E numbers have a bad reputation, but is this justified? What are they and where do they come from?
It’s all in the name
Put simply E numbers are the classification codes given to chemical substances for use as additives in food within the EU and Switzerland. These additives can be anything, whether it’s natural or not. In fact, many of the additives put in to food are essential nutrients and vitamins.
Chemicals in nature
It might seem strange but the reality is that all food is made up of chemicals. If someone was to ask you to eat food containing E560, E461, E462, E464, E466, E467, E101, E300, E306, E160a & E1510 you might pause. Those are just a few of the 50 or more chemicals contained within an organically grown all natural banana. Chemicals with E numbers classifications are just a small part of this.
Vitamin C is E300
Vitamin C is very important for our bodies as it helps protect cells and is necessary for the maintenance of healthy connective tissues that support organs and other tissues. However, it isn’t something our bodies produce naturally so we must ensure we have the right levels of it in our diet. As well as occurring naturally in many fruits and vegetables, vitamin C is added to a huge range of food (e.g. beef jerky, baby formula, chocolate biscuits etc) and in Europe that means it’s assigned an E numbers (E300).
Over the last 12 months there have been over 3000 food products launched in Europe alone that had vitamin C (E300) added to them in some form (source: Mintel), either to improve flavour, add nutrition or as a preservative.
Some other E numbers which are essential for the human body include vitamin B2 (E101) and even Oxygen (E948)! As you can see not all E numbers are bad for you.
The thing to remember from all of this is that E numbers are just that – numbers! Whether something has an E number is not what counts, it’s the chemical behind the E numbers that has the effect, and many of these effects are good for us!