A commonly asked question we receive is, ‘which E numbers or food additive numbers should I look out for in ingredients lists when following a low FODMAP diet’?
‘E numbers’/’food additive numbers’ are simply a numbering system that is used internationally to describe different types of food additives. An ‘E’ is used before the number in countries that are part of the European Union and simply stands for ‘Europe’. Regardless of which part of the world you live in, the number can be used to identify the type of food additive. For example;
While most food additives have not been studied specifically in people with IBS, there are several that have known gut side effects.
The most well know include sugar polyols, which are widely used as ‘sweeteners’ in foods, but can also be found in certain medications (particularly those in liquid form). Some examples of common sugar polyols used as food additives include:
Certain sugar polyols are well known for their ‘laxative’ effects, even in people without IBS – that is, when eaten in large enough amounts, they can cause gut symptoms. This is because they:
See our blog all about polyols and our IBS animation for more information about these effects in people with IBS.
The important thing to remember is that everyone with IBS will tolerate sugar polyols differently. In fact, people with constipation predominate IBS (IBS-C) may actually find the laxative properties of sugar polyols useful for improving their constipation (when consumed in the right dose for them).
Yes! In fact the smallest of the sugar polyols, glycerol (E422/422), is easily absorbed in the small intestine (upper gut), so does not have the same effects in the body as other larger sugar polyols. Erythritol (E968/968) may be the other exception, as it also appears to be well absorbed in the small intestine. (1, 2) One study showed that Erythritol is more difficult for bacteria in the large intestine to break down, so might be less likely to cause gas or bloating symptoms than other sugar polyols (even when it is malabsorbed), but more research is needed to clarify this. (1) Unfortunately, the effects of Erythritol have not been studied in people with IBS, so whether or not this is a problematic polyol for people with IBS remains unclear. (2)
Lenhart A, Chey WD. A Systematic Review of the Effects of Polyols on Gastrointestinal Health and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md). 2017;8(4):587-96.