What are E numbers?
An "E" number is a number used to represent an additive put into a food product. For example, if a food contained an artificial sweetener, we could name this sweetener "number 1". When we look at the listing of ingredients in a particular foodstuff, we would see the number "1" listed if this sweetener were contained in the product. This is the essence of the "E number" system and was designed to replace the names of additives with numbers.
The 'E' prefix indicates the additive is approved for use in the European Union. The addition of E-numbered additives to foodstuffs is the concern of many over the years. A fair number of such additives are believed to be linked to the signs and symptoms of certain allergies, types of arthritis, bowel disorders, cancer, heart disease and other maladies. Additionally, concerns have been voiced in regards to the possibility of these additives being genetically modified (GM). In regards to religious beliefs and customs, E-numbered additives may also be considered to be unsuitable for halal, or vegetarian diets. In defense of a proportion of the additives, some have nutritional value and/or cause no harms whatsoever. Therefore, this is a case of benefiting from what you know.
All is fine and well if we needed an "E number" system, but...
1) Does the "E number" system even need to be in place and...
2) Does it add to the already present confusion of ingredient listing on food products?
Although the "E number" system was designed with good intentions, there are several drawbacks to take into consideration. Most food shops do not have a visible key available in order for consumers to decode an E number that is listed on the ingredients of a food product. Thus, while browsing the ingredients listed on a food product, they are left in limbo with merely a number. This does not tell you what the additive is. Some shops claim that you can go to the desk and they can show you the list of E numbers. But should consumers be made to bring each foodstuff to the courtesy counter for this? Can you imagine the chaos. Interestingly, I still haven't seen E number listings made accessible to the public. I suppose if the public inquired about this often enough, or even made a fuss, something something would be done about it.
This tells us something interesting, yet surprising about the general public. Most people seem to have little concern in regards to what's in the food they consume. The majority of those who do not care, clearly overshadow the minority of those who are concerned. I was interested in finding out why this was the case, and if my assumption was even correct. After all, we must give people the benefit of the doubt. After interviewing some 500 individuals in regards to E numbers, ingredient listing, and other issues, the results of my small scale study yielded predictable, and somewhat interesting and surprising results.,
Most people who disliked the E number system, disliked it for a number of reasons. First and most obvious, was that the number meant absolutely nothing if there was not some type of listing available. Most people took to the view that even if they were provided with some type of guide with an E number and what additive the number represented, it would indeed be a cumbersome task to look up E numbers each time they shopped. The simple conclusion is this: "WHY NOT MAKE THINGS INFINITELY EASIER ON THE CONSUMER AND SIMPLY LIST THE INGREDIENTS, INSTEAD OF A NUMBER THAT HAS TO BE DECODED."
To each of the participants of the study, I went on to explain that E numbers were grouped in several main categories.
- Emulsifiers, Stabiliser, Thickeners & Gelling agents
The main problem with this is that although E numbers may help to categorise an additive, you still are burdened with looking up and decoding the number. It makes no sense. It would be easier to simply list the ingredients. Consumers are more likely to learn what an additive is by simply knowing the name, rather than equating it with a number first and then a name, obviously because you are adding another link in the chain to memorise. Nevertheless, until we make it compulsory to simply list ALL ingredients contained in a food product, we will have to use an E number list. Below is a list of all E numbers and what additives these numbers represent. Although the listing of E numbers only tells you what the additive is, a full explanation of the additive is not given to the consumer. You are not told what the possible side effects, and what long-term studies have shown.
This is where we come into the equation... With nutriology, the non-nutritious, as well as nutritious portions of foodstuffs are examined. Therefore, you will have the opportunity to fully explore what you are consuming. Simply click on the additive and learn about what you are putting into your body. After all, you are what you eat.
Other important considerations
Last but not least, we must take in consideration that teaching E numbers can be misleading, especially when there are other hazardous chemicals in existence that begin with the letter "E".Consider "E605", which is not an E number, but rather stands for Parathion, an insecticide. It is obviously not a food additive; in this case the "E" stands for Entwicklungsnummer (German for development number), and not for Europe as used in the E number system. This can be potentially hazardous, especially for a child.