With the increasing use of processed foods in the second half of the twentieth century, food additives are more widely used. Food additives are substances added to food to ensure safety and to improve or maintain key attributes, such as taste or appearance.
Some additives have been used for centuries and some have been introduced very recently, of both natural and artificial origin. The European legislation defines food additives as substances not normally consumed as food itself, but which are added to food intentionally for a technological purpose described in the regulations.
Categories of Food Additives
Food additives perform a wide variety of functions in foods and can be divided into several groups, depending on their purpose. In some cases there might be some overlap because some additives exert more than one effect. The additives that you are most likely to come across on food supplement labels are:
Purpose: Change or maintain acidity/ alkalinity (pH) of the product.
Examples: Citric Acid, Malic acid, Sodium Citrate.
Products, where we use this type of additive: Nutritional Gummies
Purpose: prevent clumping, ensuring powders and granules are free-flowing.
Examples: Magnesium stearate, Stearic acid, Silicon Dioxide, Croscarmellose sodium
Products: Vitamin D 25mcg Tablets, Vitamin B12 Tablets, Glucosamine Sulphate
Purpose: Prevent or slow oxidation, thereby extending shelf life.
Examples: dl-Alpha tocopherol (Vitamin E), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Sodium Ascorbate (vitamin C), Astaxanthin
Products: Fish Oils, Algae Oils, Krill Oil
Purpose: Increase the size of the tablets to get a significant tablet weight that can be handled or compressed, thereby making the manufacturing process more reliable.
Examples: Microstalline Cellulose, Calcium Hydrophosphate, Anhydrous Dibasic Calcium Phosphate, Maltodextrin
Products: Zinc Gluconate Tablets, Green Tea Extract (4:1), Vitamin B complex
Coating and glazing agents
Purpose: Protect tablet ingredients from deterioration by moisture in the air and make large or unpleasant-tasting tablets easier to swallow.
Examples: Polyvinyl Alcohol, Hypromellose-6CP, Carnauba Wax
Products: Vitamin C Tablets, Mega Green Tea Extract (4:1), Nutritional Gummies
Purpose: Impart, enhance or restore colour, compensating for changes during processing, or boosting naturally occurring weaker colours.
Examples: Carmine, Beta-carotene
Products: Nutritional Gummies
Purpose: Ensure that when the tablet is in contact with water in the digestive tract, it rapidly breaks down into smaller fragments, so the active ingredients absorb.
Examples: Croscarmellose sodium, Crospovidone
Products: Vitamin D 25mcg Tablet, Green Tea Extract (4:1) 50mg
Purpose: Prevent ingredients from separating and keeps mixture stable.
Examples: Lecithin, Distilled Monoglycerides, Glyceryl Monostearate
Products: Lutein, Odourless garlic, Coenzyme Q10
Gelling agents, thickeners & stabilisers
Purpose: Provide texture and consistency without compromising taste.
Examples: Pectin, Gellan gum, Arabic gum, Gelatin, Hypromellose, Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium, Agar
Products: Nutritional Gummies
Purpose: Intense sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar, hence are used in smaller quantities and contribute fewer calories. Bulk sweeteners, such as polyols, are not broken down into acids that cause tooth decay.
Examples: Maltitol Syrup, Stevioside
Products: Children’s Sugar-Free Gummies, Chewable Fish Oil Softgel
In addition to the additives listed above, there are also other additives categories such as preservatives, used to prolong product’s shelf-life, or flavour enhancers, however these, are more commonly used in food products and not health supplements.
E Numbers Explained
Additives must be assessed for safety before they can be used in any food products. To regulate them and inform consumers, each additive is assigned a unique number called an “E number”. An E number means that a food additive has passed safety tests and is approved by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for use in the EU. Other countries may use different systems to categorise additives.
Often consumers associate E numbers with chemical ingredients that are used to make cheap foods or artificial colouring. In reality E numbers are given to all approved additives whether they are man-made or exist in nature, and regardless of their origin they are subject to the same safety evaluations by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Food Additives Labelling Rules
Many additives are only permitted in certain foods and at maximum usage levels. Under EU law, manufacturers must provide information about any additives used in the foods they produce. All used additives should be listed on the Ingredients List on the product label to ensure consumers have the correct information to confidently make informed food choices.
All ingredients should appear on the label in decreasing order, explaining to the consumer what each additive does, followed by its name or E number to avoid complicated chemical terminology.
If you buy bulk health supplements from HTC Health you’ll find a complete list of ingredients, including all food additives on the Product Specification or Certificate of Analysis enclosed with your order.
More Information on Food Additives
If you’d like to find out more about Food Additives, please visit Food Standard Agency website, where the applicable regulations are explained in detail.
Additionally, Institute of Food Science and Technology has recently published a very concise and informative publication on the subject, as a part of their Food Science Fact Sheet series. Click here to access it.
If you have any questions in regard to food additives used in our health supplements, please get in touch and our in-house technical team will be happy to guide you through the relevant regulations and provide assistance.