Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

No E's in our food for a week

...and yes, we all survived!

Healthy eating - Sinead, son Andrew and daughter Aisling gave up foods that contained E numbers for a week

A recent report from Southampton University has called for a ban on food additives. The study found that seven artificial colourings and preservatives commonly found in food are linked to hyperactivity, allergies and even cancer.

The seven ingredients are ones which are routinely prohibited in other countries, but are completely legal here. Scientists say they are used solely for cosmetic purposes - colouring food such as sweets, jelly and jams, which are attractive to children. But they add no nutrients.

How hard would it be to 'ban' these additives from everyday food? The thought of artificial chemicals being added to our food is a scary one, so I wanted to see if our family could manage for a week without them.

Before committing, Aisling (13) and Andrew (10) want to know what they " can't have". We scrutinise our cupboards and find most things are E-free. Armed with our list of seven banned substances, we begin.

SATURDAY

We've picked a lousy day to start. It's Aisling's birthday and we have a party of teenagers.

They want pizza, nachos and a chocolate fountain for afters. I make the pizza myself as I'm unsure what's in the frozen versions. Using organic flour and tomato sauce, I'm sure it's additive free.

However, I'm astonished to find that the chorizo salami we love is coloured with E124 - one of the banned substances. We substitute regular salami and there's not a scrap left.

I spotted that Coke has E211 sodium benzoate in it, but so does fizzy orange and 7 Up. Not a good start. I can't give the kids water at a party without serious credibility issues! We relent and go for 7 Up, which at least isn't coloured. No problems with the nachos or (reassuringly) the mountain of chocolate now dripping onto marshmallows and being lapped up by the girls.

It's only as I'm putting the empty marshmallow packets into the bin that I realise they have no fewer than three of our banned additives in them - E104, E110 and E124 as colouring agents. Yikes! Failed already. Still, it IS a birthday party.

Everyone's a bit hyper but it's hard to tell if it's as a result of the dodgy sweets. Happily, the glass of wine I have to recover after they've all gone home is "spiced with touches of vanilla" according to the bottle, but blissfully not an E in sight!

SUNDAY

Cereal for breakfast, which usually means the chocolate covered ones. I'm happy to see that aside from the added sugar, there is nothing on my list to worry about. Andrew opts for porridge instead, which is even better.

Later on we go to Starbucks and my Skinnychino is sin-free in every way.

The muffin the kids share is made on the premises and the staff are mildly horrified when I ask them if it's packed with Es. Maybe they got the wrong end of the stick ¿

Lunch is homemade potato and leek soup. The only wicked bit is the addition of cream, but at least it's natural.

We have home-made beef casserole for dinner. Some ready made sauces have additives to prolong shelf life, so I don't trust them. I add lots of vegetables and the whole lot is eaten.

MONDAY

I'm up early for once and make pancakes for breakfast. We usually love these and smother them with lemon juice and sugar. I find that the strawberry syrup we like is injected with E124 so it is binned.

School lunches are a healthy pitta sandwich, fruit and yoghurt. I'm wary of the yoghurt, but it turns out to be fine. The Mi-Wadi the kids normally take to school has sodium benzoate (E211), which amazes me as it's marketed specifically for children. Grumbling, they take water instead.

After a hard day's work, I collect the kids from school and we stop off for a treat. I don't have much of a sweet tooth but absolutely adore jelly beans. However, the pick 'n' mix doesn't indicate what's in them and I'm thinking those bright pinks and oranges aren't au naturel. I have a Kit-Kat instead. The kids have plain crisps.

TUESDAY

I'm doing lots of cooking, which I like, but I sometimes use ready made sauces or avail of the odd takeaway if it's a particularly busy day.

While I can scrutinise packaging, I'm a little cross to find that ingredient lists are often vague: 'flavourings' or 'preservatives' instead of a proper list of additives.

WEDNESDAY

It's my mum's birthday, so my husband and I are dining in a fancy restaurant tonight with the extended family.

I'm assuming, based on the extortionate bill, that only the very best ingredients have been used! The kids get macaroni cheese before we leave. The babysitter is told not to give them Coke.

THURSDAY/FRIDAY

Weetabix for breakfast which contains no added Es and plenty of home-cooked dinners again - fish pie and lasagne along with tuna sandwiches and soup for lunch. All natural ingredients, although I do cheat and use a ready-made tarragon sauce for the pie which I've checked for Es.

CONCLUSIONS

We're lucky because we don't eat convenience foods that often and sweets are banned during the week. But we were all surprised to find out how many additives are in soft drinks, even dilutes marketed at children.

I found it startling that it was virtually impossible to find soft drinks not containing E211 - for me the most worrying additive, but the children were happy to substitute treats like chocolate and crisps for brightly coloured sweets.

All in all, it was easy enough which makes me wonder why the additives aren't just banned.

Do we really care about the colour of our food so much?

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