If you've ever had a packet of sweets and looked at the list of ingredients the chances are you'll have been bombarded with scores of triple digit numbers each preceded by a capital "E". And unless you happen to be a food scientist, you probably haven't the foggiest what they do to your body or even what they are. Is it really sensible to eat something if you don't know what it is? Probably not.
First off, unlike the doom-laden preachings of all those tabloid articles and scaremongering documentaries, E-numbers aren't all bad. Sure there are plenty that might make your children a tad hyperactive and others that cause slightly concerning side-effects, but nothing you wouldn't sacrifice your soft drinks "sunset yellow" (E110) colour for. Or would you?
According to the UK Food Guide, E110 (sunset yellow) is actually banned in Norway and Finland. Whilst commonly used as a bright yellow colouring in packet soups - amongst other things - some of its side-effects are less than savoury:
"Urticaria (hives), rhinitis (runny nose), nasal congestion, allergies, hyperactivity, kidney tumors, chromosomal damage, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, distaste for food and increased incidence of tumors in animals."
These days we don't all get paid as much as we'd like and it's essential to get your money's worth in the weekly shop, but I think some food companies have added perhaps too much extra "value" to our food. "Chromosomal damage" (which can cause cancer and other nasties) really isn't what you're looking for when you set out to buy a warming winter supper for the family. And whatever you do, please don't ladle some out for the dog!
But what is sunset yellow? Well, in short it comes from either coal or petrol. Would you let your child drink from a jerry can? Or start teething on a piece of coal from the fire? I thought not. Why then, should all these massive food companies think it acceptable to put these things, albeit disguised as colourings into the things we eat from day to day?
Right, time for something a little bit less doom-and-gloom. E300 is one of the many "good" E-numbers out there; it's ascorbic acid or - to you and me - Vitamin C. Found most commonly in citrus fruits, Vitamin C is great, essential in fact, for the body and it's even used for developing photographs!
Avoid Vitamin C like the plague and you'll end up with scurvy (which isn't too far off the plague!) and all its associated bleeding gums and re-opening wounds. But nowadays when it seems like every second foodstuff from the shops has an "E300" somewhere on it, you shouldn't have to worry too much.
Go on, do a raid of your cupboards and you'll be surprised at just how many E-numbers you find. Take a note of them and look them up. Yes you'll come across a few of the baddies like E110 and know to avoid them in the future, but you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how many good guy E300-esques there are too.