I need to eat more healthily, so I’m going to cut down on foods containing E numbers. Here’s my plan. I must stay away from tomatoes, as they’re full of E160d (lycopene) and I’m giving up oranges as they contain lots of E300 (Vitamin C). Spinach and cabbage are definitely out as both are big sources of E101 (Vitamin B2). Apples have too much E440 (pectin) so they are blacklisted. And I should avoid oats, as they contain E306 (Vitamin E).
But what I need more of is nice natural unprocessed whole food such as full-fat yoghurt, which is less likely to contain E410 and E412 (bean-based thickeners) than low-fat alternatives. Another avenue to explore is to turn my back on the corrupted modern food industry and live off berries and mushrooms that I gather from the local woods.
OK, so I’m being facetious, but it just demonstrates the folly of blindly villifying a group of substances while boasting about eating “natural” foods. Granted, E numbers also cover a small number of chemicals that may have adverse effects in a small number of people. One of the better-known examples involved Nestlé, who replaced artificial colourings in Smarties after claims such colourings may aggravate hyperactivity in children. But most are harmless components of food, and to qualify for an E number, chemicals must pass European safety tests.
So I don’t think we should panic, just eat a balanced diet and make sure to get plenty of exercise and fresh air (contains E948, oxygen).
Bhaskar Narayan is a final year medical student at Cambridge University Medical School