I’ve recently gone into a debate with the owner of a pet food company over their slogan “Food without E-numbers”, trying to make the person understand that the E-number system isn’t used to define what food is natural or artificial, healthy or bad. The E-number system is used to define what chemical components are allowed to be used in food and consumables for sale in Europe.
This also spread to a tangent, when the person insisted that “food without E-numbers means it’s natural“.
That inspired me to write this little explanatory post.
Natural vs Artificial
Many food companies are proud to describe their products as “natural” when the food is healthy. What natural really means is that it is not artificial. The fact is that natural or artificial has no significance at all when it comes to healthiness or poisonous. The Destroying Angel is a perfectly natural mushroom, but it’s deadly even to touch. Uranium is all-natural, but it can kill you for just being near it for too long. Table salt is often artificially made by combining chemicals, because it’s easier and cheaper than extracting it from rocks and from sea water, it is also purer when done that way, meaning it is less harmful for you to eat artificial salt than rock salt or sea salt.
When someone call their food organic, I always chuckle a little. You see, organic simply means it is carbon based. that “organic coffee” you’re drinking right now, it is made from a carbon-based plant… not that there are any non-carbon-based plants, but still.
The “organic luxury sheets” are made from fibres containing carbon. Well, let me get you in on a little secret: Most compounds on this planet are carbon-based.
Organic is often also used to describe food that has been grown without pesticides, but that’s not entirely true. Many pesticides are carbon-based, so just because they are organic, doesn’t mean it’s free from pesticides or anything artificial.
E-Numbers or Free from chemicals
Ah, we’re back where we started. As stated earlier, an E-number simply means it is a chemical allowed to be used in food and consumables in Europe. Chemical doesn’t have to mean artificial, everything is made of chemicals. Two hydrogen atoms together with an oxygen atom is a chemical composition. It’s in fact what most of our bodies contains, what 70% of the surface of the planet is covered with, and it is entirely natural.
It is called Hydroxic Acid, Dihydrogen Monoxide or simply water.
E-numbers never make any judgement on if it was made artificially or through a natural process, it simply lists the chemical if it is allowed to be used in food.
Let’s take a few examples, if you’re in Europe, pick up a food packet and follow along:
One of the most common things you’ll see in the ingredient list of any food package is E101. This is Riboflavin, and it is not without its flaws. Riboflavin overdose might turn your skin orange, your urine glowing yellow and hardly ever leaves your body.
Riboflavin is a food colouring, used in just about any food that needs to be coloured brightly yellow or glowing orange, such as M&M’s. Riboflavin is also known as Vitamin B2 and is naturally extracted from orange or yellow plants and mushrooms.
In fact, all the chemicals in the 100-section of E-numbers are naturally extracted from plants and mushrooms, and they are all food colouring additives, several of them are vitamins. So anything that isn’t looking bland or desaturated contains something with an E-number in the 100-range.
Well, if you want your milk to be bad before it can hit the shelf, your imported luxury meat to be rotten before it can even hit the barbecue or that carrot to be all grey before you put it on the kitchen counter, then by all means, remove the preservatives.
A preservative can be perfectly natural, or artificial and none of that matters when it comes to health. One of our most common preservative, E203, Calcium Sorbate, is simply salt extracted from unfatty sorbic acid. It’s like putting it in salt, like they did in the olden days, but without the salty flavour or the dehydration of the item.
So, the next time you eat an organic, all-natural sallad without E-number and no preservatives, remember that you’re probably eating poisonous, rotten plants that are banned for use as food in Europe!