega-3 and Omega-6 the two essential fatty acids the body needs yet cannot make), the antioxidant vitamin E (also cardiovascular benefits and anti-inflammatory effect on the body’s systems) and the minerals magnesium and selenium (powerful antioxidant (working with vitamin E) mopping up free radicals, used in proper functioning of the immune system, reduces inflammation, used in male reproductive system).

Linseeds (flaxseeds) are noted for their Omega-3 content. Of the two essential fatty acids Omega-3 is the harder one to get into our dietary intake and flaxseeds are a brilliant way of doing this. Incidentally, the ground up version is widely available in supermarkets now and can be flung in just about everything, which is especially useful if you’re not a fan of the other great way to get this essential fat – oily fish! Omega-3 is vital for reducing the inflammation throughout your body, keeping cells lubricated, key part of the regulation of fat storage and release, inhibits the thickening of arteries and is thought to battle the growth of cancers. It also becomes a gum like fibre when ‘processed’ and slows the digestion of foods to allow for the proper ingestion of nutrients.


Eggs are eggs right…? Part 3

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, on each store bought egg there is a Lion Brand Stamp. This means the egg is produced in a place that has vaccinated its hens against salmonella and also tells you something about the way the hen is being treated. Just to the right of the stamped Red Lion is a number, each indicating the farming method:

0 – organic
1 – free-range
2 – barn
3 – caged
In the last post we looked at the darkest of these – number 3. Please read that and further articles, of which there are many brilliant ones on the net, to fully comprehend that warning you off these isn’t just some hippy-dippy beaded protest, it’s a real and diabolical human travesty against hens that we must not be a part of. Please. I thank you…
So, what of the other ways of farming hens…? The RSPCA only cautions against ‘caged’ eggs. Everyone agrees that the caged system is grim, but the real controversy starts beyond those methods. The numbering system implies a better condition and better product as it counts down and the price counts up. BUT are they really that much better? Is there a clear winner in the short term and a long term solution? First let’s look at the other options beyond the caged system.
Number 2 refers to the ‘barn’ farmed hens and their eggs. Now, doesn’t the word ‘barn’ conjure up all sorts of homestyle images of the sun setting on wheat fields and idyllic country life? Ahh how nice! Well, not for the hens, of course, as it’s basically it’s a huge metal hangar (not so romantic now eh?) The British Egg Information Service (www.britegg.co.uk) says of barn hens:

The hen house conditions for barn hens are set by the EU Welfare of Laying Hens legislation and stipulate a maximum stocking density of 9 hens per square metre of useable area (which is still pretty crowded btw – MB). Hens must be provided with nest boxes. Adequate perches, providing 15 centimetres of perch per hen, must also be provided. Litter must be provided, accounting for one-third of the ground surface – this is used for scratching and dust bathing.

The RSPCA agree that this is generally ok and allow their Freedom Food logo to be used on these eggs but it’s hardly ‘freedom’ is it? Well, it’s definitely a step up from the cages and at least there can be some perching and dust bathing and the multi-tiered barns allow for some up and down flying too. However, critics say the birds are trampling about in their own waste products, stressed by overcrowding, disorientated by the artificial light and never take in a scrap of fresh air their whole lives. The birds are stuffed together and still fed continuously for maximum egg production so does the chance of spending a few moments on a 15cm perch really equate to adequate conditions for the hens and does it therefore make for good healthy hens and eggs?

Further to this, it seems that the next level of egg production, labelled ‘Free Range’ and stamped with the number 1, is only the barn version but with ‘access’ to outside space during the daylight hours. There’s a hitch here straight away. Hens are naturally not keen on going out into wide open spaces as they fear aerial predators. The British Lion Code legislation requires vegetation (ground) and outdoor shading or a veranda (for those Tennessee Williams style hens that want to sit rocking in a porch swing smoking a cheroot) but hens prefer overhead covering to their vegetation (so they can feel safe scratching about for insects and dust bathing) so they tend NOT to go out of the pitifully few and small portals (ironically called ‘pop-holes’) that are provided and remain in the barn…so essentially a barn hen with a bigger price tag. Are these eggs producers likely to create safe outside spaces for their hens? No, of course not, it wouldn’t be economically viable to them I suspect…right? And hens shouldn’t smoke anyway…naughty hens…

Critics further slam (‘slam’ is so tabloid isn’t it?!) these methods by pointing out that the hens spend an inordinate amount of time subsequently jostling with each other inside rather than risk the outside and continue to bully, and even cannibalise, each other (so often have part of their beak removed – not very ‘free’ range is it?) not to mention wading through their own waste products which can lead to ammonia burns. Hmmm…not so good huh?

The ‘Organic’ eggs stamped with the number 0 are the same as Free Range but with legislation governing the soil  and feed. Both these have to be certified as organic to meet the EU and British Lion Code standards. I think it’s telling that the organic standards are the EU stipulated ones (although be aware that many other countries in the EU have yet to comply with the EU laws governing caged hens so…) but the Lion Code people add a further stipulation, rather smugly I feel, ordering the ‘pop-holes’ for organic hens be larger. But this is admitting that the other hens are having to ‘pop’ through an inadequate hole isn’t it?! Oooh we’ve made their access to the outside world, fresh air, sunlight and chance to display natural habits (and the smoking veranda no doubt) bigger! Aren’t we just the nicest? Don’t you just love us now? And you don’t really mind us charging you more for that either do you? Ahhh thanks mugs…er…we mean, thanks lovely consumers…

Ok sarcasm is the lowest form of wit (but the hardest to master…) and I think you get the point. Is it a scam? Are we being jipped? Incidentally, I like the fact that the organic eggs pictured above say ‘eggs of different sizes’. Naturally hens lay different sized eggs and usually never the ‘large’ variety unless forced…the size (in this case) does not matter. Large eggs are only used in recipes as a failsafe and a medium, more naturally sized egg (at least for the hens ‘vent’ – don’t get a visual), is perfectly adequate. Think on…anyhoo I digress…

Also – farm shop eggs and farmer’s markets don’t have to be stamped as they operate outside the British Lion Code system so check with them that they are not just caged hens.

Only a small percent of eggs come from a barn or organic system in this country the majority being ‘colony’ ‘enriched cages’ and ‘free range’. Half the eggs produced in this country come from the caged systems. The supporters of ‘colony’ eggs (enriched cages) will talk of the better stability for the hen and that cages allow for their waste to be carried away and how they can control all the elements and create a consistent product, even boasting that the yolks are naturally coloured (from Maize) BUT isn’t it the unsettling nature of the system that means we should choose the eggs from the freer, less ‘treated’, less stressed hens? And some ‘experts’ argue that the nutritional value between caged soya etc fed hens and organic is marginal. But this is like eating fortified flour or cereals – the natural version of a vitamin is the best and a synthesised version is an isolated fake one that has MUCH less benefit. DO NOT be fooled! Vitamins and minerals work in groups and with a natural synergy, they depend upon each other in fact! I almost ‘shouted’ that last bit…I’m getting over excitable in my old age…

So you could argue that none of this is ideal. There is clearly room for improvement all round and in every system of egg production, but until that happens I’d say avoid caged hen products as much as possible, don’t you think? The price difference for better quality and more humanely produced eggs is around 25% more but even at this slightly higher price they are an excellent source of high quality protein (again, you get out of the egg what has been put into it…good or bad) and much cheaper than most other sources like meat – and worth it – especially as both the health of the hen and your health are at stake.

Additives…the big picture…

Food additives are defined as natural or synthetic substances used in the commercial processing of food in order to preserve, add flavour, colour and/or texture. Home made food is eaten straight away or further preserved by freezing, but commercially produced foodstuffs need to have a longer shelf life for purposes of transportation and storage. Bacterial growth would ‘spoil’ most foods long before they arrived in the supermarkets, let alone your fridge or cupboards, without additives.
Food additives are closely controlled by EU law and there is an extensive process through which the additive has to go to be placed on the list of allowable substances. An argument often put forward is that if microbes are killed, or at least their growth slowed, by these preservatives then what are they doing to the cells in our body?! EU regulation is very strict and rigorous testing is used to determine whether there is any danger to humans on any level as well as the projected long-term use. The ADI (Allowable Daily Intake is then further reduced by a safety factor of (usually) 100. Some additives are considered so safe they don’t even have an ADI however. So, those that do have ADI’s can be eaten at will due to the safety factor? Or should we be circumspect about the potential bioaccumulation of the strictly controlled additives especially? Once a substance has passed through the EU  testing process it is given an E number. This approval is then monitored and is also reviewed in line with any emerging scientific data.
The E stands for Europe, which really goes some way to demystifying the whole shebang. When I first became aware of E numbers, and probably ever since I’ve heard the name, there has been a negative connotation to them. Hyper active kids, headaches etc. I’ve always supposed this to be true as I’m sure many other people have too. But do they really deserve such condemnation?
To determine this we need to look at what the E number is actually for. The claims, from not only government bodies but from health experts too, are that the majority are completely harmless at any level and some are even potentially good for you. Many are just for show (colour and emulsifiers) and others are there to preserve and stabilise.
Most additives are now legally required to be listed in the product ingredients. These days, in response to the negative connotations to E numbers, manufacturers usually go with the full names of the additives (and the reason for their use – but not the ADI limits I notice!) rather than simply using the E number. But as we will see, the issues of their safety and necessity are not as easy to unravel as you might expect. What is seemingly clear and evident is often not as cut and dried as it perhaps should be. It was ever thus within the food industry eh?
So let’s educate ourselves and see what’s what…

Antioxidants E – numbers from 300-399

When foods are exposed to oxygen they begin to break down and decay (oxidation) and this causes discolouration, rancidity and can change/destroy the nutritional value of the item (e.g. they are used to prevent vitamins combining with the air and being destroyed). Antioxidant additives are used to stop or delay these processes. Foods made using fats or oils are likely to contain antioxidants too even if they are low in fat, as they help prevent decomposition especially when unsaturated fats are involved. The decomposing fat reacts with the oxygen creating the release of peroxides which we know by that characteristic rancid fat smell. Grim…

Many processed and prepackaged products contain an antioxidant; a majority contain citric acid (although vitamin C** (ascorbic acid/E300) is also widely used). Citric acid (which occurs naturally in fruits such as lemons) is used extensively to prevent discolouration, help increase the antioxidant effects of other substances and, in some cases, help regulate the PH balance (marmalade, jellies etc). Ascorbic acid is used to prevent discolouration but largely to replace vitamin C**, or add it back in to, any products where it might have been lost in processing or needed for an extra vitamin boost to the product (fruit juices etc. especially orange juice).

**However, this is contentious (isn’t everything?!) as many noted experts have pointed out that added elements such as ascorbic acid, retinoic acid and types of tocopherol (…er…sorry getting carried away!) I mean, added elements labelled as vitamin C, vitamin A or vitamin E, are not the actual vitamin at all but just a lab created isolation of them (synthetic versions needed to replace the naturally occurring versions lost during processing – especially vitamin C which is destroyed by heat). The essential theory being that vitamins are complex compounds that need to work within a set of multi level parameters and so creating an individual molecular compound from them might well work as a preservative or antioxidant etc. but does not therefore consequently also work within the body as a fully fledged vitamin. I.e. you’re getting the vitamin just not any benefit. The American company ‘Real C’ use the analogy: ‘If you compare Vitamin C to an egg, ascorbic acid would be just the egg shell with nothing inside’. Hmmm…

There are only a few available to producers in the EU and the most popular/frequently used in processed foods are:

  • Ascorbic acid (vitamin C/E300)
  • Citric acid (E330)
  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole/E320)
  • Tocopherols (vitamin E group/E306-309)

BHA and BHT are considered safe in the small doses used by the food industry (for the protection of fats and oils in foods) as they perform better at high temperatures than their natural equivalent vitamin E, but they remain contentious to pressure groups.

Synthetic and natural versions are often used in combination as this can increase their effectiveness. The arguments for the inclusion of antioxidants extend past their usefulness for food preservation etc., but to their reported use in the body for fighting free radicals. These ‘unpaired’ electrons are a danger as they ‘attack’ other molecules to gain a pairing. Antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E especially, stabilize these electrons by ‘donating’ one of theirs and as they are stable in either state (paired or unpaired) they do not become a free radical themselves. Increasingly, however, the results from major clinical trials are claiming that too many antioxidants in the body can be dangerous. A good intake is found in balanced, varied diets with fruit and vegetables, but the imbalance forms when the ‘added’ antioxidants are also factored in from processed and fortified foods. Some of these research reports are arguing that some antioxidants do indeed become, at least temporarily, radicals as they are only neuralised by another member of the antioxidant team. Again, this supports the need for a balanced diet of varied antioxidants to ensure there is no imbalance in the levels of a particular antioxidant, which might leave the body vulnerable without enough other antioxidants to restore the balance. Think on…

MAP or EMAP (Modified Atmospheric Packaging or Equilibrium Modified Atmospheric Packaging) are further examples of antioxidant additives at work. The process essentially replaces the oxygen within the sealed packaging (meats, seafood, crisps, salad bags etc.) with higher levels of CO2 (anti-bacterial and anti-fungal) and Nitrogen (inert gas used as a filler) and used extensively to prevent further ripening or spoilage and discolouring. Which also explains why the salad ‘goes off’ so quickly after the bag is opened – the rush of oxygen begins to decompose the leaves immediately.

Preservatives – E numbers 200-299

Various ways to make food last longer have been employed throughout history. Unless another method of preserving the food has been used, like freezing or canning, then any food that has a clearly prolonged shelf life is likely to include preservatives. More traditional preservatives such as sugar, salt and vinegar are still used to preserve some foods but just as likely is some kind of added (probably synthetic) preservative. Most are added to prevent the growth of molds and yeasts but they have some anti-bacterial properties too.

Microbes are everywhere. They are in the air, in the earth, inside our bodies and in the food we eat. Microbes will multiply in the right atmosphere by their millions, and in a really short time, so the certain ones that break down foods are the ones the preservatives are attempting to stop or at least slow them down. Different microbes react to different preservatives so there are many used in many everyday products and foods. Without them the food would not only deteriorate quickly it would also subsequently allow bacteria that cause deadly illnesses like botulism and salmonella poisoning to spread (especially in animal products).

A common example is that dried fruit (drying is a form of preserving in itself) is often treated with sulphur dioxide (E220) to stop further deterioration. One very important use of preservatives from a food safety angle is its use in processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami and sausages. They are usually treated with nitrite and nitrate during the curing process as bacteria in the meats can cause fatal food poisoning. It is often argued as an example of the benefit of preservatives, in fact, that the tiny ‘safe’ amount of the preservative used far outweighs the potential damage from the deadly bacteria’s they negate.

Many advantages are gained from adding preservatives and generally preserving food. It not only keeps food safer for longer from deterioration or poisonous bacteria, but this allows for increased availability of out of season produce or items that are not native to be transported. Convenience for the consumer is another added value (although can mean the price of the goods is higher) and not only does this mean less wastage but also prevents the need for regular shopping, which is an advantage to many.

Most popular/frequently used in processed foods:

Benzoate preservatives:

  • benzoic acid (E210)
  • sodium benzoate (E211)
  • potassium benzoate (E212)
  • calcium benzoate (E213)

Sulfite preservatives (E220 – E224)

Nisin (E234)

Propionic acid (E280)

Nitrite preservatives:

  • sodium nitrite (E250)
  • potassium nitrite (E249)

Sorbic acid (E200)

Potassium sorbate (E202) – a synthetic preservative used for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

There has been a lot of contention over the use of preservatives in food and there are a number of them in frequent use that have been targeted as not particularly good for us. They are regulated and maximum levels are set to well below amounts that could be deemed at all dangerous. Concern is largely over the accumulation of these ‘tiny, harmless amounts’ over time could increase the risk of cancer. Also, sugar and salt, whether added for flavour or to assist the preservative nature of processed foods, are also under fire. Their over bearing presence in processed food is a mainstay of the argument against it. I’ve discussed the horrors of sugar at length previously, here. And discussed salt here.

Common preservatives that are listed as those to avoid are nitrates (Potassium nitrite and sodium nitrite (E249 and E250) – preserve colour and help fight bacteria – stabilising and flavouring too AND nitrItes are considered worse than nitrAtes), sulphites (prevents discolouration), sodium benzoate (preserves against fermentation or acidification), BHA/BHT (preserves fats and oils – as an antioxidant) however without these there is no longevity to foods and there might be many more cases of food poisoning.

Some health experts associate nitrates and nitrites with asthma, headaches and nausea in some individuals. Sodium nitrite is said to converted to nitrous acid within the human digestive system, and this substance has been associated with high rates of cancer in laboratory animals. Reports show allergies to benzoic acid and sodium benzoate can cause severe reactions.

These preservatives are also argued to be safe (not only by the regulators and manufacturers but by some health officials too) and in some cases the preservative is actually promoted as beneficial. These are commonly used and include ascorbic acid (vitamin C)**, critic acid (and to enhance sour flavours) and sorbates (fight bacteria and yeast).

**see above

So, while it is more than likely ‘urban legend’ that bodies are not decomposing in the ground due to the large amount of preservatives eaten in a lifetime (although some sources are adamant it is true and it’s possible that they are adversely affecting the bacteria that usually break down the body after death) it is safe to say that they’re not exactly good for you. The body is still required to break down the chemical and foreign compounds and it would really rather not have to do it too often…and research shows the digestive system struggles to extract any nutritional value from highly preserved foods.

Food colouring E – numbers from 100-199

Colours are added to foods to make them look more appealing or more like the colour that consumers associate with that food. ‘We taste with our eyes’ it is said to describe the results of tests that show consumers thought something tasted better if it was the expected colour. They are also used to replace the natural colour lost during food processing or storage, to enhance the natural colour or to make products a consistent colour. They are even used to give a colour to an item that might otherwise be colourless like the Skittles above. Some groups argue that adding colour is unnecessary and misleading as well as raising concerns over their safety.

The EU laws currently allow 45 colours and also control what foods they are used in and maximum amounts allowed – usually extremely small amounts in all cases. The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) tests for safety (and re-evaluates these results) and issues the ADI’s.

Colours commonly used:

  • Curcumin (E100), a yellow colour extracted from turmeric roots.
  • Plain caramel (E150a), which is used in products such as gravy and soft drinks
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2 – E101)
  • Beta-carotene (E160a)
  • Amaranth (E123)

Colourings for food are either synthetic, created from natural sources or ‘nature identical’. Natural food colourings come from plant sources such as fruit skins, vegetables, grasses and roots. The red colourant carminic acid (E120/cochineal) comes from the dried and crushed bodies of a type of insect.

Manufacturers often prefer synthetic colours as they are stable and consistent, often brighter than the original, and usually cheaper to make. It also means a colour like, the above-mentioned carminic acid, can be recreated without the inclusion of the insects! An added advantage is that the synthetic colours need no further processing to be added to foods as they are water soluble as opposed to the oil soluble natural and nature identical colours which need a further processing stage to be useable.

However some colours, especially those called the ‘azo dyes’ are associated by some pressure groups to behavioural problems in children (especially ADHD) and others with skin problems and certain cancers. The UK Food Standards Agency requires a mandatory warning of the presence of six artificial colours (that combined with the preservative sodium benzoate have been linked to increased hyper activity in children), passed a voluntary ban(!) and publish a list of brands that produce items without these colours.

EFSA reduced the ADI of these three of the six most contentious colours too:

  • Sunset yellow – E110 – typically found in orange flavoured drinks and cordials, apricot jam, marmalade and packet soups.
  • Ponceau 4R – E124 – (banned in the US as a result of its link with cancers). Used in dessert toppings, jellies, trifles, soups and salami.
  • Quinoline Yellow – E104 – used to dye smoked haddock (an alarming yellow colour!) and egg products like scotch eggs. But more typically found in lipsticks and some medications

However, it did not reduce these three:

  • Carmoisine – E122 – used in jams, yoghurts and jellies.
  • Tartrazine – E102 which is the colour most strongly linked to hyperactivity in kids. Tartrazine is actually a yellow dye and can be found in a lot of yellow coloured foods (such as ice cream) and is the base for the creation of many other colours (used as a primary yellow).
  • Allura red – E129, typically found in sweets, soft drinks but also in medicines.

The research and studies conducted have proved to be inconclusive regarding any links to problems caused by these colours at the amounts allowed etc. As with any of these issues if you are concerned about the potential harmful effects then it’s best to avoid the foods with any substance of concern contained in them.

Emulsifiers E numbers 400-499

Emulsifiers are the chemicals needed to create an emulsion. Therefore an emulsifier is an additive that keeps two substances, which would usually naturally separate from each other, mixed. In food this is usually oil and water. There are oil-in-water or water-in-oil versions used*. They are used in many food products and are vital for the texture, ‘conditioning’, stability, even taste and indeed structure of the product, many of which would look very unappealing and/or be more vulnerable to spoiling without the emulsifier. Products like bread would be uneven (large holes would be visible) have less size and a drier texture without emulsifiers. Ice cream, margarine and mayonnaise are other foods that are completely reliant on emulsifiers for their structure and texture.

*(Due to emulsifiers having two distinct parts to themselves, one that likes to be in oil and one that likes to be in water, when they are added to either version (oil-in-water or water-in-oil) they will coat the appropriate element and keep it from clumping together and consequently separating into their own layer within the product. So, in essence, in water-in-oil emulsions the emulsifier coats the water molecules to prevent them separating from the oil and vice versa in oil-in-water emulsions).

Nature has many perfect emulsions such as the usually quoted example of milk, where the fat molecules are perfectly suspended in the surrounding aqueous solution. These are usually some form of protein or phospholipids (enables oil-in-water emulsion – e.g. lecithin)

Commonly used emulsifiers are either purified natural versions or synthetic versions that are ‘copies’ of the natural and have very similar structures. The most usual are:

  • Lecithin (E322)
  • Mono/di glycerides of fatty acids (E471)
  • Esters of monoglycerides of fatty acids (E472a-f)
Gelling agents, thickeners and stabilisers

Similarly to the emulsifiers these are used to create shape and texture and therefore make the food look and ‘feel’ good. Thickening and stabilizing additives work with the emulsifiers to do this, especially in water-based products that would be runny and/or unappealing without them, or would deteriorate during processing, transportation or cooking. The longevity and regularity of the structure of processed foods relies on these additives and indeed marks the key difference between what we make for ourselves, without these additives, and the foods we buy fully expecting long shelf-life, the ability to freeze and store etc.

Without gelling agents many jams, jellies etc. would never set and remain stable (pectin added), fruit pie fillings would become runny and soak through the pastry long before reaching a consumer, and their use in soya protein products ensures that the soya product remains in tact even at high cooking temperatures.

Gelatine provided a key way to gel and set foodstuffs for many years but the animal source means that more often all-dietary issue inclusive alternative options are used such as carrageenan. Gelatine is made by boiling animal carcasses (all bones and tissue) and the collagen turns to gelatin that can then be used as a powder or in sheets. Its effectiveness is also reduced by the presence of acid so pectin works better with high fruit content items such as jam.

The most commonly used are:

  • Gum arabic (E414) from plant secretions (sap of the acacia tree)
  • Guar gum (E412) extracted from guar beans
  • Locust bean gum (E410) from the endosperm of seeds of the carob tree
  • Xanthan gum (E415) from fermenting glucose or sugar
  • Agars (406) extracted from specific red algae
  • Carrageenan (E407) extracted from several types of, usually farmed, red seaweed (as used in the jelly crystals element of the trifle mix above*)
  • Pectin (E440) extracted from fruit such as citrus peel or remainder pulp from pressed apples
  • Starch (E1401-1451) isolated from many different sources such as potatoes, corn, wheat and cassava and from chemical modifications
  • Carboxymethyl cellulose (466) made through a process of reacting cellulose with acids (a very common thickener)

*The jelly crystals element of the trifle mix also uses two chemicals disodium phosphate (a multi functional additive which can be used as an acidity regulator, stabilizer, emulsifier and/or to prevent coagulation) and potassium chloride (usually used as a salt substitute and/or and flavour enhancer).

Specific thickening agents added (whether gelling agents and/or stabilisers) are also used to provide bulk and fibre as their gum like properties are tasteless, odourless and have practically no calorific content.

Flavouring and Flavour enhancers Flavour enhancers  – E numbers 600-699

The brain creates taste as a combination of taste and smell and even sight. Consumers have a taste expectation based on visuals, olfactory aspects either before or during eating, and past experiences. The flavourings are added to actually impart flavour or enhance it (either by intensifying it or supporting it without adding another taste).

Common everyday flavour enhancers like salt and sugar are used to bring out the flavour in savoury and sweet foods by supporting the original taste. Others like lactic acid and citric acid are used to assist in the creation of specific sour or fermented tastes. The most famous (or infamous) flavor enhancer is monosodium glutamate/E621, which has been much vilified for it’s reported side effects (the so-called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome) although repeated testing has reported it as safe to use. The additional taste of umami (a Japanese scientist discovered this ‘taste’ and added it to the existing sweet, sour, bitter, salty – deriving it from seaweed) that MSG provides is a much sort after extra element in foods and other more ‘natural’ versions are available to provide this much desired flavour layer.

Lab created artificial sweeteners and other flavour enhancers routinely come under fire from health groups as they are thought to breakdown into toxic and neurotoxic chemical compounds when inside the body and increase the risk of disease in many parts of the body.

Natural flavourings are costly and often inefficient to extract so imitation copies are made and provide a cheaper, more stable (for longer term storage) and more reliably consistent additive. Flavourings are added to a wide range of foods and usually in very small amounts just to give a particular taste or smell. Flavourings are additives but they don’t have E numbers because they are controlled by different laws. An ingredients list will say if flavourings have been used (sometimes adding natural when appropriate), but individual flavourings are usually not named.

Nutritional additives – fortification

Fortification is the practice of adding micronutrients to food products. Directly to the product or to the animal feed that will therefore boost the content of the meat or other animal products as a consequence. The practice began in the West in the 1920’s with the USA ‘fortifying’ salt with iodine, with the 1930’s and 40’s seeing the mandatory addition of vitamin D to milk and various vitamin B’s to flour. The UK followed suit with the mandatory fortification of flour with calcium, iron, and B vitamins thiamine (1) and niacin (3) – none of which are required subsequently to be listed in the ingredients list. Similarly margarine is fortified with vitamins D and A. The idea was to provide a mass public health benefit when fears were that these nutritional elements were lacking in the general national diet (or within deemed vulnerable groups) by adding fortifying micronutrients to mass consumed products (bread, water, salt etc).

The FDF (Food and Drink Federation) gives three reasons for fortification – restoration, substitution and enhancement. The micronutrients are added back to white and brown flour (not whole grain) because they are contained in the bran that is removed during the milling and refining processes (restoration). Margarine has added vitamins to give it the similar levels to that of butter allowing for an alternative product with similar nutritional value (substitution). Many breakfast cereals have micronutrients added to them by the manufacturers to increase the commercial value (enhancement – and this must be revealed on the product label). Commonly fortified foods include breakfast cereals, soya milk, infant formula milks and many baby foods.

Vitamin D fortification is currently much discussed as the natural food sources are few and the risk from sun damage is of increasing concern to many. There has been much talk of the addition of folic acid into a variety of foods (the USA already does this) as it is often recommended as a supplement to certain sections of the population. However, it is this very ‘blanket delivery’ that the pressure groups, against such ideas, contest.

The supporters of fortified foods claim they can play an important role in a healthy balanced diet and provide the opportunity for easy and consistent intake as opposed to supplements that may be more randomly taken, and perhaps not at correctly metered delivery levels. Strict regulations control the additives both in the UK and overall by the EU. The fortification process can therefore be used to safely deliver various nutrients to the groups that need them without them needing to change their eating patterns and without further expense to the consumer (but you can bet your life the manufacturers will increase the unit price to compensate themselves). Developing countries have had huge success with these policies and in the UK, successful examples that are sited, as support for the system, are the decrease in key nutrient deficiency in women (folate, iron, vitamins D and B2 etc.), the eradication of iodine deficiency (provided by dairy foods and credited to the sterilisation process the cow’s teats go through), and the benefits to vegetarian and other specific diets groups of the fortification of foods to compensate for and/or enhance them to reclaim any potential short fall through the consumption of only plant sources.

The official governing bodies claim these fortifications have made huge differences to the rates of common deficiencies, however, pressure groups against the fortification criticise the lack of review of these laws (not reviewed since 1981) claiming that they are not relevant as the national diet has changed hugely since their introduction (the war years that triggered the inclusion of calcium, for instance, were times of low dairy intake compared to now when the intake is high). These pressure groups also say that the milling process damages higher levels of nutrients than the industry claims and replacement vitamins are not as effective, and certainly not as natural (as discussed above in ‘antioxidants’), as the original the grains contained. Further criticism is that many manufacturers are being accused of using fortification as a way to promote and entice the buying of their processed foods which is in turn increasing the consumers intake of sugars, fats and salt.

Raising agents

Raising agents are additives (liquid or powder) that are there to ensure the product not only rises but also has an even texture. For instance, a well known raising agent, bicarbonate of soda/baking soda (E501) or technically sodium bicarbonate, reacts with the mixture around it (the acidity in it as well and the moisture) when heated and produces bubbles of gas (carbon dioxide) which expand and raise the mixture around it and then becomes encased in the mixture as it cooks and sets creating a uniform and stable structure and texture. Baking powder is bicarbonate soda and cream of tartar mixed (with a starch usually) to be a more all-in-one raising agent because the cream of tartar (E336(i) – a by-product of wine making) provides the acidic element needed to trigger the bicarb soda.

Natural processes like whipping air into egg whites or batter, sifting flours and rubbing fats into them all assist in the raising and structure of baked goods, and similarly using water to create steam during the baking process will raise the mixture around it up till it sets when cooked, such as the process used in making Yorkshire puddings. Yeast is another natural raising agent multiplying in heat and fermenting therefore forming the carbon dioxide and alcohol that will expand and burn off in the cooking process leaving a firm structured and well risen product…well, that’s the theory…


Sweeteners were developed to replace sugar after sugar was discovered to be the cause of tooth decay and linked to obesity related diseases. The idea behind them being to provide the sweetness but not the same energy intake and still give the sweet element to taste that many people are used to, and perhaps even addicted to. Sweeteners cannot completely replace sugar as the sugar element in some processed foods, like cakes, also performs other functions such as retaining humidity (humectant) and provides bulk and structure to the finished product.

Typical products that use sweeteners heavily are:

  • Sodas, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks etc.
  • Sweets/candy – chewing gum and mints are reliant on sweeteners.
  • Desserts, ice creams etc.
  • Many baked goods and processed foods both sweet and savoury, including dressings and sauces
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Many medicines

Commonly used sweeteners are: (they are gauged for their sweeteness against sucrose – the chief compound in cane and beet sugars aka table sugar…yeah the white stuff that you all know I love to hate…!)


  • Aspartame (E951) – sweetness value 200 times higher than sucrose.
  • Aspartame-K (E950) – a synthetic compound that mixes well with other sweeteners to create either more complex taste or greater levels of sweetness. It has a sweetness value 300 times higher than sucrose.
  • Saccharin (E954) – a synthetic compound that is rarely used alone now and 300 times sweeter than sucrose.
  • Sucralose (E955) – the ‘strongest of sweeteners with sweetness value of 600 times that of sucrose.


  • Sorbitol (E420) – carbohydrate like structure but only just over half as sweet as sucrose. A preferred sweetener for diabetic purposes.
  • Xylitol (E967) – created to match the sugar sweetness of sucrose so it is much sweeter than sorbitol. Used in similar quantities therefore to sugar and sold in shops in bags to use as such. It is a naturally occurring substance in many plants and suitable for diabetics and even heralded as an active anti-cavity aid as it prohibits the growth of bacteria (it’s chemical composition means bacteria and yeasts cannot make use of it to ‘feed’ themselves).

‘Artificial’ or ‘intense’ sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame-K are many, many times sweeter than sugar and are only needed subsequently in very small amounts. Increasingly these are used in combinations to create ‘superior taste profiles’ which mirror the complexities of the natural taste of sugar and require fewer sweeteners over all. The defense of their use therefore notes that this not only creates tooth-friendly foods but also reduces calories significantly due to the minute amounts used.

‘Bulk’ sweeteners like sorbitol (used as a combination humectant, sweetener and emulsifier), xylitol and maltitol (E965 – used as a combination sweetener, humectant and stabilizer) can have from 35% – 100% similar sweetness to sugar and so they are used in similar amounts to sugar. They are also tooth-friendly and are considered suitable (or at least more suitable) for diabetics as they have a significantly reduced glycemic index, although they have laxative properties if consumed in large amounts resulting in mandatory warnings on the products packaging.

Sweeteners also became popular as part of weight loss programs. Sugar began to be replaced with non-calorific or reduced calorie sweeteners in many popular items (this was also a boon for diabetics (especially sorbitol) as mentioned above).

However, the opposition to sweeteners is strong with pressure groups claiming no good and proper evidence exists to prove that sweeteners do anything whatsoever to help weight loss, especially. In fact, they say the evidence is strongly available to show the opposite. In essence, the theory is that sweeteners cannot trigger the ‘reward centre’ in the brain in the same way as sugar and then the brain triggers further appetite stimulation to intake the calories (especially carbohydrates) that the sweeteners have created a desire for (in the mouth). Similarly some anti-sweetener groups say that the brain triggers insulin release just based on the expectation that the sweetener creates in the mouth, regardless of the reward centre, potentially causing insulin spikes etc. More on this in a future post…

Some sweeteners have been linked to cancers in lab animal testing research further raising concerns over their safety especially cumulatively when eaten many times in many products throughout a day. Other noted issues are sleep and anxiety disorders, triggering epilepsy and interference with the progress and efficaciousness of medications – especially anti-depressants (sweeteners are often in medicines too). I’d say the evidence stacked against sweeteners (especially aspartame, aceslulfame-k, saccharin and sucralose) and their effects on fundamental body systems and functions are enough to avoid then until a convincing and conclusive study proves otherwise!

My previous missives (rants) about sugar are here and here!

Re the labeling of the Hartley’s jelly above with the following: ‘Contains a source of phenylalanine‘. Phenylalanine is considered an essential amino acid and needs to be taken into the body through diet (animal protein and dairy products contain good sources) and it is needed for vital neurotransmitter functions. However, it is said to be harmless to a majority and the warning is there to protect those with an inherited metabolic disorder that means they cannot tolerate it. It is present in aspartame (therefore Equal, NutraSweet etc.) and a further issue is the bioaccumulation of consuming many products containing phenylalanine. Intolerance aside phenylalanine is contested as anything from a mild anti-depressant to a laxative and blamed for hypertension and headaches.

Anti-caking agents

Anti-caking agents are added to food products to ensure they remain free flowing and prevent them from clumping together, and subsequently this means the product can retain it’s long shelf life and be used at any point in an even manner. Main examples are powders like dried milk or cream, drinking chocolate, soup or cake mixes and items like icing sugar, grated cheeses and salt. The additive is needed as without it there is a high possibility that minute water absorption (atmospheric humidity) would cause the product to clump together and rehydrate, causing it to spoil and/or be difficult to use. Sometimes the anti-caking element is added before processing and is often for the safeguarding of the machinery involved as much as the end result produced and it’s journey onwards. Sugar and powdered milk will lump and stick together during processing, packing and storage without the early addition of the agents.

The most commonly used anti-caking agent (multi-functional additive) is:

Silicon dioxide (E551) also called silica and is essentially sand (although amethysts and quartz are versions too…although not used in food processing…!) It is also thought to be a useful mineral to our general health being part of collagen and used to make our hair and nails. It is found naturally in many foods like fruits, oats, nuts, beans and leafy greens and is added as an active ingredient to supplements as well as its use in flavourings and powdery mixes and as an enhancer.

Other manufactured and mineral based anti-caking agents include magnesium carbonate (E504), calcium silicate (E552), dicalcium phosphate (E341) and sodium aluminosilicate (E554). Naturally sourced agents are potato starch, kaolin, and talc.

That’s it! Phew…!
Read a chart complied from various countries laws regarding E numbers ad their safety:

I understand what Stefan Gates means when he said he thought he might be committing professional suicide by making his series about E numbers back in 2010 as he started out to vilify them and ended up celebrating them. Mostly.

See his fascinating blog here:
Other thoughts:
Basically if it is a natural, unprocessed food and not in any packaging, it probably only contains natural e-numbers which are unlikely to cause problems. If you are buying packed or processed foods then look on the labels. By law in Europe and the United States most classes of packaged foods have to show their ingredients. In Europe many of these will show up as e-numbers.
The major issue with eating foods with lots of E numbers in them is that they tend to have lots of sugar or fat in them, meaning you take in the wrong proportions of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. And that’s much worse for you than a strictly controlled chemical preservative.
E numbers tend to be prevalent in cheap, nutritionally low food. Whilst the E numbers themselves may not be harmful, the food it is in is. A preference for natural food, or food which we make from scratch using fresh ingredients can only be a good thing. Not only are ready meals and snack food bad for us, they are also on average much more expensive.

Eggs…part 2: the battery farmed hen…

Firstly, lets remind ourselves that hen’s would naturally place themselves into hierarchical flocks (hence ‘pecking order’), forage for food on the ground around them (they are omnivorous and eat insects, seeds, plants etc), lay eggs in a nest, flap their wings, ‘bathe’ in dust and dirt, and perch. So, let’s consider the various wording and labels on eggs in the supermarket, and where the eggs we are buying fit into the spectrum from as near to natural as possible through to the force farmed, mass produced versions.
Under EU law the egg boxes must clearly declare how the hens are kept and each egg must be stamped with a code that further reveals the origin and method of feeding. This handy diagram from the www.egginfo.co.uk website helps us decipher the code:
Lets look at this from left to right. According to the official www.lioneggs.co.uk website:
‘The British Lion mark denotes eggs produced to a stringent Code of Practice incorporating the latest research and advice on Salmonella and eggs from scientists and vets. British Lion eggs account for more than 85% of UK egg production. The Lion Quality mark, which is a registered trademark, can only be used by subscribers to the British Egg Industry Council on eggs which have been produced in accordance with UK and EU law and the Lion Quality Code of Practice. The Lion Code of Practice is monitored by an independent agency in accordance with the EN 45011 standard. Farms and packing stations are regularly audited, including unannounced audits.’
But does the Red Lion stamped on the egg really mean anything of any actual importance? In 1988 when Edwina Curry announced in cavalier fashion that most of the country’s eggs were contaminated with salmonella, the sale of eggs plummeted and the poor outspoken dear was forced to resign. Let’s not let the personalities overshadow the facts. There was indeed a severe and dangerous problem with salmonella in eggs at the time and the Lion Quality Code of Practice and associated branding came in to attempt to rectify the loss of faith in the egg industry. This voluntary code is subscribed to by egg producers to show their hens are vaccinated against salmonella, and the eggs come with a ‘best before’ date for added assurance to us punters. Incidentally, many small scale, local, free range/organic places don’t vaccinate and claim, with some good sense, that their eggs are not from hens ever exposed to the deadly bacteria and not living in an environment where they are remotely likely to be exposed.
Ok, so that’s a plus point (ish) but what about the quality of the hen’s life and environment? Again I specifically ask this as these factors directly affect the egg and its nutritional value. Maybe like me you associate words like ‘free-range’ with open fields and no chemical enhancements, and make necessary assumptions, with no available further indications, of what ‘barn raised’, ‘colony raised’ and ‘organic’ actually mean. Incidentally, wording like ‘farm assured’ and ‘farm fresh’ mean bog all, so try to ignore these and focus in on the facts.
Just to the right of the stamped Red Lion is a number, each indicating the farming method:
0 – organic
1 – free-range
2 – barn
3 – caged
Let’s start with ‘caged’:
Clearly using the number ‘3’ looks less grim and off putting than using the word ‘caged’. This refers to battery cages, the original types which were banned only as recently as 2012 throughout the EU, and now replaced with so-called ‘enriched’ cages. Bizarrely it took years to get these first cages banned. With an average of four hens in each cage each hen had no more than a space the size of an A4 piece of paper to stand in and it could only just stand upright. The wire cages were stacked high upon each other with up to 100,000 hens reported in the largest factories. The cages pulled their feathers out and rubbed their skin raw and unable to expression any natural movement they attacked each other and many suffered broken bones and wings. Their beaks were trimmed to prevent them hurting or even cannibalising each other and they were left in artificial light with endless food so they just existed to lay eggs.
Enriched cages increase the size of the area the hen has to ‘live’ in (by about a postcard size per bird) and include perches (a small rail) and nesting boxes (well, one) – which means the hens will compete for access to them (remember the ‘pecking order’) – and the dominant birds will win. There’s a miniscule  place to scratch their claws and generally express at least some of their natural instincts…well that’s the theory. However, don’t be fooled, the hens still cannot flap their wings and exercise or forage and still die young suffering from physical deterioration due to lack of freedom and space. There is still no daylight or fresh air and everything in their environment is controlled and artificial. De-beaking is still practised to protect the hens from hurting and cannibalising each other – yes they are that stressed and frustrated. The deafening noise and stench must be flooring in themselves. It’s still shameful intensive battery farming however you dress it. Most are passed their producing maximum within 18 months but they could ordinarily live to around 10 years old and produce eggs for a majority of their lives in different amounts.
THEN as a final degradation, now that the hen is considered knackered she is dipped in a weakly electrified vat of water to stun her and then hung upside down past an electric saw and slaughtered by decapitation…
Unless an ingredient list specifically states otherwise, the eggs contained in that sandwich you had for lunch, your children’s school dinners, any and all the prepared and processed foods you buy (which you shouldn’t be anyway, right?!?) will be from caged birds.
A word about yolk colour. Lots of us look for a nice plump golden yellow yolk and immediately think of healthy sunshine and free range hens. However, battery hens (and many others besides) are endlessly fed on grain and soya and some form of colourant is used to ensure the yolk you expect. A controversial synthetic additive called canthaxanthin is used often and where it is not a derivative of citrus peel is added. Obviously, the egg is as healthy as the food that helped form it, and this colour enhancement is of no nutritional value and is a con.
Finally, before we explore the alternatives, need I remind you to ask yourself where all the male chicks go? Useless to the egg laying industry do you think they are left to grow and used for some effective purpose or do you think they are disposed of? I looked into it and it was horrific. I’ll just tell you there was a conveyor belt and an electric mincer…it’s another black mark against humanity…
So what are our options…? In the next part we will look at ‘barn’, ‘free-range’, and ‘organic’.

Eggs…part 1: good or bad…?

Go to work on an egg!!
That’s what the egg people told us for years and we did as we were bid, but then the tide turned and eggs got egg on their own faces for being suddenly unhealthy. To the eggstent (sorry) that when the industry applied to re-run the ads in 2007, to mark their 50th anniversary, the request was refused as it was deemed that eggs were not healthy. Fools. Of course, the tide has turned and now we can gorge on them…apparently. Well, at least until the pendulum swings back the other way and we are warned off them…again…
When Egg-Gate reigned and Eggwina Curry was causing a scandal, eggs became vilified as evil purveyors of disease and cholesterol and the word on the street was even rubbing up against one by accident might kill you one way or another. Salmonella is rare now and time and studies have shown that the negative claims about cholesterol are not, in truth, er…true. Waves of attitude and decisions ricochette off the back of a breaking news story and eggs have never quite recovered in some ways and the UK is still the lowest consumer of them in Europe. Salmonella aside, people still think of cholesterol as a deadly enemy…but by now you must be on to the whole good and bad cholesterol thing, right? Right?!?
Okay, just in case, here’s the deal…basically there are two types: Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). One has been labelled good (HDL) the other bad (LDL). Not the best terms, or easiest to remember, but they serve a purpose. So Bad is in animal fats and animal products (that’s why eggs got tarred with the same brush) and good from plant sources like avocado and nuts. Bad, naughty LDL has the function of carrying cholesterol to the cells for its vital purpose but when there’s too much and it cannot find a taker, it just dumps it in the arteries (like a flyer distributor just junking the flyers in a lay-by). You NEED the good as it is not only part of the structure of every cell in your body, but it synthesises vitamin D, heals you, protects your nerves, helps your brain work and carries fat away from the liver etc. AND most importantly carries stray deposited LDL out of the blood stream and back to the liver to be recycled. Ok, so it’s now accepted that eggs are good cholesterol and so hoorah! Let’s hear it for eggs…!
Apart from this whole eggs are a complete protein (sometimes referred to as a high quality protein). This means they contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs to build, repair and sustain and subsequently recommended for all age groups. They are low calorie and yet one of the single best sources of complete protein that exist. They also contain loads of vitamins (especially B5, B12, B2, E and D) and minerals (especially harder to get ‘trace’ ones like selenium, iodine and molybdenum). It is regarded as one of the best sources of a vitamin grouped into the B complex called choline (essential from brain development and function and protection of the liver). However, research shows that a hen fed on decent natural foods (hens are naturally omnivores and this range of food directly affects the eggs) can produce eggs with nearly 200% more high quality vitamins like E and D than a caged bird. Similarly, the yolk has beneficially omega-3 fatty acids but, again, only if the hen has been fed properly as…and this will be a almost tedious reoccurring theme…the egg is only as healthy as the food the hen has been fed. This is utterly key to the entire subject of the health benefits of eggs, so pay attention throughout please!! So, they are healthy and will keep you fuller for longer as well so we perhaps should return to the old , seemingly very sound , advice and go to work on an egg…but crucially the right kind of egg…
There are a zillion websites expounding at great length regarding the health benefits of eggs so I’ll leave you to have a look at those because I really want to concern this set of posts with the nitty gritty of working out how to find a decent egg!
All is not as straight forward in the world of eggs as we might hope (when is it ever these days?!?) So how do we know a good egg from a rotten egg? How can we be sure the egg is a good quality product from a carefree and jolly hen? The subject is messy though (a right scramble) it’s part nutrition, part ethical and more besides – throw in a silly politician and a few layers of what could be labelled as ‘deceit’ and we have a right good mystery, no? So it’s on with Miss Marple’s felt Garbo hat and time to find out what’s really going on…
The real nub of this wrangle is the quality of the eggs and more specifically where they come from. Before any smartypants retort with ‘out of it’s____!!’, I’ll say I know it is ‘laid’ out it its ‘vent’ and how and why, but the point is what journey has that egg been on, and how has the hen been treated. The better the journey the better the nutrients in the egg. And as a perfect egg is clearly a perfect form of protein, keeps you fuller longer and has just about every key vitamin and mineral encased in them, surely  it is rather important isn’t it to know the true bigger picture?
See part 2…

Additives…food colour…

Food colouring E – numbers from 100-199

Colours are added to foods to make them look more appealing or more like the colour that consumers associate with that food. ‘We taste with our eyes’ it is said to describe the results of tests that conclude consumers believed something tastes better if it is the expected colour. They are also used to replace the natural colour lost during food processing or storage, to enhance the natural colour or to make products a consistent colour. They are even used to give colour to an item that might otherwise be colourless like the Skittles above. Some groups argue that adding colour is unnecessary and misleading as well as raising concerns over their safety.

The EU laws currently allow 45 colours and also control what foods they are used in and maximum amounts allowed –  extremely small amounts in most cases. The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) tests for safety (and re-evaluates these results) and issues ADI’s (Acceptable Daily Intakes) for each substance, calculating and allowing for a lifetime’s consumption (this includes the usual safety factor margin of 100 for all E numbers).

Colours commonly used:

  • Curcumin (E100), a yellow colour extracted from turmeric roots.
  • Plain caramel (E150a), which is used in products such as gravy and soft drinks
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2 – E101)
  • Beta-carotene (E160a)
  • Amaranth (E123)

Colourings for food are either synthetic, created from natural sources or ‘nature identical’. Natural food colourings come from plant sources such as fruit skins, vegetables, grasses and roots. The red colourant carminic acid (E120/cochineal) comes from the dried and crushed bodies of a type of insect.

Manufacturers often prefer synthetic colours as they are stable and consistent, usually brighter than the original, and mostly cheaper to make. It also means a colour, like the above-mentioned carminic acid, can be recreated without the inclusion of the insects! An added advantage is that the synthetic colours need no further processing to be added to foods as they are water soluble as opposed to the oil soluble natural and nature identical colours which need a further processing stage to be useable.

However some colours, especially those called the ‘azo dyes’ are associated by some pressure groups to behavioural problems in children (especially ADHD) and others with skin problems and certain cancers. The UK Food Standards Agency requires a mandatory warning of the presence of six artificial colours (that combined with the preservative sodium benzoate have been linked to increased hyper activity in children), passed a voluntary ban(!) and publish a list of brands that produce items without these colours.

EFSA reduced the ADI of these three of the six most contentious colours too:

  • Sunset yellow – E110 – typically found in orange flavoured drinks and cordials, apricot jam, marmalade and packet soups.
  • Ponceau 4R – E124 – (banned in the US as a result of its link with cancers). Used in dessert toppings, jellies, trifles, soups and salami.
  • Quinoline Yellow – E104 – used to dye smoked haddock (an alarming yellow colour!) and egg products like scotch eggs. But more typically found in lipsticks and some medications

However, it did not reduce these three:

  • Carmoisine – E122 – used in jams, yoghurts and jellies.
  • Tartrazine – E102 which is the colour most strongly linked to hyperactivity in kids. Tartrazine is actually a yellow dye and can be found in a lot of yellow coloured foods (such as ice cream) and is the base for the creation of many other colours (used as a primary yellow).
  • Allura red – E129, typically found in sweets, soft drinks but also in medicines.

However, the research and studies conducted have proved to be inconclusive regarding any links to problems caused by these colours at the amounts allowed…

Regardless, as with any of these additive issues, if you are concerned about the potential harmful effects then it’s best to avoid all foods containing any contentious additives…makes sense, right?