Seven facts you didn’t know about E-numbers

E-numbers have a negative image for sure, we try to avoid them because, in general, they represent all that is bad for our health. But with so many E’s out there, do we actually understand what they stand for? For starters, did you know that the E actually stands for Europe and it is just a way to indicate that the additive, natural or unnatural, has been submitted to safety tests and has been approved for use in the European Union?

Here are seven facts to unravel the E-mystery:

  1. There are over 300 food additives, found in 50% of all supermarket products. Many of these additives are essential nutrients and vitamins that are important for good nutrition. For instance, a few E-numbers essential for the human body are: E300 better known as vitamin C, E101 or rather vitamin B2 and E948 which is in fact oxygen.
  2. A surprising 118 E’s can be found in our body. So are 20 E’s synthesized by our body as part of its daily function and additionally our body sources 96 E’s from natural, unprocessed food regardless of whether the food had any E-numbers added to it.
  3. All food is made up of chemicals so if you follow an organic diet, you would still consume E-numbers. For example, an organically grown all natural banana contains 50 or more chemicals including E560, E461, E462, E464, E466, E467, E101, E300, E306, E160a & E1510.
  4. E-number stabilisers, or E400s, are a vital ingredient for many supermarket products and are often natural. The most common additive, E410 comes from the carob tree. Similarly, E471 is sourced from modified soya beans, the thickener E412 is extracted from guar seeds and E407 derives from seaweed.
  5. There are 38 E-number preservatives, or E200s, which prevent diseases such as botulism, which can cause blurred vision, paralysis and death within 24 hours. E-numbers actually save billions for health services globally, thanks to preservatives and flavour enhancers that take up the role of salt, which is linked to heart disease, strokes and higher blood pressure.
  6. “The dose makes the poison”, every single food or drink on the planet is toxic at some level, however, the benefits invariably far outweigh the risks. Apples contain cyanide, people can die from water intoxication, cabbage contains goitrogens and potatoes contain toxic solanine but we can still consume them on a daily basis. What mainly differentiates E-numbers is that they’ve been extensively tested and analysed to ascertain safe levels.
  7. The leading causes of food allergies and intolerances are still entirely natural varying from milk, wheat, eggs, nuts, fish to soya and celery. However, although most E-numbers are good for you, evidence suggests a maximum of 35 numbers are up for debate because of their potential side effects. A common list of additives you might want to watch out for are:

Although many nutritional fallacies are so often repeated you are forced to believe them, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily true. Research actually shows that E-numbers are just misunderstood numbers, with most of them doing more good than harm. And although some additives are derived from petrochemicals, most of them actually do have natural origins.


This blog is part of “The Magnificent Seven”, a series that explores the impact and influence of design with a weekly dose of must know. If you have any questions related to design, send a message to hello@reggs.com and we’ll write about it.

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