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Can E Numbers Be Good For You, Too?

e numbers

E numbers, which are codes for food additives, populate food labels throughout the European Union. They are also increasingly appearing on North American packaging, especially in Canada on imported European products. Also Australia and New Zealand use these codes, but without the prefix 'E'.

E102, E211, and E110 do not sound like something you would want to put into your mouth, and recent headlines in the press such as "E-numbers do harm children, research shows" and "E numbers 'link' to manic kids" are likely to only reconfirm your previously-held view that E numbers are utterly detrimental to your health. You may have read about the study commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency a few years ago which confirmed that tartrazine (E102), sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), ponceau 4R (E124), azorubine (E122), allura red (E129) and sodium benzoate (E211) can indeed trigger bad behaviour and should be avoided.

While you should stay as far away as possible from the harmful food additives such as the ones mentioned above (especially if you're worried about hyperactivity or suffer from allergies, there is no reason to shy away from all foods that contain E numbers. Many E numbers are just standardized codes for natural substances (natural preservatives/emulsifiers/stabilizers), some of which may even have beneficial health effects. For instance, E300 is nothing fancier than vitamin C — a well-known flu fighter and an immune booster — and E160d is the E number for lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that can control exercise-induced asthma and increase the skin's natural c.

Beneficial E Numbers

The below table provides an overview of some of the most powerful natural health promoting nutrients that also have an E number.

E NumberUsage as AdditivePotential Health Benefits
E300 (vitamin C)E300 (vitamin C) functions as a natural antioxidant additive and bread flour enhancer. E300 is added to a wide range of foods including cured meat, frozen fish, breakfast cereals and wine.May help the body burn more fat during workouts; promotes strong and healthy connective tissue; helps strengthen and tone blood vessels and increase circulation; protects the body from free radical damage; increases iron absorption from foods; helps reduce histamine release in the body; boosts the immune system
E101 (vitamin B2)E101 (vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin) is used as a food coloring.May help reduce the severity and frequency of migraines; is essential for normal thyroid function and metabolism; helps maintain healthy hair; helps combat greasy hair by regulating sebum production; helps protect cells from oxygen damage
E100 (curcumin)E100 (curcumin), a substance that gives turmeric root its intense yellow color, is used as a natural food coloring.Has proven anti-inflammatory activity and may therefore be able to alleviate symptoms associated with psoriasis and eczema; has anti-cancer properties; can significantly reduce the number of colon polyps
E163 (anthocyanins)E163 (anthocyanins) are used as a natural food coloring. It is added to certain dairy products, jellies, sweets, pickles, soft drinks and vegetable soups. E163 is usually extracted from grape skins or red cabbage.May help prevent cellulite and wrinkles by contributing to the health of the collagen matrix; promotes the overall health of the cardiovascular system; may help fight rheumatoid arthritis due to its strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties
E140 (chlorophyll)E140 (chlorophyll) is used to color a variety of products such as pasta and absinthe.Inhibits nitrosamine formation in the body (nitrosamines can cause cancer; possesses some anti-atherogenic activity and may thus help maintain cardiovascular health; helps neutralize the effects pollution on our bodies
E160d (lycopene)Due to its strong red color, lycopene (E160d) is a popular food coloring. Commercially, lycopene is extracted from tomatoes.Helps protect the skin against harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun; may help control exercise-induced asthma; is thought to have anti-cancer properties
E161b (lutein)E161b (lutein) is used as a food coloring. Commercially, lutein is extracted from the petals of marigold.Appears to keep the eyes safe from oxidative stress and may reduce the risk of age-related cataracts; supports skin health and helps prevent wrinkles by increasing skin hydration, elasticity and lipid levels; promotes cardiovascular health