Skip to main content

Additives and preservatives may improve the look and lifespan of your food, but they certainly don’t do the same for your body. Ingredients lists are confusing to say the least, but let’s demystify the E-Number Guide.

To help us decipher the reams of gobbledygook, ingredients expert Robyn Smith, owner of the online shop “Faithful to Nature,” shares with us the eight worst food ingredients and why they should be avoided.

1. Monosodium Glutamate E621 (MSG or Glutamic acid)

E Number | Longevity LiveIn 1908 Kikunae Ikeda, founder of the Japanese drug company “Ajinomoto,” discovered that seaweed contains a natural flavour enhancing molecule. He was determined to copy it and eventually synthesized the chemical monosodium glutamate. Today MSG is found in nearly every preserved food, even baby food.

More than just a seasoning, MSG actually enhances the natural flavour of foods fooling you into thinking preserved food is fresher and tastier than it really is. Dr Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon and author of “Excitotoxins, The Taste that Kills,” wrote extensively on MSG.

According to Blaylock MSG is an excitotoxin, a substance which overexcite your brain cells to the point of damage or death. He feels excitotoxins potentially trigger or worsen learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and more.

Symptoms of MSG Complex

  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain and breathing difficulties
  • Numbness, burning or tingling sensations
  • Weakness of the arms or legs
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Hives or other allergic-type reactions with the skin
  • Eye damage
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Fatigue, drowsiness and disorientation
  • Obesity

2. Aspartame E951

Another excitotoxin with a formidable reputation, aspartame is a common synthetic sweetener found in products such as NutraSweet. It has been used throughout the world in soft drinks and sugar-free foods since 1974. Despite its common use, 75% of food additive adverse reaction reports to the US Food and Drugs Administration are for aspartame.

The American Aviation Publications issued a warning to all employees against the consumption of NutraSweet following the report of pilots suffering grand mal seizures. Dr Russell Blaylock used almost 500 scientific references to show that aspartic acid and glutamic acid cause serious chronic neurological disorders. The aspartate (aspartic acid) and glutamate present in aspartame penetrate the blood brain barrier and allow a dangerous influx of calcium into the brain, slowly damaging and destroying neurons. The ingredient methanol breaks down in the gut into the powerful neurotoxin and carcinogen formaldehyde. The late Dr Adrian Gross, an FDA toxicologist, testified before the U.S. Congress that aspartame was capable of producing brain tumors.

Common reactions include:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Personality changes and hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Rashes
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Heart palpitations
  • Eye problems and blindness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Joint pain

3. Tartrazine E102 (Yellow 5)

E Number | Longevity LiveOne of the most controversial colorants, this synthetic yellow dye is not a favorite of parents. It appears to cause the most allergic reactions such as asthma, hives, insomnia, migraines and blurred vision.

Tartrazine has been found to increase hyperactivity in children as well as deteriorate behavior and emotional responses. Some studies have found tartrazine toxic to human lymphocytes and the liver, but most importantly it is classified it as a DNA binder, making it carcinogenic in quality.

It is commonly found in foods such as colored drinks, instant desserts, custard powder, soups, sauces, ice cream, sweets, jam,
jelly, mustard, yoghurt and even in drug capsules.
Tartrazine is still used in many countries, but it has been banned in Norway and Austria.

4. Sodium benzoate E210 (Benzoic Acid)

One of the most common preservatives, sodium benzoate helps increase obesity by suppressing the release of leptin, the ‘I’m full’ hormone. Ingestion of benzoic acid is also known to cause skin irritation, stomach pains and asthma as well as increasing hyperactivity in college students.

The most concerning factor of sodium benzoate is its ability to literally suffocate cells by preventing oxygen from entering the energy production house, the mitochondria. This reduction of energy supply prevents cell repair, waste disposal and nutrient absorption. When sodium benzoate is combined with vitamin C or E it produces benzene, a known carcinogen.

It is found in beer, desserts, cold drinks, jams, margarine, pickles, salad dressings, dairy, sweets and toothpaste. They are also used in cosmetics and medications.

5. Red colouring – Amaranth E123 (Red 2)

Amaranth-2 is a common red colouring in food and in synthetic fabrics, leather, formaldehyde resins and paper. Its deceptive name comes from the edible red grain amaranth but this is not its source, red-2 is actually made from petroleum.

It is known to cause allergic rashes and can provoke asthma, eczema and hyperactivity. In 1976 the United States banned amaranth-2 after research found an increased number of malignant tumours in female rats. Animal tests also linked it to birth defects and foetal deaths. In 2010 scientists found amaranth-2 binds directly to DNA creating cellular disruption. Red-2 is restricted in France and Italy and has been banned in Norway, Russia and Austria.

Red-2 is commonly found in ice creams, gravy granules, jams, jelly, tinned fruit, glazed fruit and soups.

6. BHA E320 & BHT E321 (Butylated hydroxy-anisole, Butylated hydroxytoluene)

Together BHA and BHT are labelled as ‘antioxidants’ and are used to prevent fats from becoming rancid. In fact BHA and BHT are derived from petroleum, which explains why it they are classified as a suspected endocrine-disrupting compound. During animal tests BHA was found to lower testosterone and thyroid hormones, as well as trigger mood changes and hyperactivity.

Both BHA and BHT were banned in Japan in 1958 after serious concerns over carcinogenicity and estrogenic effects shown on animals. There is evidence that BHT causes cell division and DNA damage, a precursor to cancer development. They are used in salad dressing, edible oils, breakfast cereals, margarine and polyethylene food wrappers.

7. Nitrates (E249 E250 E251 E252)

E-Number | Longevity LiveNitrates are used as preservatives and colour fixing agents for meat, dairy and fish. Ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting and loss of consciousness.

In addition, prolonged exposure to even small quantities may cause anaemia, kidney inflammation and abdominal pain. Nitrates are considered carcinogenic.

Nitrates impede the body’s ability to carry oxygen, which can lead to shortness of breath, lack of energy, dizziness, headaches, rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting and a bluish tinge to the mouth, hands and feet.

In serious cases these symptoms can lead to acute methemoglobinemia; if left untreated this condition can literally result in suffocation.

8. Sulphur Dioxide E220 (Sulphites)

A colour preservative derived from coal tar, sulphur dioxide is found in most wines, beer, vinegar, cold drinks, as well as dried and tinned fruit. It is also used for bleaching flour, grain, wood, fabrics, gelatine, and glue, as well as for making other chemicals. It well known that sulphites can create breathing difficulties and induce asthma attacks. Long-term exposure can play a role in lung disease. Short-term exposure to sulphur dioxide can cause stomach pain, menstrual disorders, inhibition of thyroid function, headaches, nausea, vomiting, fever, convulsions, and dizziness. Sulphur dioxide has also been found to put a strain on the kidneys and decrease fertility.

Experiencing a child’s aggressive outbursts or inability to breath is terrifying to say the least. Knowing the extent that food additives affect us and especially our children is the first step in keeping these perpetrators at arms length. Faithful to Nature offers a free pocket guide of safe and unsafe ‘E’s and other ingredients to support your future food shopping choices.

Boost your health with six easy stretches. Follow the link to read which.


Kheyrne Danu

Kheyrne Danu has spent the last seven years working with women through personal coaching and workshops on natural wellness; she is also the brainchild of the Super Thrive brand, a natural product for stress support. Kheyrne first studied interior design, but soon switched to natural wellness, a subject that has fascinated her for over 16 years.

She also trained as a kinesiologist, a doula and yoga instructor, as well as being a professional dance teacher and bodywork practitioner. Kheyrne feels that life really shines through when one has a great understanding of and relationship with one’s own body. She is a writer for Longevity magazine.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.