Human-friendly chemistry, i.e. the fight against ‘chemophobia’
In recent years, a large increase in interest in healthy food has been observed. More and more people pay attention to the diet and the composition of food products offered in shops. This had a very positive impact on society, mainly on increasing customer awareness. In the shop you can meet a growing number of healthy eating supporters focused on reading the labels of products or people choosing both organic and chemical-free products, i.e. those which do not contain stabilisers, colourants and conditioners.
Healthy food is trendy
There is no deny that this trend brings many benefits and is worth spreading further. However, from the chemist’s point of view, which I am by passion and education, it also introduces some misconceptions. Many of you are probably asking yourself the question ‘which?’. Well, in all this health-promoting buzz, the conviction that what is ‘healthy’ must be ‘free from chemistry’ was born. And there is probably nothing more misleading… In fact, the whole world around us is made of chemistry. The simplest example is oxidate or hydrogen oxide. Why? Well, hydrogen oxide is nothing but ordinary water, and no one will deny that without it there would be no life on Earth.
Why do we avoid ‘E’?
It is also common for customers to avoid products containing all kinds of additives which are assigned the symbol ‘E’. Why? Because ‘E’ is associated with something artificial and probably unhealthy – such as sodium glutamate with the number E 621 falling into disfavour in recent times. However, there are also health-promoting or natural substances which are marked with this symbol. An example would be E300, i.e. vitamin C, eagerly swallowed during a cold, or E150a, a caramel that each of us can get at home by heating plain sugar.
Another more vivid example is the candy box. Do you know that it contains less chemical compounds than an apple? Yes, fruit and vegetables also contain chemical compounds. Some of them are responsible for the colour, others for the taste, and others for the nutritional value of the product.
The connotation of the word ‘synthetic’ is often negative as it is associated with something not found in nature. Many of us consider it synonymous with ‘toxic’. And here I have to put it straight for you… in my small chemical world, ‘synthetic’ means obtained by chemical synthesis, which does not necessarily mean ‘poisonous’. Many compounds found in nature are very dangerous to human health and even life. An example would be ibotenic acid, which is responsible for the poisonous properties of toadstools. Apple seeds, in turn, contain amygdalin, which can release hydrogen cyanide under favourable conditions. However, its content in apple seeds is so small that you can easily eat an apple with all the seeds, and you won’t get hurt.
Few of us also know that the aforementioned water can be ‘toxic’ in excess. Already 90 ml of water for every kilogram of body weight is enough to exceed the lethal dose. Its harmful effect is associated with the leaching of ions necessary for its proper functioning.
Synthetic chemical compounds and safety
Summing up, many synthetic chemical compounds are as safe as their counterparts found in nature. Many of them, however, are also as dangerous as their naturally occurring analogues. So how can you lead a healthy lifestyle without compromising the harmful effects of many food additives? It seems that the only logical solution in this situation is to avoid not everything that contains chemical substances, but only what contains ingredients that, due to their possible harmful effects, are worth limiting. It is connected with continuous training, but after all, one must live long to learn.
Author: Beata Zagroba COO Flavours Factory Sp. z o.o.