A Nutritionist, Mrs Funmi Adams, on Thursday warned that adding additives to food and fruit to make them bigger or change their appearance and colour could cause damage to the body cells.
Adams, the Head, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Isolo General Hospital, Lagos, gave the warning in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Lagos.
She said that the additives mostly used by people were often without the approval and certification of the authorised regulatory body.
She said that additives were needed to ensure that processed food remained safe and in good condition throughout its journey from factories or industrial kitchens, during transportation to warehouses and shops and finally to consumers.
Adams also decried the rate at which people add additives to foods, saying that the act if left unchecked could lead to life-threatening health conditions.
According to her, some of the most trending ones are the usage of paracetamol in cooking meat to make it bigger and soft and using chemicals to ripen fruits.
She said that it was regrettable that people also added additives to fufu, palm oil, and fruits like plantain and banana.
Adams said that calcium carbide was another chemical often used by traders to quicken the ripening of vegetables and fruits like bananas and plantains.
The nutritionist said there were inherent dangers of artificial ripening of fruits and vegetables, saying that the chemicals used to ripen fruits artificially were toxic and could also affect people’s nervous system.
“According to studies, calcium carbide, which some people use to quicken the ripening of fruits like banana and plantain, can affect the neurological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia – a condition of having low oxygen levels in the tissues.
“In addition, industrial-grade calcium carbide is often found contaminated with trace amounts of arsenic and phosphorus, which are toxic chemicals.
“However, the health benefits of fruits depend on how they are ripened. The best course will be to allow them to ripen on the plant itself or harvest/buy them unripe and allow them to naturally ripe without any additive,” she said.
Adams noted that the side effects of most of the additives far outweighed their benefits and as a result, they should be avoided.
“According to World Health Organisation, food additives are substances that are added to foods to maintain the safety, freshness, taste, texture or appearance of the food.
“An example of food additive is sugar that is used as a preservative in marmalade.
“Unfortunately, people have abused the usage of additives, having designed lots of additives/chemicals they add to food to get the desired size, taste, appearance, texture or colour, ” Adams said.
According to her, every uncertified additive or chemical is poison.
“The human body naturally is made up of chemicals, cells, and organs; so adding additives to the foods we eat means either doubling or shortening the workloads of the body mechanisms.
“And this can cause serious harmful side effects to human health,” she said.
Adams noted that it was the sole responsibility of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control to regulate, monitor, and certify foods and their additives that would not be harmful to health.
Adams urged NAFDAC to rise to its responsibility and save the innocent citizens who ignorantly buy and consume these products.
The nutritionist suggested the establishment of another body that could be assisting NAFDAC, particularly in the area of monitoring foods and ensuring compliance.
Also, a Public Health Expert, Dr Olugbenga Akinola, told NAN that not all additives were harmful to human health and warned that moderation and precaution should be observed when using them.
He, however, said that some of the additives could cause digestive disorders like diarrhoea, colicky pains (sharp, localised stomach and the intestines or urinary pains).
According to him, some of the additives can also cause nervous disorders like hyperactivity, a condition of being abnormally or extremely active; insomnia, inability to sleep; and irritation.
Akinola listed some of the additives to include antioxidants, artificial sweeteners, flavors, flavor enhancers, bulking agents.
According to him, other additives are colour additives; emulsifiers; preservatives; mineral salts; propellants; raising agents; and thickeners.
“Some of these substances or additives have been associated with adverse health effects and should be avoided, while others with minimal risk are safe and can be consumed,” Akinola said.