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What are the health issues associated with food additives?


In recent years there has been considerable research linking some food additives to health issues including allergies, digestive complaints and behavioural issues including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). An important step in avoiding some of the health issues associated with food additives is to understand the effects that some of these chemicals can have on our bodies.


Sulphur dioxide and other sulphites are used in a wide variety of foods as preserving agents. They can be identified as E220, E221, E222, E223, E224, E226, E227 and E228 on food ingredient panels. Sulphur dioxide is a naturally occurring product of beer and wine production but is often added to bottled wine to stop fermentation within the bottle. Some asthma suffers are known to have had attacks brought on by sulphur dioxide. Sulphite food additives are frequently used in dried fruits, cordials, juices and processed meats.


The benzoates are another class of food additives which are used to stop yeasts and moulds from growing. They include benzoic acid E210 and other benzoates E211, E212, E213, E214, E215, E216, E217, E218 and E219. The benzoates have been associated with worsening of the symptoms of asthma and eczema. Benzoates are often used in soft drinks, cordials and medicines.


Tartrazine is used as yellow food colouring in soft drinks, lollies and sauces. Tartrazine is shown on food ingredient panels as E102 and has been linked to medical conditions including urticaria (nettle rash), rhinitis (runny nose), skin allergies including dermatitis and asthma.

Food Colourings

There are well documented and scientifically proven links between food colourings and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In particular the following food additives have been shown to worsen the condition and should be avoided by all ADHD suffers.

  • Sunset yellow E110
  • Quinoline yellow E104
  • Caramoisine E122
  • Allura red E129
  • Tartrazine (yellow) E102
  • Ponceau 4R E124

In Europe any food or drink containing any of these six colouring agents must contain a warning that it 'may have an adverse affect on activity and attention in children'. 



Nitrates (E249, E250, E251, E252) are a class of food additives used to preserve the colour and taste of many foods especially cured meats. Nitrates are harmless but can be converted to nitrites which are powerful cancer causing agents during digestion. If you consume foods containing nitrates then one good method of minimising the digestive conversion of nitrates to nitrites is to consume foods high in vitamin C at the same time. Vitamin C has been shown to inhibit nitrate to nitrate conversion. (Always have a glass of orange juice with your bacon in the morning!)



Calcium propionate (E282) is a food additive used to inhibit the growth of mould on bread. Calcium propionate and the other propionates (E280 - E283) are naturally occurring in many dairy products like swiss cheese. The effects of the propionates are cumulative and build up over a period of weeks or months and can lead to a range of health issues and symptoms including migraine and headaches, gastro-intestinal symptoms including stomach aches, irritable bowel and diarrhoea, urinary urgency, bedwetting, eczema and other itchy skin rashes, nasal congestion (stuffy or runny nose), depression, unexplained tiredness, impairment of memory and concentration, speech delay, tachycardia (fast heart beat), growing pains, loud voice (no volume control), irritability, restlessness, inattention, difficulty settling to sleep, night waking and night terrors. There have been reports of babies crying uncontrollably after consuming milk from a mother who has recently ingested breads and cheeses containing propionates.

Some bakeries selling preservative free bread use propioni bacteria which can be cultured in whey powder as a method of using natural 282 preservative without having to declare it on the label. It is best to avoid breads that contain whey powder as this isn't a core ingredient in bread.


Artificial Sweeteners

Artifical sweeteners are used as a sugar substitute in many food products. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar so tend to be used in small quantities. There are reports and studies of this class of food additives resulting in a wide range of health issues but those most widely reported include bloating, intestinal pain or diarrheoa.


Like to know more?

If you would like to know more about food safety why not complete a food handlers certificate with the Australian Online College.  The college offers a general safe food handling certificate course and a food safety supervisor training course. Why not enrol in a safe food handling certificate course now? 

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This page is about food additives and food additive health issues.

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