Sodium Aluminum Silicate

picture of ingredient list

What is Sodium Aluminum Silicate?

Sodium aluminum silicate is a food additive. It is used to prevent caking and clumping so that powdered foods flow more easily.

Description:

picture of ingredient list with sodium aluminum silicate

Ingredients

Sodium aluminum silicate is a naturally occurring acid salt.  It is made from a combination of silicon, sodium, aluminum and oxygen.  The natural form is also known as albite feldspar. It is used by potters as a glazing and strengthening agent.

For the food industry, it is synthetically produced. The exact chemical compositions used will depend on the specific application. 

It looks like colourless, odorless crystals.[1]

Common Uses:

I first encountered sodium aluminum silicate while looking over the ingredient list of a powdered coffee creamer.

You should look for sodium aluminum silicate on the label of powdered or granulated foods.  Specifically, look for it in foods like dried or powdered milk, cake mixes, instant powdered soups, and instant chocolate milk.

Side Effects / Health Issues:

Food additives containing aluminum are coming under more and more scrutiny due to health concerns [2].

I have always heard that aluminum in food has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.  The Alzheimer’s Association says that this is a myth. They say that no studies have ever confirmed a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease [3].

E Number:

Sodium Aluminum Silicate has an E number of 554.  Other anti-caking/anti-clumping food additives are found in the range E530 to E578.

Personal Notes:

Most sources indicate that it is safe to consume in the quantities normally used in foods. But, I simply don’t like the idea of eating synthetically produced chemicals.  This is one ingredient that I’m going to try and avoid.

What are your thoughts?  

Please leave a comment. Let me know what you think about foods containing sodium aluminum silicate.

Sources:

[1] LiveStrong.com: What Is the Use of Sodium Aluminum Silicate in Food?

[2] Health Canada Requests Information from Industry on the Use of Aluminum-Containing Food Additives

[3] Alzheimer’s Myths: Alzheimer’s Association

 

 

Posted in Food Additives

Amaranth

Red Square labelled Amaranth
Red Square labelled Amaranth

Amaranth is the name of an artificial red food dye

What is Amaranth?

Amaranth is an artificial food dye also known as red dye #2.  It gets its name because the colour is similar to that of the plant named Amaranth.

Description:

Amaranth is an azo dye similar to allura red.

In 1974 amaranth was banned in the United States. Allura Red was meant to be its replacement.  Initially, the amaranth dye was made from coal tar, but nowadays most synthetic dyes are more likely to be made from petroleum byproducts.

As mentioned elsewhere, an azo dye is a chemical compound where two hydrocarbon groups (A hydrocarbon is an organic compound made entirely from hydrogen and carbon atoms.  There are many different kinds of hydrocarbons) are joined by two nitrogen atoms.  The letters azo are derived from the french word for nitrogen, azote.

Azo dyes account for roughly 60 to 70% of all dyes used in the food and textile industries.  The reason they are so popular is that azo dyes are cheap to produce and are more stable than most natural food dyes.

Common Uses:

Amaranth can be found as a food colouring in alcoholic beverages, red soft drinks, cake mixes, ice cream, jams, jellies, and many other processed foods.

Amaranth dye is also used in France and Italy in the production of caviar.

Side Effects / Health Issues:

The amaranth dye has been banned in the United States since 1974 because it is a suspected carcinogen.  It is still acceptable for use in other countries, including Canada.1

Other health issues are similar to those of other azo dyes.  People who have a salicylate intolerance (aspirin is the most common salicylate drug) may have similar reactions to the amaranth dye.  Additionally, it is a histamine liberator, and may intensify symptoms of asthma.

There have also been many recent studies asserting links between hyperactivity in children and the consumption of artificial food dyes and preservatives.2

E number:

Additives that have an E number between 100 and 199 are used to colour food.  The E Number of amaranth is 123.

Other artificial red dyes include:

 

Personal Notes:

There are no benefits from artificial food dyes other than making food a more pleasing colour.  On the other hand, here could be many risks.

What’s your opinion?  Do you avoid synthetic food dyes?  Please leave a comment.

Sources:

1. Food Additives Permitted for Use in Canada.

2. The Lancet – Food additives and Hyperactive Behaviour

Posted in Colour, Food Additives

What is Calcium disodium EDTA?

Calcium Disodium EDTA

Calcium disodium edta infographicClick infographic to enlarge.

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What Is Calcium Disodium EDTA?

Calcium disodium EDTA is a white, odorless, crystalline powder, with a faint, salty taste. In the food industry, it is commonly used a preservative and sequestrant.

Description:

The full scientific name is Calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetraacetate.

It is a chelating agent, meaning that it binds to metals. When the metals are bound (or sequestered), they are prevented from taking part in chemical reactions that would lead to colour or flavour deterioration. For example, when used in canned foods, such as lima beans, it prevents the beans from darkening because the iron ions and other metals found in the canning water are bound by the additive and cannot participate in other reactions.1 Calcium disodium EDTA is made from formaldehyde, sodium cyanide, and Ethylenediamine

Common Uses:

Calcium disodium EDTA is widely used and is becoming one of the most common organic pollutants.2

Besides its use as a food additive, it is used in the textile and paper industries. It is used to improve stability in pharaceutical products, detergents, shampoos, soaps, argricultural chemical sprays, contact lens cleaners and cosmetics. It is used in medical laboratories and dentist offices.

Calcium disodium EDTA has been approved in the U.S. for use in chelation therapy. Chelation therapy helps to remove heavy metals from the body and is used to treat lead poisoning and radiation exposure.

As a food additive, it helps to prevent colour or flavour deterioration. In soft drinks containing ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate, EDTA helps to prevent the formation of benzene which is a known carcinogen.

Calcium Disodium EDTA in Mayonaisse

It inhibits rancidity (disagreeable odor or taste of decomposing oils or fats) in salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces, and sandwich spreads.

Foods that may contain Calcium disodium EDTA include:4

  • Pickled cabbage and cucumbers
  • Canned potatoes
  • Cooked and canned shrimp, clams and crabmeat
  • Canned beans
  • Canned mushrooms
picture of ingredient list containing calcium sodium edta

Calcium Sodium EDTA

Calcium Disodium EDTA Side Effects / Health Issues:

Calcium disodium EDTA is on the FDA priority list of food additives to be studied for mutagenic, teratogenic, subsacute, and reproductive effects.3 In other words, the FDA wants to study it further to see if it is associated with birth defects, cancer or reproductive problems.

Most of the references I’ve been able to find seem to indicate that Calcium disodium EDTA is safe in small amounts found in prescription medicine, eye drops and food preservatives. However, there is a risk that it could cause cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, low blood pressure, skin problems, and fever. It is not safe to consume more than 3 grams per day. Too much can cause kidney damage, low calcium levels and even death.5

E Number:

The E number of Calcium disodium EDTA is 385.

Sources:

[1] Health Canada Definition of Codes for Food Additives

[2] Zhiwen Yuan and Jeanne M. VanBriesen. Environmental Engineering Science. May/June 2006, 23(3): 533-544. doi:10.1089/ees.2006.23.533

[3] College Of Health and Human Sciences, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

[4] FDA 21CFR172.120: Calcium disodium EDTA

[5] EDTA: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings – WebMD

 

 

Posted in Food Additives

What is Aspartame?

picture of a can of diet coke

What is Aspartame?

Purpose:

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used as a sugar substitute in a wide range of food and drinks.  It is approved for use in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  Aspartame is marketed under the brands NutraSweet, Equal and Sugar Twin.

Description:

In 1965, a scientist named James Schlatter created aspartame while working on an anti-ulcer drug.  The story goes that he accidentally discovered its sweet taste when he licked his finger.

Aspartame is made from two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine.  That probably doesn’t mean a lot to most people, so lets break it down a bit.

What is an amino acid?  Amino acids are are organic compounds (molecules that contain carbon) that combine to form proteins. Amino acids and proteins are the basic building blocks of life.  Our bodies need amino acids in order to function.  They help us to break down food, grow, repair body tissue, and perform may other body functions.  Amino acids can be divided into three types:

  1. Essential amino acids
    • These are amino acids that are required for proper body functions but cannot be made by the human body.
    • We need to get these amino acids from the foods we eat.
  2. Nonessential amino acids
    • Our bodies produce these amino acids, even if we don’t get them from the food we eat.
  3. Conditional amino acids
    • These amino acids are usually not required, except in times of illness and stress.

Aspartic acid is a non-essential amino acid.  Our bodies produce aspartic acid even if we don’t get it from the food we eat.  It helps with hormone production and normal nervous system function.

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid.  We have to get it from the foods we eat.  If we don’t get enough, it could lead to confusion, lack of energy, depression, decreased alertness, memory problems, and lack of appetite.  Phenylalanine is found in most foods that contain protein such as beef, poultry, pork, fish, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese.

Common Uses:

Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar (sucrose).  Because of this, only a very small amount of aspartame is required to sweeten foods.  The amounts required are usually so small that the number of calories added by the aspartame is negligible.  That’s why it is often used to sweeten diet or low calorie items.

To produce a taste more like table sugar, aspartame is often blended with other artificial sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium.

Aspartame can be found in approximately 6,000 food products sold worldwide.  These products include:

  • soft drinks (diet sodas and juices),
  • candies,
  • cereals,
  • sugar-free chewing gum,
  • cocoa mixes,
  • frozen desserts,
  • pharmaceutical drugs and supplements,
  • tabletop sweeteners,
  • teas and instant coffees,
  • yogurt.

Aspartame is generally not used in baking because it breaks down under high temperatures.

Health Issues / Side Effects:

Aspartame is very controversial and is probably one of the most studied food additives.  A quick internet search will yield dozens of sites citing aspartame as the cause for all kinds of different illnesses, and that approval for its use has be tied to flawed studies and government corruption.  It has been claimed that aspartame is responsible for epidemics of cancer, brain tumors and multiple sclerosis.  I am really not qualified to judge on any of this.  Below are some links that make these claims:

And here are some links indicating aspartame has been well studied and that claims against it are unfounded:

There is at least one aspartame related issue with no controversy.  There is a rare inherited disease called Phenylketonuria.  People born with this disease cannot metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine.  If the disease is not treated, it can lead to problems with brain development.  Since aspartame contains phenylalanine, individuals with this disease need to avoid it.

Personal Notes:

When I drink a diet soft drink, there is always a distinct after taste that I have always assumed/associated with aspartame.  Sometimes I feel like it gives me a headache (but I suppose this could be entirely psychological).  I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I don’t like that taste so I don’t eat products containing aspartame.

My personal philosophy is that if (or when) we have a choice, it would be better to take the non-artificial option.  Of course, this might mean making trade-offs and sacrifices like cutting back on the number of soft drinks we consume.

E Number:

Aspartame has an E number of 951.

Sources:

If you found this post useful, please leave a comment.

Thanks.

 

Posted in Food Additives, Sweetener

Storing Walnuts

picture of walnuts

Walnuts

Storing Walnuts:

Walnuts contain oil and because of that they can easily turn rancid. Light, moisture and heat will all reduce the shelf life of your walnuts by causing the oils to change structure. Walnuts should smell mildly nutty and have a sweet taste. If they smell bad, they are probably rancid and you should throw them away.

To ensure the best taste, wait to shell or chop walnuts until you’re ready to use them.

Walnuts thaw quickly at room temperature and can actually be used straight out of the refrigerator or freezer.

Occassionally we hear of cases where walnuts have been contaminated with bacteria (such as E. Coli). If you suspect this is the case for walnuts you have stored, throw them away. In both the US and Canada, there are government websites that lists all recent food recalls. Make sure that you are not eating anything on these lists.

Walnuts with Shells Removed:

Walnuts that have had their shells removed need to be refrigerated or frozen.

When storing walnuts in the refrigerator, you need to keep them in an air-tight container away from other foods. Walnuts easily absorb moisture and odors from other foods, and food with strong odors (fish, onions) can seriously affect the taste of walnuts.

They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Walnuts can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 year.

Walnuts in the Shell:

Walnuts in the shell should be stored in a plastic bag in a cool dry place. Do not store them in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator because the humidity will cause them to deteriorate much faster.

Walnuts in the shell can be stored for up to 3 months.

Walnut Oil:

Walnut oil should be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months. To prevent walnut oil from becoming rancid, refrigeration is best.

Sources:

California Walnut Fact Sheet

Walnut Care and Storage

Leslie Beck, RD

Posted in Food Storage

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