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Are E numbers really bad for you?

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Stefan Gates Stefan Gates | 17:26 UK time, Monday, 23 August 2010

I may have just committed professional suicide, and I'd like to know if you think I'm right or wrong. You see, I've written and presented a new TV series all about E numbers, the 319 additives approved for use in the EU and probably the most controversial, hated and feared ingredients in our food. The series is called E Numbers: An Edible Adventure, and the reason I'm wondering if I'll have a career after it airs on BBC Two is doesn't take the view you'd expect a food writer to take on the subject.

In fact the series turned out to be, in many ways, a celebration of E numbers. Despite what you might think, when you research them in detail you find that most E numbers are good for you. There, I've said it. I'm sorry if this upsets or offends, and I know that it goes against the grain for a food writer to say something so counter-intuitive (heaven knows, I love artisan foods, conscientious producers and healthy meals cooked using fresh ingredients). But before you sharpen your knives and wield your tenderising mallet in my general direction, I'd like to give you a bit of detail.

Well, let's start with a short explanation of what E numbers are. E stands for Europe, and the E number code relates to a set of EU rules about which foods can contain them and how much you should be able to consume in a day. For instance E284 boric acid can only be used in caviar, and E252 potassium nitrate (used in bacon and salami) has an acceptable level of daily intake (ADI) of 0-3.7% mg/Kg body weight. Many E numbers are very familiar and important to good food and nutrition: for instance E300 is vitamin C, E101 is vitamin B2, E948 is oxygen and E160c is paprika.

The rules were developed to regulate additives (rather than encourage their use), so that dangerous substances like toxic lead tetroxide could be banned from use in children's sweets, for instance. In the past, food adulteration was a deadly problem.

But what about the bad E numbers? E621 monosodium glutamate is anecdotally blamed for an extraordinary range of symptoms, but in fact if you grate parmesan on your pasta you are likely to be adding more glutamate to your meal than you'd ever find in an MSG-laden ready meal. There's a group of food colours called the 'Southampton Six' that have a small but proven association with hyperactivity in children, and which you might want to avoid. Sulphur dioxide (E220) can exacerbate asthma, although without it wine usually tastes foul and in any case it's been used in pretty much every bottle of wine produced since Roman times.

But the leading causes of food allergies and intolerances are entirely natural: milk, wheat, eggs, nuts, fish, soya, celery... And of course every single food or drink on the planet, whether it contains E numbers or not, is toxic at some level - apples contain cyanide, people have died from water intoxication, cabbage contains goitrogens, potatoes contain toxic solanine and broccoli contains carcinogens. But, as with E numbers, the amounts of these toxic substances are minute, and the benefits of consuming these foods and drinks invariably far outweigh the risks. The difference with E numbers is that they have been extensively tested and analysed to ascertain safe levels.

The reality is that all foods are a combination of chemicals, whether added by man or not, and just because a food is organic doesn't necessarily make it better for you. The worst nutritional problems are caused by substances that come in purely organic form: salt, fat and sugar, none of which are E numbers.

The argument in favour of Es is that they make food healthier, safer, cheaper, better tasting and more attractive. Of course, many horrible and unhealthy foods also contain E numbers, but invariably it's not the Es that make them unhealthy - it's the salt, fat and sugar.

I think that we shouldn't be afraid of food: we should understand it. But I also know that there are many angles to this issue, not least that many believe the concept of cheap food is gruesome in itself. I'm not so sure - the people who spend most of their income on food are usually already nutritionally vulnerable: the poor, the sick and the old, who may well lack the knowledge or ability to cook fresh food. These are the people who are most dependent on cheap food - not the middle classes, who enjoy fine wines (with E220), fine hams (with E252) and caviar (with E284).

Do you have a different view of E numbers? Do you have an allergy or intolerance to either E numbers or natural foods? Let us know what do you think.

Stefan Gates is the presenter of E Numbers: An Edible Adventure. Read about the day he ate as many E numbers as possible.


  • Comment number 1.

    I wouldn't say that most E numbers are good for you, I would prefer to say that some E numbers are better than others.

    I wouldn't say that boric acid is good for anyone, but I would be interested to know if it is also used in beluga caviar and in what quantities.

    I wouldn't want to poison myself too often.

  • Comment number 2.

    I have long thought that too many people freak out at the very thought of E numbers. They class them as all bad when they don't really know much about them. Some additives like ascorbic acid/vitamin C are good for us.

    By the way, I don't think you can class salt as "organic". It is NaCl [sodium chloride], which is inorganic. Table salt contains no carbon atoms, the basis of organic chemistry.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great - sounds as if we are going to get a sensible look at E numbers at last. I think that, even if some E numbered chemicals might be harmful, in most cases they are ingested in such small amounts that they are far less harmful than the vast amounts of fat and sugar that most of us consume.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well done Stefan for sticking your head above the parapet. Certainly Food for thought here.

    It is often too easy to demonise something that is not widely understood. Easier than to try and explain in clear and simple terms and give choices and consequences.

    I would suggest though you best make sure you are well protected against the sort of treatment that awaits anyone prepared to look beyond the shock horror probe headlines of our modern day media led madness. I mean, look what happens to those who think there is more to climate change than the burning of fossil fuels!

  • Comment number 5.

    Further to TTitch's comment, the scientific term "Organic" seems to have been hijacked by luddites who wish to grow food archaically. But Stefan seems not to be using it in that sense either.

    Anyway, a sensible coverage of the Etopic is a good idea.

    When is it being broadcast? Did I miss that in the article?

  • Comment number 6.

    OI #5

    If you put your cursor on line two, the highlighted title of programme, and click, you will open up a link. Seems all bold/underlined comments are a link.

    This one hopefully, tells us Thursday, 8 pm, BBC 2 (not wales/N Ire - analogue)

    I am quite liking this new set up. A few blips and bugs but in all I think it appears more joined up and grown up. Am happy to let it settle and find my way around.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think one of the problems is they put all this additives, in food that isn't healthy anyway. Why not Try and make five fruits and vegetables addictive.

  • Comment number 9.

    I have been trying to explain to people for years that the E designation means that a substance has PASSED the safety tests, and is not intended to be a warning to avoid the food, unless of course you know you have an individual problem (allergy or intolerance)

    I do think the list is due an overhaul - I'm surprised that Ponceau 4R is hanging in there, and I wish they'd add beetroot extract and some of the other plant colourings, which I don't think they have so far

    There's the argument about whether food is generally overpocessed too, and maybe if we processed less we'd need the E numbers less, but that really is a separate argument.

    Stefan's next mini-series?

  • Comment number 10.

    I have an allergy to E124 and think it is time to reclassify and ban certain E numbers that are known to cause problems and put our health at risk. America has banned E124 for many years as a dangerous chemical and yet Stefan seems to promote E numbers as safe! His experiment of eating as many E numbers as possible in a day is pointless as most people would not react immediately to E124 or E102 but built up in your body over time could lead to serious health risks such as cancer.

  • Comment number 11.

    Back in the days of no celebrity chefs I recall reading a book called E for Additives-probably long out of print.

    This programme may fill a gap for students who missed the written authority back in the 80s

    I see that there is a move to use more natural ingredients in the colours range which is good I am sure there is far to much preservative in my Bacon-look at the coagulated milky residue it leaves behind- I remove it with kitchen roll as soon it appears in the pan.

    Back in my NHS days preparing theraputic diets I would visit wards to discuss with a Ward Sister certain patient needs, not a common practice just my slant on the job.

    One case was in the early days of the 'new' illness called anorexia nervosa, Ward Sister took me to the patient's side room,

    I asked her what her if she had any favourite foods I might prepare for her.She was very uncertain.

    As I left her bedside with Sister I was told her weight was about 4 stones seeing this patient who was so emaciated really upset me.

    I do not know how she fared as I later moved Units but I never forgot the experience.

    After 46 years in various sectors of the Catering Industry I rarely watch TV food programmes.
    It has become a bit hyped up for me.

    Was it necessary to have 'Judges' on the Waste Menu Dishes Programme?

    Personally I did not see the point, the efforts of those Cooking proved the case.

    A discussion by the Cooks behind the scenes about their efforts and solutions would have been far more interesting.

    It would have been nice to talk with them about their findings.

    Any one agree?

  • Comment number 12.

    BBC should re-think their standards when airing a program that says about MSG (monosodium-glutamate, natrium-glutamate, flavour enhancer, E621, E 623) that it is demonized and it's wrong to think that it's harmful!

    If only the manufacturers would REALLY use the natural colourings processed and presented in the program.... but they dont! Instead they use chemicals to add the colour of "strawberry", "orange", and so on. The process to get it naturally takes longer and more hassle, not profitable enough for mass production. To use chemicals instead is much cheaper and can produce the desired colour and/or taste in much bigger amount of food at much cheaper cost. MSG is as harmful as any other recreational drug can be! Anyone do a google search will find the same: when monosodium-glutamate was first discovered, they didn't know what it was because on it's own it does not taste anything at all. It "makes" our food more delicious, because it has its effect in the brain, just like any other recreational drug! It makes our brain believe that the food we're eating is tasty. The "chinese food syndrome" happens when someone was eating food containing MSG for an extended period of time, for example someone who came back from China after 3-6 months. Headaches, migranes, nausea, vomiting, dizziness is all the withdrawal symptoms of MSG.
    By the way, MSG is not only in restaurant foods, it is in most salty food products that's sold by the supermarkets: in patés, crisps, ready meals, instant foods, tinned foods like soups, currys, etc. etc. etc....
    Also another interesting thing to know: the EU has it's own regulations about just how much preservatives our foods, toiletries, cleaning products, etc. HAS TO contain.

  • Comment number 13.

    Also another interesting thing to know: the EU has it's own regulations about just how much preservatives our foods, toiletries, cleaning products, etc. HAS TO contain.

    Of course the EU specifies preservatives in certain things

    The preservatives are there in order to stop them from spoiling and to stop dangerous bugs from growing

    On the whole I'd rather have a few preservatives than Clostridia or Salmonella

    Suggest you think what the word "preservative" actually means

  • Comment number 14.

    Re E numbers: an edible adventure: I am one of those people with a severe intolerance to MSG. I thought the "experiment" where fellow MSG intolerants were given meals they thought contained this substance proved nothing. In fact it was insulting as it implied that the sufferers' symptoms were all in the mind. Where were the comments from people who actually know something about food intolerances and the disruption they create in people's lives? I am also intolerant to azo/coal tar dyes. None of these intolerances are imagined. It was only when I discovered the book "E for additives" by Maurice Hanssen that I understood what was causing my symptoms and could make the choices that would return my life to normal. I am disgusted with the BBC for putting out such misleading rubbish.

  • Comment number 15.

    Programmes like this are the exact reason why I no longer give the BBC any credence when it comes to presenting accurate factual information. To me, in recent years, the BBC has become a dangerous organisation that seems to prioritise the spread of disinformation or, as I like to call it, propaganda.

    On the programme last night no mention was made of the severe long-term health defects of the ingestion of MSG or glutamic acid, which is what 99 percent of MSG is composed of. In a recently published book by professor of neurosurgery Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, he highlights almost 500 scientific references to show how excess free excitatory amino acids, such as aspartic acid and glutamic acid, in our food supply are causing serious chronic neurological disorders and a myriad of other acute symptoms.

    How Glutamate and Aspartate cause damage was also highlighted recently in an online article by Dr Mercola.

    "Aspartate and glutamate act as neurotransmitters in the brain by facilitating the transmission of information from neuron to neuron. Too much aspartate or glutamate in the brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate and glutamate is why they are referred to as "excitotoxins." They "excite" or stimulate the neural cells to death.

    Aspartic acid is an amino acid. Taken in its free form (unbound to proteins) it significantly raises the blood plasma level of aspartate and glutamate. The excess aspartate and glutamate in the blood plasma shortly after ingesting aspartame or products with free glutamic acid (glutamate precursor) leads to a high level of those neurotransmitters in certain areas of the brain.

    The blood brain barrier (BBB), which normally protects the brain from excess glutamate and aspartate as well as toxins, 1) is not fully developed during childhood, 2) does not fully protect all areas of the brain, 3) is damaged by numerous chronic and acute conditions, and 4) allows seepage of excess glutamate and aspartate into the brain even when intact.

    The excess glutamate and aspartate slowly begin to destroy neurons. The large majority (75 percent or more) of neural cells in a particular area of the brain are killed before any clinical symptoms of a chronic illness are noticed. A few of the many chronic illnesses that have been shown to be contributed to by long-term exposure to excitatory amino acid damage include: Multiple sclerosis (MS) ALS, memory loss, hormonal problems, hearing loss, epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Hypoglycemia, AIDS, Dementia, brain lesions, Neuroendocrine disorders"

    From this information it is clear to see that in flavouring our foods with MSG we could easily end up ingesting excess glutamic acid, which would lead to serious health problems within in our society; and yet the feeling the viewer is left with at the end of the programme is that everything is 'hunky-dory' as far as MSG is concerned -- unless you have a glutamate allergy, which couldn't be further from the truth.

    Another alarming element in last night's programme that was given the quick brush over was the addition of Aluminium salts to Cochineal to form E120. Again a viewer with little medical knowledge would have been left with the impression that E120 was perfectly natural and safe to ingest, yet Aluminium is a known neurotoxin that has been linked to breast cancer among other things.

    Only this morning I discovered the dangerous effects that the spreading of disinformation like that contained in E numbers: An Edible Adventure can have on the general public. Whilst attending my weekly swim I happened to hear a group of elderly gentlemen commenting about how it appears that MSG has gotten a bad press and that it's alright to eat now because apparently it's safe as long as you're not allergic to glutamate.

    Here's a group of guys that would have probably continued to stick well clear of MSG; however, thanks to the BBC they now appear to have the opinion that MSG is safe and perfectly natural and that we should all be coating our cornflakes in it every morning, as well as our lunch and dinner.

    I was even more sickened by the segment at the end of the programme that talked about how we should be using flavouring in order to get our children to eat vegetables, which would effectively negate any of the beneficial effects of eating them in the first place: "hey, don't like vegetables, well, stick some of these here poisons on them and you'll kids will love it."

    The reason Children don't like vegetables, in my opinion, is because of the flavouring industry. Why would they find vegetables tasty when the pizza, crisps, fizzy drinks and sweets they've grown up on are all filled with E numbers, which overexcite the taste buds leaving normal foods flavourless in comparison? E numbers are the cause of the problem in the first place and removal of them would mean that our taste buds would no longer become over stimulated and would be able to appreciate the flavour in natural foods a whole lot more.

    E numbers: An Edible Adventure left me with a very sour taste in my mouth, and not one that I'll be rushing to flavour over with E numbers any time soon. Avoid the advice in this programme at all costs!

  • Comment number 16.

    I think most people are still confused.
    E stands for Europe and means the additive in question has been tested for safe inclusion.
    Some E numbers are NATURALLY derived whilst others are synthetic.
    The food colour industry is more inclined towards natural food colours whether it be additive or colouring foodstuff.
    There is still a belief that all E numbers are artificial and therefore bad for you - this is a point that needs addressing. I am not too sure it was addressed with clarity in last nights programme - certainly reading some of the above comments it was not.

  • Comment number 17.

    Firstly, thanks Stefan Gates for your E Numbers programmes, it is
    something that's always concerned me for as long as I can recall.

    I had some Sodium Nitrite in bought prepared food, a while ago and
    reacted badly to it. I am extra careful now unless it's fresh veg, fresh
    fruit, fresh meat or fresh fish even newly organic baked bread(s).

    But the list of E numbers that the EU give as all synthetic not like the
    natural chlorophyll, citric and ascorbic acids in citrus fruits also many types of veg.

  • Comment number 18.

    So if you tell people something is dangerous, they'll complain you're trying to scare them off everything and make them anxious; if you tell them something is NOT dangerous, they'll say you're part of a conspiracy trying to poison them...
    I admire your courage, Stefan, either way you were going to get shot down in flames.
    I might agree food colouring or artificial flavours don't bring any fundamental benefit, and I would happily do without them in my food, not because I fear them, but just because I don't see the fundamental need for them.
    However, preservatives are much more important, and I guess the next programme is going to show that.
    About some of the comments above, I think it's very wrong to take bits of science out of context and, without really understanding any of it, use it to support this or that conclusion. This is the exact opposite of science, and one of the reasons why people don't trust it anymore.

  • Comment number 19.

    I suppose any notoriety is better than none, especially if you're being paid for it.

    Does the second episode cover why some E-numbered substances, passed safe by the EU, are banned in the USA?

  • Comment number 20.

    Thanks for all of your comments. Overall, it's really important to remember that every substance on the planet is toxic at some level, and that just because food is natural or organic it doesn't mean it's free of toxins.

    @hiiamsi: My experiment to eat as many E numbers in a day was about trying to see if I could exceed my ADI (acceptable daily intake) at all, which is exactly how the long-term toxicological dangers of E numbers are assessed. If you exceed your ADI on a long-term basis you may be putting yourself at risk (as you would if you ate too many carrots each day). But if you can't even reach your ADI when you try to (the ADI of the E124 hiiamsi is allergic to is 0-4mg per kilo of bodyweight), the vast majority of people should be fine. This might sound harsh, but just because you are allergic to something, doesn't mean that other people shouldn't be allowed it. Millions of people are allergic to eggs, but I don't think that eggs should be banned.

    @prunesong: The coagulated milky residue from the preservatives in bacon is highly unlikely to be preservatives, but rather the brine that food manufacturers use to help bulk up and moisten bacon with. This isn't an E number.

    @a_smith: You wrote 'MSG is as harmful as any other recreational drug can be', which is simply fanciful, and I'm afraid that doing a Google search to back up the theory doesn't count as clinical evidence in anyone's book, but rather plays in to the hands of those nutritionists who make their living from propagating fear. It is plainly wrong that MSG on its own doesn't taste of anything at all - it has an intense savoury taste, which is plainly evident when you put some on your tongue (I have a bag of the stuff here in my office, so I know this). You can be allergic to anything on the planet, but MSG is still a very safe additive. If you’re allergic to it, you will also be allergic to parmesan cheese, tomatoes and broccoli.

    @Swansea-girl: Sorry if you thought the MSG experiment was insulting - I went out of my way to avoid that impression, and I certainly did not say it was all in peoples’ minds. I simply said that their symptoms couldn't possibly have been from MSG as there was NONE in the food that any of them ate. As I suggested, perhaps they were allergic to the natural glutamate you get in parmesan or chicken. None of the experiment was misleading - they simply didn't eat any MSG.

    @Stokey Sue: You said that because peanuts cause more cases of food intolerance or allergy than any other food or ingredient on earth, it doesn't mean they should be banned - they are an important and useful food for people who can tolerate them. The same goes for E numbers: they all perform important and useful functions. Remember: carrots contain carcinogens, apples contain cyanide and ham contains E252. They are still all good for you as part of a balanced diet.

    @symiester: You say that no mention was made of allegations that MSG and aspartate cause severe long-term health defects, made by Dr Russell Blaylock. The programme made no mention of them because these allegations are considered unfounded by the both the regulatory bodies and by scientific consensus in general:

    MSG really has been tested SO many times, and the vast weight of clinical studies and medical opinion consider it to be safe. The same goes for Blaylock’s views on aspartame, which is considered safe at current levels of consumption:

    You can, of course, be allergic to anything, including MSG, but if Blaylock’s MSG assertions have any weight to them, they would apply to parmesan cheese as much as MSG. And by the way, flavourings are not E numbers – only flavour enhancers are.

    @Lavoisier2: Preservatives are explained in episode two this Thursday – it’s complicated!

    @Ralph: The series doesn’t go into why some E numbers are passed as safe by the EU, but banned in the USA. Although I believe that the reverse is true: some additives are banned in Europe, but allowed in the USA. It should be remembered that safe usage is set by current consumption levels, which vary greatly between countries – we consume a lot less Jell-O, more porridge oats and less sugary fizzy drinks per head in Europe than they do in the USA so the levels of additives that we consume of each may be very different, and levels can therefore adjust.

  • Comment number 21.

    I cannot believe that the BBC would stoop to such a low level of Sun-reader journalism.
    Gates clearly has little scientific comprehension and the programme is packed with cliches and dreadful pseudo-science.
    The fact that he refers to E-numbers as actual components rather than a method of categorising a vast range of individually different elements in nutrition simply enhances the concept that they are foreign additives which bear no relationship to a good diet.
    Utter nonsense and a complete waste of a valuable education opportunity.
    I had to walk away from watching the programme in disgust to write this.

  • Comment number 22.

    At last a factual programme which isnt demonising the food industry in which I work as a food scientist. Removing e numbers from recipes to please the consumer has definitely resulted in issues with preservation etc & inferior products. Well done!

  • Comment number 23.

    A comment on Stokey Sue, who said :
    "I have been trying to explain to people for years that the E designation means that a substance has PASSED the safety tests, and is not intended to be a warning to avoid the food"
    Well, GMO's have PASSED tests too and are authorized by the EU for use in food. Nevertheless, nobody knows what effects they have on human health.
    As long as we can avoid to eat food with additives, we should do it !

  • Comment number 24.

    A comment for a_smith who wrote :
    "The "chinese food syndrome" happens when someone was eating food containing MSG for an extended period of time, for example someone who came back from China after 3-6 months. Headaches, migranes, nausea, vomiting, dizziness is all the withdrawal symptoms of MSG. "
    As MSG is also found in tomatoes, parmesan, dried mushrooms (etc) it would mean that if I eat during the summer all the tomatoes that I grow in my garden, I will have the same symptoms at the end of the summer ?!
    I'm not toos sure about this...
    Alss, I don't think you ever tasted pure MSG, because it HAS a taste. It is at the same time sweet, salty bitter and acid (it's called ethe 5th taste"). That's why it exhausts the taste of whatever you put with it. It adapts itself to the natural taste of the food and makes it stronger.

  • Comment number 25.

    Symiester wrote on his comment :
    "A few of the many chronic illnesses that have been shown to be contributed to by long-term exposure to excitatory amino acid damage include: Multiple sclerosis (MS) ALS, memory loss, hormonal problems, hearing loss, epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Hypoglycemia, AIDS, Dementia, brain lesions, Neuroendocrine disorders"

    You want us to believe that if we eat a lot of MSG and amino acids we would get AIDS ??????!!!
    Mermory loss, hormonal problems, hearing loss, epilepsy, brain lesions are all diseases that you can get by using too much your cell phone or drinking too much alcohol, as well as using some drugs; that's nowadays risks of living in our society...

  • Comment number 26.

    Stefan has mixed me up with someone else - I didn't say any of the things he attributes to me, or anything like them.

    However I watched the show. I find it interesting that most of the posters on here appear to have seen the Chinese restaurant part of the program but not the Italian restaurant part of it - does preconception interfere with Freeview? I'd no idea it worked like that!!

    I though the first episode could have explained how the E got into E numbers rather better (like, at all) and I though the item about colouring peas was a really, really, bad example of how colouring improves perception of foods, given that in most of Europe you can't sell dyed peas at all, French and Italian eaters would be affronted by blue/green canned peas, they like them the natural khaki colour, and judging by the supermarket shalves, so do most UK consumers these days.

  • Comment number 27.

    I have a question about the E number and food related to this issue; Do you have a list (or) URL listing the foods for everyone...

    -Dennis in the United States-

  • Comment number 28.

    Stokey Sue - you're absolutely right, I mangled my response for which I'm very sorry. Thanks for your comments - I'm actually very fond of the mushy variety of pea myself.

    Ian Hickley seems to have the concept of E Numbers a little mixed up. They absolutely do NOT refer to different elements in nutrition but to very specific substances approved for use in food. The list and usage guidelines are here: [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]
    Its very detailed and doesn't make for the lightest reading - A simpler list of what the Es approved for food use are is here: Dennis Junior, I hope that helps you. Its a European regulatory system so little used in the USA although many of the substances are the same.

  • Comment number 29.

    Sorry but this was annoying rubbish..
    I do try every now and then to watch some mainstream stuff to see if the mass media is catching up
    but it tends to make me sad and angry and depressed in equal measures..
    It's all so far away from any real understanding of food and nutrition that's it's difficult to know where to start.
    Oh dear dear me .. what a shame.. ;~(

  • Comment number 30.

    Well I believe Stefan, you are correct to research these E numbers. I can't thankyou enough. Good work and may God bless you. Once I rang the Coca Cola customer centre and asked regarding certain ingredients which I wasn't sure, they said to me "it's confidential and I'm a very rude boy". Charming lol. Keep going Stefan.

  • Comment number 31.

    Watching the first programme inspired me to run my own experiment.

    My partner claims to be severely allergic to MSG, so much so that i cannot eat ready meals at the same table as her, and once, when i carelessly left my half-eaten takeaway on the coffee table it induced a migraine in her so fierce it left her debilitated for much of the evening. However, she adores Italian cooking, and readily chows down home-made dishes laden with tomatoes, pancetta/preserved meats, seafoods, and lashings of parmesan cheese. It was therefore a revelation to learn that these foods are naturally high in MSG.

    Before i conducted my experiment, i did a little safety research myself (just in case!). I found that even human breast milk contains naturally high levels of MSG, which equal the levels of sugar found in breast milk - this is supposed to encourage continued suckling in the newborn, by stimulating both the baby's sweet and savoury senses. Anyway, this fact convinced me that my experiment was unlikely to harm.

    I prepared my partner one of her favourite dishes, a rustic Italian stew made with beef, various root vegetables, pulses, with a tomato base. Normally, i'd season only with salt and pepper, but in this case, i supplemented it liberally with pure MSG crystals, which i bought especially for this experiment from a local Oriental supermarket. She ate two large bowls, and had another for lunch the following day, with no ill effects whatsoever.

    I haven't yet revealed to her her role as a guinea pig in my experiment, and i don't think i will. From now on, however, i will enjoy my take-aways and convenience foods freely at home without any guilt!

  • Comment number 32.

    A very interesting informative programme, but was it really necessary to waste a whole pig to demonstrate the effects of salt as a preservative.

  • Comment number 33.

    Very interesting programme and some very interesting and revealing responses too!

    A good programme in that it goes a considerable way towards counter-balancing the, sometimes, irrational fear surrounding food 'additives'. But, then again, is it not rather the fault of the food industry for shrouding the whole subject of food additives in obscurity and not explaining the reasons behind them?

    The main reasons for the vast majority of all these 'chemically-pure' additions to food is either 1. to make food last longer while retaining the 'illusion' of freshness, or 2. to aid food-processing and so produce a more consistent / stable 'product'. If claims are made that the additives are for 'our' benefit (e.g., vitamins in breakfast cereals), it is usually to make an un-nutritious food more nutritious!

    I can well understand the reason for using E-numbers for chemicals with complex and often, difficult to pronounce names. The major trouble I see with this system, though, is that it places relatively inoccuous 'natural extracts' and 'nature-identical' chemical substances alongside wholy un-natural synthetic chemicals like saccharin, 'sucralose' and the azo-dyes, with no known natural analogues. It is, therefore, very difficult for anyone but an expert in food chemistry and nutrition to make any meaningful judgement about relative risk. Of course, all of these substances have been tested for safety but, the results of different tests / studies made at different times / places and to different standards can be confusing to say the least!

    What concerns me most about the rise and rise of highly processed food and its addendant additives, is the increasing lack of any real choice. Simple, fresh and RIPE ingredients seem to be getting harder to come by at affordable prices! Supermarkets need to Sort Their Act Out and sell a variety of ingredients and Not whole aisles of, for instance, 20-odd kinds of pizza injected with faux-cheese and covered with every known variety of preserved meat! You are, very much, what you eat after all.

    Despite this programme, I still think the best advise is, to eat fresh food cooked yourself from basic ingredients and if you want to be sure where it came from - grow it yourself (a tall order, I know)!

    As for MSG, I recently quit using a local chinese restaurant because twice after eating from there, I stayed awake all night with heart palpitations and a thumping headache. The first time it happened I did not make the connection. The second time I realised the common thread. I have since come to the conclusion that a diet of takeaways is probably one of the worst things you can do to yourself after smoking!

  • Comment number 34.

    You might be interested in this video clip too:

    Arguably a reminder of the importance of preservatives?

  • Comment number 35.

    Dear Stefan,
    Thanks for taking the task to show what E-numbers are. As a Toxicologist/Physiologist (University of Cambridge) I would like to add some comments. Also I am very curious on the artifical sweetner front which is on next Thursday I think?

    1) As said before by others, not all additives, E-number or not, are needed. They are only added because there is a drive to long shelf live of our foods. This of course driven by safety issues like the famous Botulism cans still present in the 70-80's. So in perspective of why they are used there is a more in depth philosophical discussion needed. Do we really need them at all? If you look from a distance to food poisoning (not the Botulism), contamination of food chains, products (pre and end) they are more common now due to the high 'need' and large scale productions (including breeding, growing, preparing). Anyone will understand that is you make >1000 marmelade jars per day that there could go something wrong more easily compared to making 1. The philosophy behind added additives (again E-number or not) is to prevent a possible contamination or minimize the possible negative outcome of a tiny contamination. Everyone who makes there own jams and marmelades knows that they go off after ~ 6 months (max a year). Why do we need to add additives to keep it for 2 years or longer? How long does it take to finish a jar of jam? So the initial why question might be much more interesting and is certainly not discussed in this context. The example of Vit C for instance. Yes a very important vitamin and indeed very crucial for our life. Indeed Scurvy is solved by Vit C. But any idea what the amount you need to prevent Scurvy? Only 2.5mg per day, to treat scurvy ~10mg/day. So minute amounts are needed. So saying that adding Vit C to food products is healthy and prevents Scurvy is misleading because you will need ~ 1 small slice of a lemon, orange per day, or even 1 potato/carrots/cabage etc etc per day to deliver your total need per day for Scurvy. So making Vit C or E300 as additive to promote your health is no issue.

    2) The other larger way to say that additives are added is because it promotes health (as for example Vit C was discussed above). So we add the all the different Vit's as E numbers to claim that its good for your health. Of course there are clear examples like Folic Acid, Vitamine B etc which indeed are very useful in certain conditions that require some additional support like pregnancy or even depression. But why do we need to add these vitamines in the first place? There are several UK and world wide screens on common food items done where they analyse the mineral/vitamin/nutrient content. That has been done systematically over the last ~60-80 years for reason of standardization, safety and nutrition survey. The recent years some food and health organizations took the time to review all these screens over the last 60 years or so and looked at the content of these minerals/vitamins/nutrients in commonly used fruits and vegetables, potato's, grain, carrots etc. All studies show that the amount of minerals/vitamins and nutrients per kg have diminished very strongly, some up to a decrease by 90% of the original amount per kg in the 40's. Again this is a different issue but this to place the addition of additives (whatever they are) in perspective. The same food and health organizations have clearily shown that organically grown fruits and vegetables contain much more of the minerals/vitamins/nutrients then mass produced ones. There are several arguments that the analysis in modern times is different from the 40's. Even that is just can not be true because we are not dying of malnutrition. Well we are not dying indeed but the amount of chronic diseases compared to 60 years ago has increased dramatically and not only because of our increasing age! There are scientific studies done in respected nutritional institutes showing that added vitamins have a worse uptake from our guts then natural occuring vitamins. As well as the fact the refined sugars (carbohydrates) seem to accelerate the disposal as well as reducing the absorption of nutrients as a whole.

    3) The safety issue. It is correct to state that when something has an E number is passed the European Union law on safety and is acceptable as food additives. But as some commentors have noticed, there is no consistancy around the world. Some are accepted in the EU and not in the USA and visa versa. This would already be an issue to get clear to why that is? Secondly the acceptable daily intake ADI, is not as safe as it sounds at all. In the program of last week your GP said that for most there are no ADI's and you both regard that as 'then they must be safe'? Well I bet to agrue the opposite. Of all the additives in our food there are very limited true ADI's. Most are derived by adding safety calculations from toxicological studies in animals. The standard is to divide the value gained from such a tox-study by 10 for species difference from animal to human and then again divided by 10 for metabolism and safety reson. This is a safe way to do it perhaps but it does not garantee anything that the so-called ADI is safe! We assume it is safe based on some preassumptions and limited historical record! As you said many times all taken in the 'right' amounts is a toxin, even water. But toxicology is a very complex process, there are acute effects and chronic effects. The limited studies done are on acute and short 'chronic' effects of chemicals. True longterm exposure comes from use in the society. And as seen for some chemicals (including drugs) some of the problems do not occure untill after 20-30-40 or more years of chronic use/exposure. How long are some of the additives in our diets? A third issue is that all chemicals are tested as single compound in a tox-screen. There are no toxicological reports on a combination of the additives, 2, 3, 4 or more in a particular food item! And again from drug studies and pharma related use we all know that some might react/interact with each other giving a totally different effect! In all honesty of course some might be better then worse but so fare we have no clue what happens with interaction of different additives in our food or in our bodies after longterm use!

    4) The last comment I would like to make is the fact that your GP said 'but even if you eat organic, fresh fruits and veggies you will consume up to 90 different chemicals'. Yes because they are in the items you eat. And probably you will eat thousands more because we do not know all the chemicals in food items and we certainly have, even in this day and age, the abilities to analyse ALL the chemical structures in food items! Probably some of them will be even more in organically grown foods then in mass produced. And probably that is a good thing because they will have a positive effect on our metabolism, immuun system, digestion etc, and thus health. The argument that some of these E-numbers or additives are natural and occure in fruits and veggies so it is okay to ADD them to out diet is in correct. That is reasoning from a Industrial Point of view. Again is should not be necessary for the majority of additives. And as someone said preservaties is something different. But there are some simple ways like freezing, freeze drying, smoking, steaming, cooling etc and these all work very efficiently without the use of additives (chemically made!!). As someone said indeed, the industry only uses a minimal amount of true natural additives like colours. The fast majority of additives are chemically made and are then by definition not Natural!

    Sorry Stefan for this long and extensive response. There is more to come on MSG and Aspartame from a physiological point of view. I will need to watch the MSG program because I missed that and the Aspartame (or which one you will test) follows on Thursday I thought! I say this because there is a big difference between toxicology and physiology and I regard some of the additives 'unhealthy' from a physiological point of view! This can mean that they are toxicological 'safe' but still make you sick and unhealthy!

    Some of my comments might be fast, short and not clear. I am more than willing to elaborate on this if you want.

    Thank you for your response and warm regards,

  • Comment number 36.

    I have a comment on the experiment you conducted with the rugby teams where one team were given full sugar drinks and the other diet drinks, and afterwards you measured how much each team ate. The team who drank the diet drinks ate on average 140 more calories, and this was atributed to the brain's reaction to the sweetners in the diet drinks. A much simpler explanation would be that the men who'd drunk the sugary drinks had consumed more calories in advance of their meal and therefore were less hungry. Would it not be better for the control group, instead of having sugary drinks with lots of calories, to have water which has neither sweeteners nor sugar?

  • Comment number 37.

    @ simiester - I would not rely on Joseph Mercola for an authoritative opinion. He has had several run-ins with the FDA over claims he makes for his product range, and I have seen what he has written about cosmetics and if he thinks he is telling the truth then he exists in a parallel universe with different laws of chemistry and biology. He advocates avoiding the use of sunscreens (and using his products instead) - the man is dangerous!
    @ gazzarr - you appear to make the mistake of believing that natural chemicals are safe, and that synthetic chemicals are dangerous. There is no such distinction. ALL chemicals have a safe dose, just as ALL chemicals have a dose that will cause an adverse effect (using the right route of exposure) - irrespective of origin.

    This was a surprisingly good programme - such a change from the typical hysterical anti-synthetic chemicals rubbish at which Channel 4 excels!

  • Comment number 38.

    I would just like to say that this is one of the most interesting and informative programs i've seen on the beeb for quite a while.
    I have two children so what i'm feeding them to ensure they are healthy is a constant battle.
    We also all have some sort of intolerance to a food, myself a nut allergy which is so severe that even a trace of nut leaves me with a debilitating migraine. My husband (with cronh's disease) and one child cannot have corn products the other white chocolate.
    I have read through comments and have come to the concludsion that basically too much of anything is bad for us. This is what my mother told me 35 years ago and what I will be telling my children!!
    'Have anything you want but only eat one!!' (I am of course refering to the food i have bought and not a mushroom they found over in the field behind my house!!!)

    P.S. Thanks Mum for teaching me to cook properly xx

  • Comment number 39.

    More great comments here. Peter, you brought up lots of really important issues - perhaps a few hours chatting over a glass of wine (with E220 in it) might tackle half of them! I'll try a few:

    1. You say that not all Es are needed and that they are only there to increase shelf-life. Well, I would argue that increasing shelf-life is vitally important to people who can't afford more expensive short shelf-life food or less convenient fresh food (the elderly, sick and those who can't cook, for instance). Increasing shelf-life lowers prices, and in an extremely competitive industry like food, lower production prices are generally (not always) reflected in shelf-price. Also most Es aren't in food to increase shelf-life - there are all manner of other uses including acidity regulators, flour improvers, emulsifiers, colours, flavour enhancers, etc.
    You also mention the amount of Vitamin C needed to prevent scurvy is very small. You're spot on, yet there are still cases of scurvy in the UK - its not the wealthy, healthy, educated, home-cooking members of the population, though, it's the poor, the sick and the elderly. For them, E300 added to food may help.

    2. You say we are not dying of malnutrition. I'd take a look at the figures from BAPEN. 3m people are living at risk of malnutrition at any one time in the UK, its effects are estimated to cost £13bn a year and it is both a cause and a result of many diseases. 2600 people died of malnutrition in UK hospitals since 2000 (
    The fact that the people most often affected are the poor, the sick and the old doesn't make their lives and happiness any less valuable than the wealthy, healthy and young for whom it's invariably less of a problem. The BAPEN report is here
    I'm no great fan of nutritional supplements, which I feel can be missold and misrepresented, but if food is fortified with vitamins and minerals, this is likely to solve more problems than it causes, even if bioavailability is compromised.

    Of course, it would be better to cook your own food from fresh every time (although fresh food can still need additives, such as bacon, cut fruit etc, and many essential ingredients like baking powder do too), and that would be brilliant for our nutrition, culture and society. But even though I strive to promote good cooking, it would be romantic whimsy to think that everyone can or will cook. Many don't have the knowledge or confidence (or interest or time) to cook, many don't have access to decent shops, and again it's the sick, elderly and poor who are most disadvantaged in this area. When you can't walk properly, long shelf-life food is a lifeline, whether we like the idea or not.

    3. Safety. You're right, its disconcerting that certain additives are viewed differently in countries. The fact that there is no consistency in safety levels of Es around the world is partly due to wildly differing levels of consumption of different foods around the world. If your population drinks 1000ml of fizzy drinks with phosphoric acid in daily, the levels in each can are likely to need to be lower than in a country where consumption is 200ml. This is also why the ADI levels are so often reviewed - if we all start drinking instant hot chocolate for breakfast every day and our consumption goes up by 50% for a significant period of time, the levels of additives we consume will increase and the EFSA may need to reassess whether the amount allowed in each pack of hot chocolate is appropriate. I don't think we need to be afraid of this. Concerned, yes, but afraid, no.

    And as you state, toxicology is a complex process but an assessment by the EFSA is not a snap decision - it takes years of testing. Many of these additives have been in our diet for tens, hundreds and some of them thousands of years anyway (of course, some haven't) such as E300 vitamin C, E220 sulphur dioxide (has been in wine since Roman times). Some haven't, and perhaps the longterm effects and combination effects when analysed over a longer period will show that an additive does have a negative effect, but the same goes for ALL natural foods too (there are often questions raised over coffee, chillies, potatoes, red meat etc). We are only beginning to learn of many effects, both good and bad, of natural, organic foods. The firm consensus of medical opinion is that fat, sugar and salt are the root cause of more nutritional problems than any other ingredient, yet they are all still essential to our nutrition. Much worse problems are caused by cross-contamination, food poisoning and unbalanced diets. No food is perfect and you can, of course, be allergic to any food, including additives. Eating rhubarb leaves can and does kill, shellfish kills, peanuts kills. People are allergic or intolerant of totally natural milk, eggs and celery but on balance, they are all useful, important substances and don't need to be banned.

    4. You're right that Es are not necessarily better for you because they are naturally-occurring, and I didn't want to give that impression (sorry if it seems that way). In the programme I showed that many Es are naturally-occurring not to encourage anyone to eat them more (again, you can be allergic to any food - and you should eat what you want, need and enjoy) but to stop people from being so afraid of them that they won't try to understand what they are. People think of Es as something dropped into food by some shady government-narco-business-scientist conspiracy. I just want people to engage with and understand their food a little more.

    I am a big fan of Es, not because I want additives thrown in food, but the opposite: it's a system brought in to test, regulate, ban and monitor what's being put in our foods. This system was brought in to stop unscrupulous producers adulterating our food and making people ill or killing them, which used to happen on a regular basis. Es aren't perfect - no food is. Again, some additives will cause some people problems, but so does milk. On balance, we are better off with milk.

    You've got some fascinating points here, and a much longer discussion would be very useful. There's only so much information you can pack into 3 hrs of popular science programming!

    Helen, you've got a good suggestion, and testing artificial sweeteners against water would also be interesting, although we specifically wanted to check the differences between sugar and high-potency sweeteners in this test.

    Mustanen, you are NAUGHTY! You must never tell.

    All the best, Stefan

  • Comment number 40.

    I just wanted to say that I found the programme both entertaining and informative although sometimes a bit gross but non the less gripping viewing. Obviously given the short nature of the programme it is impossible to cover everything and I think it sould be treated as a means to open the general publics eyes about e-numbers and allow a debate which it obviously is by the huge number of comments here. I would appreciate any more information on the way that e-numbers are manufactured that is from what and what impliactions that they have on a stric vegetarian diet.

  • Comment number 41.

    Dear Sefan,
    Thanks for these great comments and indeed I think there is much more to discuss and a 3h program will never cover every aspect of this discussion. I am happy that this is an open discussion and I would welcome a few hour discussion, including the E220 by the way. You probably have means to contact me through the blog side if that is an invitation you want me to accept?

    A few things are interesting. I fully agree and see that millions of people have some kind of malnutrition and I fully agree that this has to do with money and the accessability to affordable food in general. This is a very bad thing and it is a shame that in develop countries this is still happening. In that respect fortifying foods with certain vitamins/minerals (E-numbers) is certainly not a bad thing. I would argue the shelf-life should be a big part of this discussion. Some of the additives have been part of our cooking history (or in different countries) for centuries and are of course good in that respect. I mean all the gums you showed and come from sea weeds and sometime tree's are great cook additives and certainly also healthy. So thank for showing that some of our 'weird' looking ingredients of everyday cooking are from different natural sources. That is the fun part of showing where certain ingredients come from!

    Taking about sugar, fat and salt. Now you are in my profesional league, working in the UK biggest Metabolic Research Institute and an expert in nutrient physiology and metabolism in relation to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes (type 2). I fully agree that amounts in general but certainly for some fats, salts but mainly sugar. And then of course the refined sugars and predominantly the corn syrups etc. Yes they are a big part of our daily necessary nutrition but here the nutritional industry really did a bad job in the last 40 years and made some pretty unhealthy ingredients, refined sugar, trans-fats and addition of salt. One thing more on salt, yes a great presenvative but for the food industry is there a much more interesting 'side-effect', induces water retention and thus..........more drinking of fluids, so besides your salty sandwich chicken you have a special offer for soda-lemonades!! Just one of the reasons to cut down on salt, but of course we are addicted to this amount of salt because of the raise in our nutrition.

    The refined sugars are in crazy amounts in our diets and if you lay off for pre-cooked food for a week or two and then take for instance a dessert yoghurt you will immediately sense how sweet it actually is. Totally unnecessary of course. And when it only would have been soda-lemonades but it is in everything. So reducing that is a great idea. But doing that with artificial chemically-made sweeteners is a little doubtful. In literature there are ~120 papers showing that Aspartame (the first and commenly used sweetener from ~1986) has no 'bad' side effects. While there are ~100 papers showing that Aspartame has 'bad' side effects. That is an observation that should already trigger a discussion. The second observation is that of the ~120 positive papers more then 90% of these papers are in some way or another payed for or supported by the industry manufacturing these artificial sweeteners. While the ~100 'negative' papers are independent from industry. One reason to say think three times before using them!

    A second reason and for me the most important one is the fact that can alos be deducted from you program. What Dr. Smeets clearly showed is that an artificial sweetener gives a different brain activity compared to real sugar. His studies as he concluded show that the brain cannot be fould. Of course in his studies the visual input is blocked. In real life and real whole body physiology the following happens: You see what you are going to eat and that gives a preparitive signal to the body via the brain, you see a glass of coca cola and you know, sugar, the smell comes in and confirms the sugar. Now the body is preparing for a calorie load. You drink the cola-light and within minutes the body realizes that something is funny about what you just drank. The sensory input was calories and now the absorption from the gut shows no calories (or very limited). Then our second brain, as the gut is called, tells the brain 'I am sorry but no calories entering, please provide them!' So you start to eat more of whatever you are eating and craving for more. Your Rugby team experiment shows that very nicely and there are several papers showing actually even more prove of this and some of the underlying mechanisms. Of course a water control would be great and probably would have shown that water after the match would also increase the calorie intake compared to the sugared-drinks. But makes the point very clear, you cannot foul the brain/body and it will compensate by eating more if you put low-caloric sweeteners in your diet. This is less of a problem for 'healthy' 'lean' individuals but for overweight and obese individuals the signalling for satiety and satiation is malfunctional already so artificial sweeteners make things worse it that respect.

    There is even an interesting study done in Canada. As you know Aspertame (and all derivatives) are based on aminoacids. And the packing has to state that there is a source for phenylalanine when artificial sweetener additives are used (Aspartame-based of course). Well you probably also know that sugar ingestion leads to the release of insulin from the pancreas to regulate the glucose levels in the blood. And you would expect no to very little insulin after aspartame-sweetened drink ingestion. The oposite is true, the insulin secretion after aspartame-sweetened drinks is higher compared to normal refined corn syrup drinks! Something which of course is not so great since this is also one of the signals for storage and making of fat. The reason being is that amino acids are the most powerful insulin-secretion stimulating agents (becaue insulin also increases protein synthesis and thus muscle building!). And phenylalanine is one of those powerful stimulants! So although you might drink no calories the reaction is happening and this will in a fact excerbate the bodies sense that there are no calories to store or make into fat. And thus strengthening the signal to eat more and a second one, to make fat yourself!

    So all this makes artificial sweeteners 'bad' and not so much the suggested effects on cancer etc. The physiology makes it bad. I can, and probably will, write a complete story on fats as well or even the combination of fats and sugars. One small comment with the artificial sweeteners is that it is in almost everything, so the current ADI can in fact be easily crossed if you eat/drink all light/no-sugar added foods, especially when some people are drinking 2 or more liters of cola etc. And that is especially true for children!

    So Stefan, thanks for the reply, looking forward to more and again I am more then willing to accept your offer for a E220 drink and a chat!


    PS toxicology discussions would be interesting as well... :-)

  • Comment number 42.

    Great some guy who knows nothing about the subject trying to sell us something made in a lab.

  • Comment number 43.

    Sadly, I never saw the TV show, as I don't live in the UK, but i thought the article was interesting and some of the comments have been, well...."interesting".

    Well done Stefan for your honest and refreshing view. Not so well done to those of you who think reading wikipedia counts as research and have picked up on one or two internet sources suggesting that all E numbers are bad and the source of all our ills (just Google "MMR dangerous fraud" to see the damage caused by people/media reading too much into bad science)

    It seems these days that if you're not growing your own food, cooking with the freshest seasonal ingredients, and sautéing the occasional dead organic badger you scooped of the side of the road to get your recommended 56g of protein a day (or whatever it is), you are letting yourself down, harming the planet, and that you (yes you!) are personally responsible for the disappearance of the all the bees. You are the sort of person we need to put on TV and point and mock for being too poor to afford organic stoneground rye flour with which to make your own bread. Personally, I think that white bread with all the E numbers that makes great toast and lasts for ever is the best thing bread, I guess.

    I digress. Sadly, there are an awful lot of mouths to feed out there, modern agriculture is what it is, and it's a tricky balance of making food safe, palatable, long lasting and cost effective vs natural, organic and free of chemicals (whatever that means!). I'm sorry if you're allergic to MSG, or you feel that aspartame will get you before the obesity crisis does, but for the majority of the population (putting aside your own personal allergies) I think E numbers are often beneficial, (sometimes essential) and the least of our worries. That said, I'm glad it's not me making the decision on where the balance lies, and i'd agree we have got the balance slightly wrong with food these days, but I suspect it isn't the food industry who ultimately decide - it's us - when we walk into a supermarket, we vote with our wallets.

    Money is key - I'm lucky enough to have time and space to grow my own veg (because i enjoy it and fresh veg is very expensive where I live), and i suspect several of the commenters on here are equally fortunate (at least the ones that are anti- E numbers). You might be able to throw away that farmer's market organic bacon that spoiled before you got around to cooking it, but a lot of of people don't have that luxury.

    PS @ #31 Mustanen; thought your little experiment was hilarious, if not slightly irresponsible! I suggest you never tell her.

  • Comment number 44.

    I sometimes suspect that American and Canadian consumers are more informed about food additives, and perhaps less concerned about them, because food labels there include the full name of the additive. A label will, for example, show “propylene glycol alginate” rather than E405. When I moved to Europe it took me some time before I realised that E621 was just monosodium glutamate.

    I realise, of course, that this form of coding is essential given that in Europe the ingredients are often listed in numerous languages, and I don’t expect that packaging the food with an insert like they do for drug prescriptions would be a realistic option.

  • Comment number 45.

    hi stefan,

    I missed the series , do you know if there are any plans to re-telecast? as it's not available on iPlayer?


  • Comment number 46.

    I was rather sceptical at first but having watched the episode about Sweetener and sugar I must congratulate mr Stefan Gates for such an enlightening program. As usual, the best programmes are the one that blows your mind then leaves you with even more questions to ponder upon. Fantatstic ! the best thing since Jamie Oliver went in to schools and gave those Turkey twislers a kick up the rear end.

  • Comment number 47.

    Hi Stefan,
    After watching your show, i was inspired to do a project at school about e-numbers.
    But as i'm only a first year student in chemistry, most of the information on the internet is either to general or to complicated to understand for me.
    I wondered if you knew a good book or site of something which i might understand, but which is also very detailled.



  • Comment number 48.

    Hi Isabelle,
    Tricky one, this. Whilst I was writing my book on Es I spent months researching, and found that the information available on the web and in many of the books on the subject is often unreliable and incomplete. Often the writer has a specific agenda, seems to be selling dietary programmes, pills and supplements, alternative therapies and remedies, or is a food manufacturer who may or may not be cherry-picking the information to suit their needs. You can try doing a web search for books on Es and seeing what you come up with. There’s a detailed but expensive book by Leatherhead, a food industry research body, which is pretty good. Do check who wrote the book and have a think about what their agenda might be – personally, I wouldn’t take unqualified scientific advice from either a homeopathic practitioner or a food manufacturer, but you may think differently.

    You can try looking at the UK FSA site here:

    There’s a PDF on that page which tells you all the legislation and guidance (the BBC can’t link to a PDF directly in these comments, so take a look around).

    The substances themselves can be researched via the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisations JEFCA site here (although it’s pretty complex):

    Good luck – it’s a fascinating area, full of opinions, paranoia, money and controversy.

  • Comment number 49.

    thank you very much stefan!

  • Comment number 50.

    Is glutamate (E 621) the same as gluten or glutenfree food like this?

  • Comment number 51.

    Awww, too bad I missed this series! My compliments on taking on such a controversial subject. I would have loved to see it, but unfortunately missed it on the BBC and cannot view it on the IPlayer (I live in the Netherlands). Do you know if the series will be repeated or if it will be broadcast in other countries?

  • Comment number 52.

    g,day stef ,
    just watched enumbers 3, intersting about the artifcal sweeteners in diet drinks , I changed over to coke zero for about 18 months , I gained 7kgs ,and didn;t change the amount of coke per day ( a 1.25 lt bottle /day every day ) swaped back to normal coke and slowly droped the weight or rather I stopped putting on any more, now I only have one can / week , and it's the good stuff AH aaaaahhhh , however it did take about 3 or 4 months to get over the caffein and suggar withdrals , and It took that long as welll to learn to drink water again , now 18 months later i love plain water and it is the drink of choice , ( im embarised to say I hadn't drank plain water in probaly nearly 35 years )
    keep up the good work .

  • Comment number 53.

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