Clean Label Language Analysed

Clean Label Language Analysed

(Posted on 24/06/16)

Consumers have traditionally opted for fresh ingredients where possible, in order to avoid processed food and food containing additives they don’t recognise. However, as consumers become more educated and interested in looking into the constituents of their food, they are beginning to recognise the ingredients themselves and the associated effects on their health and wellbeing.

Lately, the rising level of obesity has created a lot of bad press around food labelling, blaming their apparent lack of information and transparency or inclusion of confusing or distorted information and data.

Nutrition labelling is the provision of information about the nutritional content of individual food products according to the European Food Information Council (EFIC).

E-numbers and additives have a bad reputation.  However, the bad press actually derives from a lack of understanding, according to Food Additives and Ingredients Association (FAIA), of whom Cornelius is a member.

Without food additives, the food we eat would look and taste very different.

FAIA gives a great example of how additives can appear in everyday foods that you would least expect, including organic foods. Take a tomato for example, which, if it had a label attached would look like this:

Monosodium glutamate E621

Carotene E160a

Lycopene E160d

Riboflavin E101

Ascorbic acid E300

Citric acid E330

Malic acid E296

Some food additives have little nutritional value but have a vital role in the preservation, processing, manufacturing and presentation of food. Some examples of frequently used additives include anti-oxidants, which stop fat combining with oxygen and food going bad, colours, emulsifiers, stabilisers and thickeners used to help mix or thicken ingredients, flavour enhancers, preservatives and sweeteners.

Additives must be proven to be safe before being used in a food product.  What’s more, the laws around this are very strict, which should help quash fears around additives and E-numbers having a negative impact on health. In Europe, this is the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 

In fact, each permitted additive has a unique E Number – the “E” simply means that the additive is approved for use across the EU, quite the contrary to the reputation that E-numbers seem to have. 

Still not convinced? 

A simple natural product such as milk is actually a complex mixture of tiny fat particles containing vitamins, phospholipids, carotenoids and cholesterol, suspended in a watery solution containing proteins, mineral salts, lactose and water-soluble vitamins.                                                                        

Check out FAIA’s complex chemical process to baking a cake – you wouldn’t believe what is actually involved in a simple egg, flour and butter process.

FAIA describes every cook as a chemist, explaining that every kitchen contains a battery of chemical reagents, each with their specific chemical purpose, for example vinegar, salt, milk and eggs.

One would presume that the effect of busier lifestyles and the need for convenience, ease of food preparation and extended shelf life would increase the quantity of additives used in food. This is simply not the case. In fact, the usage of additives is not much greater than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

Currently, one third of all food is wasted worldwide, but without the use of preservatives in food, this figure would be much larger. Preservatives simply prevent the growth of, or eliminate, microorganisms, some of which are very dangerous.

Functional foods have been trending for the past 10 years or so.  A functional food is defined as “any modified food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains” according to the US Institute of Medicine; from cholesterol-lowering products and high fibre cereals to drinks fortified with cranberry juice for its antioxidant properties.

Everybody is different and has different nutritional needs for their health and wellbeing.  Take a look at this list of functional ingredients and their benefits to health as prime examples.

Consumers need to learn to trust the food industry’s extensive knowledge of food and its effects on health.  Additives and E-numbers are added to food as they carry out a specific purpose – so let’s try to leave it up to the experts.