Food additive – Titanium Dioxide
Titanium Dioxide is a mineral that presents naturally in the ground. It is usually extracted from the earth, processed and refined before adding into food as food additive or other products. The chemical is odourless and absorbent and it is often used as food colouring to enhance the white colour of certain food. Food that usually added with titanium dioxide including coffee creamer, chewing gum, candy, pastry, chocolate and cake decorations. Besides, the application of titanium dioxide could also be used in paint or sunscreen as a white colour enhancer. Thus, it has an E number of E171.
Why do we use titanium dioxide?
Application of titanium dioxide contributes to:
1. Food quality
Addition of titanium dioxide into certain food enhance their white colour or opacity. This is due to the light scattering properties of titanium dioxide. Most titanium dioxide used in food have a diameter of 200 to 300 nanometers, which gives the best light scattering result and contribute to ideal colour in the food.
2. Food packaging and preservation
Titanium dioxide could be added as a component in food packaging to prolong the shelf life of the product. Based on a study, food packaging containing titanium dioxide can reduce ethylene production in fruit, which leads to the delaying of the fruit ripening process and extend the shelf-life. Besides, this packaging possesses antibacterial and photocatalytic activities. Therefore, it can decrease ultraviolet (UV) exposure for food contained in the packaging.
Titanium dioxide is commonly used in cosmetic such as lipsticks, sunscreen, toothpaste, creams and powder due to its ability to enhance the colour of the cosmetic products. It is very useful in sunscreen as it can block UV light from reaching the skin.
Why is titanium dioxide harmful to human health?
Research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst showed that consuming food containing titanium dioxide could harm the gut bacteria and leads to colonial inflammation. At the beginning of the year 2020, France became the first country to ban the use of titanium dioxide in food due to its potential side effect.
The safety of titanium dioxide is related to its particle size. According to the study, titanium dioxide with particle size smaller than 100nm is more bioactive and has the potential to cause adverse health effect in consumers. An analysis regarding the particle size of titanium dioxide shows that common food-grade titanium dioxide has 36% of particles with a size smaller than 100nm. Those smaller particles may enter the tissue and accumulated in the human body. Besides, an animal study shows that consumption of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and high-fat food could lead to a more severe negative effect on the gut bacteria.
Titanium dioxide is classified as 2B carcinogen. This is because the animal study shows inhalation of the chemical leads to the development of lung tumour. However, the study of titanium dioxide was only carried out on animals. Therefore, the findings are unable to be applied to humans.
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Prepared by: Wan Kei