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25 Nov

What’s Your Number? For Your Food by Setter’s H. C. Townsville

What’s Your Number?


Everything is about numbers these days, we’ve got pin numbers, we’ve got phone numbers, we’ve got lotto numbers, and we’ve got food additive numbers. Chances are you can remember how to get money out of an ATM and how to call home – but can you remember that preservative or flavour enhancer you’re allergic to? Considering what’s put into packaged food these days there’s a chance some complex chemical might not react well with you. The thing is, would you even think about blaming what you just ate if you did start feeling sick?

Since the 1990s, one food additive – Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – has been repeatedly blamed for allergic reactions. Several asthma related deaths have been attributed to this flavour enhancer, which has been used in Japanese and Chinese cooking for more than a century. Studies remain inconclusive at this stage, and the US Food and Drug Administration has so far concluded MSG is safe when ‘eaten at customary levels’. Still, in Asian restaurants around Australia, a lot of people will ask for (or demand) MSG-free food these days. All very well when you’re eating your honey chicken, but what about when you go shopping? MSG is a frequent flavour enhancer in savory-flavoured foods. Most cheese or chicken flavoured snacks contain MSG, but usually the packaging doesn’t spell out the fact. This is where numbers come in.

Since the 1960s food additives have been classified into numbered groups. Australia generally uses the European ‘E’ number system, which describes MSG as e621 or 621. A quick check in your pantry should reveal more than the odd package containing this chemical – from flavoured noodles, biscuits and chips to sauces. But the thing is…MSG is just one food additive among hundreds. The ‘E’ number system is now up to number 1525 (a cellulose based thickening agent), and it’s possible there’s a number in there  that’s not right for you.

Food colourings have long been suggested a source of hyperactivity, but some, such as Tartrazine and similar Azo Dyes have also been linked to asthma, migraines, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. And despite these colourings being specific yellows, blues and reds – they can show up in foods bearing no relation to  these colours. ‘Lemon Yellow’ Tartrazine (e102) is actually used to colour milk chocolate biscuits.

So what should you do? Well, thanks to the internet and your favourite search engine, finding a list of the food additive ‘E numbers’ is as easy as typing in ‘food additive E numbers’. Of course, that doesn’t help you if you don’t know what you’re allergic to. Still, wake up with a rash, headache or a tight chest, don’t dismiss the possibility it was something you ate the night before…particularly if it was processed or out of the ordinary. You may have just found your number.

#And please remember that a tight chest could indicate cardiac related pain and should be investigated immediately by a medical practitioner to exclude this option first.

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