Most of the ingredients you cook with will generally have a recognisable name and use, but this is not always the case for the list of ingredients on the back of many packaged food products. As a result, it can be quite hard to know the source of all of the ingredients we consume. A number of those which you do not recognise from first glance, or those you don’t have in your kitchen cupboard, will be additives.
What are additives and where are they used?
Additives are used in food products to help preserve, colour and/or flavour food. Often added to more highly processed foods, these ingredients are regularly used to replace real food ingredients, such as fruit flavours instead of the real deal. Colourings are used, for example, to provide a better association with a fruit or vegetable, or to ensure the product retains its colour over the extent of its long shelf life. The real fruit or veg is commonly replaced as it is more expensive. Preservatives are added to products to help to manufacturers to keep their products on shelf for an extended period of time and allow you to keep them in your cupboard for longer – there is a reason many shop-bought bread loaves last longer than the one you would make at home.
Clean label: What is it?
Many food and drink manufacturers focus some of their marketing activity on showcasing how they are improving their product and cleaning up the recipe in a bid to follow the clean label trend. And many are making improvements to their products. However, many are using claims on their front of pack to provide health halos and finding ways to remove E numbers whilst still keeping costs down, is by using so-called ‘natural’ colours and flavours. These ‘clean labels’ can give the illusion of a very healthy product. But, no matter how healthy the product sounds, turn the pack over and read the ingredient list so you really know what you are getting. Often the only difference between natural colours and artificial ones is that they start with pigments that occur in nature. Otherwise, they are made using the same industrial process, including extraction using solvents. Similarly, for flavourings, natural ones are made using the same physical, enzymatic and microbiological process as artificial ones.
Turn the pack over and look for a short, recognisable ingredients list
At the end of the day, for the majority of us, we want to eat real food and consume as few additives as possible. One way to know more about the origin of your food is reduce intake of highly processed foods and heavily refined ingredients. But don’t beat yourself up about buying a packaged food item, we all need to buy convenience foods from time to time, and you shouldn’t be too concerned over this. Any ingredient used in a product purchased in Australia will consist of ingredients that are certified for use by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).
Saying that, if you have the time, it is worth turning over the pack of your favourite items to see what’s really in them. Look for those with a shorter ingredients list and made with ingredients you recognise and are commonly found in your pantry – it’s a good way of ensuring you really know what’s in your food.
About the Author
Diana Austen works for Whole Kids as a Nutrition Advisor. With a Master’s degree in nutrition, she has over six years’ experience working with a range of companies on innovation, strategic insight and regulatory and scientific affairs. Fascinated by the nutritional requirements of infants and young children she focuses specifically on products for this age group.