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Food Additives- Types| Functions & Its Harmful Effect on Health

Food Additives- Types| Functions & Its Harmful Effect on Health

Food additive refers to those substances which are added to food for its preservation or enhancing its taste, flavor, smell etc. Earlier our food system was different but revolutionary changes have taken place in our food system. Entirely new foods line the grocery shelves-convenience foods, fabricated foods, and special dietary foods. Besides traditional foods, there are improved foods as milk fortified with vitamin D, bread with restored vitamins and minerals and even canned goods with better colour, flavour and texture. The nations are fed by a large, industrialized food system. However, this huge food system could not have overcome the overwhelming challenges of mass food production, processing, storage, cleansing, handling, transporting, refining, cooking, mixing, heating, and packaging without extensive use of chemical additives.

These chemical food additives are now being associated with the toxic hazards and health risks. Many of the conventional additives like diethyl-stilbestrol (DES), cyclamates, safrole, are already banned, and several as saccharin, monosodium glutamate, nitrite, nitrate, BVO etc. are under serious investigations.

A food additive has been defined as “a substance or mixture of substances other than a basic foodstuff, which is present in a food as result of any aspect of production, processing, storage or packaging.”

Types of Food Additives

There are three main types of food additives:

  1. Direct or intentional:

These are added deliberately to perform specific functions. Flavors, flavor enhancers, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, vitamins, colors, anti-caking compounds antifoaming agents etc. are included in this type of food additive.

  1. Indirect or incidental:

As a result of some phases of production, processing, storage or packaging, these are present in food in some traces. These include residues of fertilisers, pesticides etc. and heavy metals and other toxins that migrate.

  1. Naturally-occurring:

These result from processing conditions, metabolic reactions and unanticipated chemical combinations. These include safrole and related compounds and contaminants as aflatoxins, etc.

Direct additives may be synthesised or derived from natural sources. For instance, the lecithin used in bread is extracted from soybean and corn.

Vanillin, the flavouring agent is synthesised. The vitamins are man-made. Indirect additives include in addition to residues of agricultural chemicals (fertilisers, pesticides, feed adjuvants, drugs), traces of heavy metals from pipes (as lead), machinery, metabolic and ceramic vessels tins and other utensils. The major food packing material -glass, metal, paper, plastics and regenerated cellulose – containing about 5000 chemicals may also contaminate foods by contact. There are several factors that encourage the development and use of food additives. These are population, urbanisation, labour cost, public health concern, special diets, convenience foods, fresh foods year round, and flavouring, ethnic and snack foods.

Functions of Food Additives

The use of food additives does the following:

  • It makes possible increased agricultural yields through increasing feed utilisation in livestock.
  • Food additive facilitates handling, distribution and preparation of foodstuffs.
  • It also controls chemical, physical and microbiological changes so as to lessen waste, lessen hazards from microbes and preserve quality over extended time.
  • It facilitates modification and synthesis of food contents to meet special dietary needs and to offer many novelty and convenience foods.
  • It improves sensory and nutritive properties.

The above mentioned is made possible by several additive groups used as :

Anti-caking and free-flowing agents, Antimicrobial agents, Antioxidants, Colorants, curing and pickling agents, Dough strengtheners, Drying agents, Emulsifiers, Enzymes, Firming agents, Flavor enhancers, Flavoring agents, Flour treating agents, Formulation aids, Fumigants, Humectants, Leavening agents, Lubricants and release agents, Non-nutritive sweeteners, Oxidising and reducing agents, pH control agents, Preservatives, Processing aids, Propellants, Aerating agents and gases, Release agents, Sequestrants, Solvents and vehicles, Stabilizers and thickeners, Surface-active agents, Surface-finishing agents, Synergists, Texturizers, Thickening agents and Hormones and Growth regulators.

Harmful Effects of Food Additives on Health

Food additives also cause potential harm which could be of serious concern. Some of the possible effects include carcinogenesis, tumorogenesis, teratogenesis and mutagenesis. Many athma, urticaria and other allergic reactions may also be attributed to food additives.

Pesticides also produce toxic effects. DDT, organophosphate insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and fumigants cause serious health hazards. Organophosphates in man cause headache, giddiness, nervousness, blurred vision, nausea, cramps, diarrhea, chest discomfort, sweating, muscle twitches, convulsions and coma. Herbicides cause throat irritation and reproductive failure in some animals.

Trace elements (element whose concentration is very low ) like mercury, selenium, lead, tin, Cadmium, Aluminium, Arsenic, Fluoride and iodide have been shown to elicit toxic effects in animals including man. Mercury poisoning include salivation, stomatitis and diarrhea. Methyl mercury is a crucial toxicant as well. Symptoms of selenium poisoning include dermatitis, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of hair and nails. Acute lead intoxication is usually manifested by abdominal colic, encephalopathy, myelopathy, peripheral neuropathy and anemia. Tin causes increased incidence of fatty degeneration of liver and vacuole changes in the renal tubules of rats. Large intakes of Aluminium are shown to induce gastro-intestinal irritation. The symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, burning of mouth and throat and severe abdominal pain are included in acute arsenic poisoning when occurred by oral route.

Prolonged intake of fluoride results in mottled teeth in children, and by 30 years of age, develop into pain and stiffness of spine and joints until the spine becomes one rigid column of bone. In severe cases there is a definite weight loss (termed as cachexia), loss of apetite, emaciation, usually followed by death.

Packaging contaminants as glass, metal, paper, plastics and regenerated cellulose are also toxic to animal and man. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) is shown to be carcinogenic in rats and causing liver tumors in man. Ethylene glycol (EG) produces renal calculi, calcification and tubular damage in man, rats and other animals.

Some of the food additives that occurs naturally like pressor amines, citral, gossypol, tangeretin and safrole also produce adverse effects. Citral has potential to cause damage to the vascular endothelia after it is fed to animals. Pressor amines cause marked increase in blood pressure in mammals. Gossypol  cause some adverse effect which include loss of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, hypoprothrombinemia and hair discoloration, lowering of hemoglobin, RBC count and serum protein, edema Safrole of lung and heart, degenerative changes in liver and spleen, hemorrhages of liver, small intestine and stomach in chickens. In rats caused liver tumors and liver damage.

Psychoactive substances like caffeine, theophylline and theobromine may affect the central nervous system. Caffeine is present in tea, coffee and cocoa. Scopolamine, a belladonna alkaloid also produces central stimulation. Nicotine is also toxic in larger doses.

Antivitamins also interfere with intestinal absorption and may cause other toxic effects.

Vitamins may also produce several serious health hazards if taken in larger amounts. Vitamin A, D, K, C, E, niacin, folic acid and thiamin may cause different kinds of disorders including serious neurologic damage.

Flavour enhancer such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) commonly used in Chinese recipes is liable for the Chinese Restaurant syndrome —a burning sensation within the back of neck spreading to forearms to the anterior tightness and sub-dermal discomfort. Some food colours have also been found to cause adverse effect to the health.

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