Additives in food • dangerous E numbers

Preservatives, E numbers, antioxidants or emulsifiers – more than 300 additives are allowed in food. What additives are, what is hidden behind E numbers and what clean labeling means.

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What are additives?

Additives are added to food to make it more durable or to influence its taste or appearance. Additives in food must be labeled with generic terms from which the purpose of their use can be derived, and additionally with numbers. A wide variety of chemicals such as preservatives, colorings, flavor enhancers, antioxidants and emulsifiers are hidden behind the numbers marked with an “E”. Antioxidants prevent the food from reacting with the oxygen in the air and thus increase the shelf life. Emulsifiers are used to combine substances that would not naturally combine – such as water and oil.

What do E numbers mean?

The “E” in E numbers stands for “Europe”, because these are designations for additives in food that are valid in all countries of the European Union (EU). Over 300 E numbers are currently permitted, and the number is rising. Some of these additives, which are identified by E numbers, pose a health risk. For example, aromas impair the natural sense of taste. Others can lead to allergies or even promote the development of cancer. Organic manufacturers are only allowed to use 44 E numbers, the majority of which are harmless. In addition, the additives in organic products must not be genetically engineered.

The currently approved additives can be classified as follows:

Frequently used E numbers: meaning and effect

E-Number substance function possible negative effect
E104 Chinolingelb, dye can promote ADHD in children, causing allergies
E110, E122 Gelborange S, Azorubin (Carmoisin) dye

can promote ADHD in children, trigger allergies – Frequent consumption is not recommended


Chochenillerot A

Dye (in salmon substitute)

can promote ADHD in children, trigger allergies – Frequent consumption is not recommended

E127 Erythrosin-Rot dye

can impair thyroid function and exacerbate ADHD



dye can cause allergies
E 210-213 Benzoic acid Preservative can trigger allergies, is discussed in connection with ADHD
E300, E301, E302 Ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate Antioxidant, color stabilizer and flour treatment agent is suspected of forming oxalic acid, which, if continuously overdosed, can lead to kidney and bladder stones – also approved for organic food
E306, E307, E308, E309 Extracts with a high tocopherol content, tocopherol, alpha-, gamma- and delta-tocopherol Natural vitamin E, antioxidant and color stabilizer Overdosing on vitamin E is harmful, but rare
E310, E311, E312 Propylgallat, Gallat, Octylgallat, Dodecylgallat Antioxidants are suspected of hindering the absorption of iron and triggering allergies
E315, E316 Isoascorbinsäure, Natriumisoascorbat Antioxidant and color stabilizer (for fish and meat products) is suspected of hindering the absorption of natural vitamin C.
E319 tertiär-Butylhydrochinon (THBQ) Antioxidants Contact allergen, possibly carcinogenic (carcinogenic in animal experiments)
E320, E321 Antioxidants allergenic, can accumulate in the body – Frequent consumption is not recommended
E322 Lecithin Emulsifier, antioxidant, flour treatment agent and stabilizer harmless – also for plant-based organic food, organic dairy products and baby food

Here you can read more information about E-numbers of sweeteners.

According to the law, manufacturers are free to choose whether to include the E number or the chemical name in the list of ingredients. Since the E numbers have fallen into disrepute, more and more manufacturers are using the chemical name instead of the E number. For example, instead of E 100 curcumin, instead of E 421 mannitol or instead of E 999 quillaja extract is given.

However, there are also harmless E numbers. Examples are:

  • Biochar (E 153)
  • Carbon dioxide (E 290)
  • St. John’s wort kernel flour (E 410)
  • Beeswax (E 901)

Clean Labeling: Is Additive Free Healthier?

Many product manufacturers of finished products and meals use clean labeling. This means labels such as “Without the addition of preservatives, artificial flavors and colorings” or “Without flavor enhancers”. However, these are only based on the legal regulations, which are often difficult to understand for consumers. A natural aroma can also have been produced in the laboratory and does not automatically come from the natural product it is supposed to taste like.

Flavor enhancers

When it comes to flavor enhancers, glutamate in particular has fallen into disrepute, as it can also cause allergic reactions. However, glutamate is often not listed as an ingredient, but is still hidden in the product. Because yeast extract, soy protein, soy sauce and seasoning also contain glutamate, which does not have to be labeled separately. Products that contain these ingredients can still be labeled as “free from flavor enhancers”.


Even foods labeled “free of colorings” are often colored with concentrates or powders made from fruit or vegetables, such as beetroot, in order to simulate a higher quality. Legally, these are not considered to be colorants and the corresponding food may contain the label “without artificial colorings”.

Just a look at the list of ingredients reveals whether no flavors, preservatives or flavor enhancers have been used. The healthiest thing to do is to consume as few ready-made foods as possible and, if so, to go for organic quality. Otherwise it is better to cook it yourself with fresh ingredients.

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Source: Lifeline | Das Gesundheitsportal by

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