8 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About 'Scary' Chemicals

7. It’s Possible To Avoid All Food Additives

Orange Vitamin C

How many times have you heard it? “Oh, I don’t eat processed food. I don’t eat anything with additives!”

Those long lists of mysterious things in food are just ridiculous. What are tocopherols, and lecithin, and ascorbic acid anyway?

Well, tocopherol is also known as vitamin E, found naturally in most nuts and seeds. It’s an antioxidant, and it’s used as a preservative. Lecithin is an emulsifier – a substance which allows oil and water to mix – naturally found in eggs and soya. Ascorbic acid is otherwise known as vitamin C found, of course, in citrus fruits and used as an acidity regulator and preservative.

Actually, huge numbers of additives (called ‘E numbers’ in Europe and the UK) come from entirely natural sources. Because extracting these substances can sometimes be expensive, some of them are laboratory-produced versions of naturally-occurring molecules, but they’re identical in every way – you wouldn’t be able to tell a tablespoon of synthetic ascorbic acid from a spoonful made from a sack of oranges. It’s true that there are some additives, mostly colours, which don’t have any link with natural sources at all. But they’re increasingly unpopular with consumers, which means they’re appearing less and less often in foods.

In much the same was as you can’t avoid chemicals, you can’t really avoid additives, either. Although, in fairness, sometimes they’re less ‘added’, more a 'fundamental part of the foodstuff', but you get the idea.

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Kat Day is a science blogger, writer and teacher living in Oxfordshire in the U.K. Her award-winning blog is called The Chronicle Flask, and she has also written articles for Sense About Science, Things We Don't Know and Nature Chemistry. When she's not writing or teaching she is usually trying to keep on top of important parenting skills such as negotiation, conflict resolution and always having the right coloured cup.