On the menu at McDonald's: 78 additives (some may be harmful)

Best-selling burgers and drinks popular with children at McDonald's restaurants are loaded with controversial chemicals, including some known to cause behavioural problems.

Analysis by The Independent reveals that Britain's biggest burger company pumps a total of 78 different artificial additives into its food on 578 separate occasions, an average of seven E-numbers per product. Although McDonald's emphasises its burgers are 100 per cent beef, the buns, cheese and sauces that go with them are high in E-numbers.

The Big Mac has 18 separate additives and a cheeseburger 17 separate additives, while a chocolate milkshake has eight different chemicals.

Additives are present in almost everything on the menu, including the grilled chicken and salads.

Health campaigners claim that certain E-numbers can cause side effects such as headaches and wheezing among some consumers.

At McDonald's, there is reason for specific concern because its Big Mac, cheeseburger and quarter pounder with cheese contain a preservative found to worsen hyperactivity in children. Artificial colours in several branded deserts and soft drinks sold at the company's 1,250 branches are also blamed for causing the problem.

After being made aware of the high levels of controversial additives, campaigners urgently called on McDonald's to make its food less reliant on chemicals. However, The Independent's research suggests that McDonald's aim of reducing E-numbers in response to public concern has not been successful. The firm's use of additives seems to have increased rather than decreased during the past year.

In the past four years, McDonald's has been seeking to ward off criticism that it encourages obesity and build a reputation for healthy eating by introducing salads and mineral water. Customers of the chain are told that its menu is based on staple foods such as meat, fish potatoes, eggs, milk and grain. They are assured: "The freshest ingredients are used..."

McDonald's British headquarters in East Finchley, London, refuses to disclose the number of additives it uses, to customers or to the media. But by analysing the 2,000 ingredients on the company's nutrition web pages, The Independent has established that McDonald's uses a range of 78 different additives on 578 separate occasions. Only 13 of its products such as tea, fruit bag and carrot sticks do not contain E-numbers.

Processed cheese squares contain acidicity regulators. Bacon comes with sodium ascorbate and the preservative sodiumnitrate, which is put in fertilisers and explosives.

Researchers at Southampton University have found that children who ingest certain additives are more likely to be over-active, impulsive and unable to concentrate. Four of seven E-numbers highlighted by the researchers are on the menu at McDonald's: sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), ponceau 4R (E124) and sodium benzoate (E211).

In a statement, McDonald's, which made global profit of 3.5bn in 2006, said it was conducting trials to remove sodium benzoate from its burgers, and added that a pickle was the only McDonald's own brand item with a Southampton additive. The company added it was in discussion with suppliers to reduce additives "where possible".

"We are continuing to work hard to reduce and in some cases remove completely the need for artificial colours and preservatives in our food," the company said.

On its website, McDonald's nutritionist assures customers that it is company policy not to use any artificial colours or benzoates in new products. But when The Independent first monitored use of E-numbers in September 2007, the total number used was 568. In October 2007, the date the ingredients list was updated on the website, the number had risen to 578.

Richard Watts, head of the Children's Food Campaign at the food group Sustain said: "We are very concerned that about the heavy use of additives in McDonald's especially the ones identified as harmful to health in the Southampton study." But, he said, E-numbers were "part of the business model" for processed food and would be hard to remove.

Check which sweets and other foods contain additives linked to hyperactivity at www.actiononadditives.com.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas