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I am twelve years old and we are doing an essay on “food additives” at school. The following question will help me with my essay. Do food additives cause certain diseases and do they make children hyperactive?

Food additives are added to foods to carry out a specific function, for example to preserve the food which makes it last longer. This is mostly done by slowing the growth of potentially dangerous micro organisms. Other functions include; changing the appearance or taste of the food by adding colour and enhancing the flavour, and helping in food processing such as keeping powders flowing freely and reducing foams.

All approved additives are given a number and some are also awarded an ‘E’. An E shows that the additive has been accepted as safe all over the European Union. Food labels give information about the additives present so that consumers can make informed choices.

Although food additives have undergone a safety evaluation, in rare cases people may react abnormally to their presence in foods. Most of the time, people are just sensitive to additives. This sensitivity can result in a number of mild symptoms ranging from skin rashes, nasal congestion and hives. Very rarely there is a true IgE-mediated ‘allergic’ response. It has also been reported that some specific additives, like tartrazine, cause asthma in sensitive individuals, although the incidence is extremely low.

For some additives there is no scientific evidence to support claimed reactions. A good example is glutamate which is used in many foods to keep the taste good while the amount of salt is reduced. Some people are convinced that changes in mood and other reactions sometimes occur after consuming this additive.

However, several studies and numerous evaluations have concluded that glutamate provides a safe and useful taste enhancer in foods when the normal, very low amounts are used.

It has not been proven that additives cause hyperactivity in children. Although this theory was popularised in the 1970’s, studies carried out since that time have found no evidence that food additives cause hyperactivity or learning disabilities in children.


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