Use of food preservatives is not new; our ancestors used salt, root cellars, vinegar, and smoking, for example, to preserve their food. Today, however, in the world of processed and refined food items, our food supply is loaded with chemical preservatives, which are a type of food additive added to products to extend their shelf life, preserve colour and taste, and prevent them from being broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, and mould.
To adequately avoid these potentially harmful food additives, you should limit yourself to eating whole, natural foods. In reality, however, about 90 percent of the foods Americans buy are refined or processed, which means they are exposed to dozens of food additives, including preservatives.
Which food additives should you and your family avoid and how harmful are they? Here are 7 preservatives you don’t want in your food.
Sodium benzoate. This substance has two faces: one as a preservative and another as a natural component. As a preservative, it is often added to acidic foods and drinks to prevent spoilage. You can find it in jellies and jams, hot sauces, sauerkraut, fruit juices, fruit pie fillings, pickles, fruit and flavored yogurt, and beer. It also appears naturally in some foods, such as apples, cinnamon, cranberries, and prunes. Sodium benzoate may cause hyperactivity in some children. Look for the words sodium benzoate, benzoic acid, benzoate, and potassium benzoate on labels.
Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. Both of these salts are used as coloring and flavoring agents as well as preservatives. Sodium nitrate is often added to deli meats, bacon, and jerky, while sodium nitrite is an antioxidant that is often found in hot dogs, corned beef, smoked fish, and deli meats, and it also used to cure bacon and ham.
Sodium nitrate can increase the risk of developing heart disease, boost the risk of diabetes, and may cause pancreatic cancer. In fact, once sodium nitrate is ingested, it can have a negative impact on various organs, especially the pancreas and liver. Pregnant women should avoid sodium nitrates because they can cause birth defects. When reading labels, look for the words sodium nitrite, nitrate, or nitrite.
Sodium sulfite. The Food and Drug Administration reports that about 1 percent of people are sensitive to sulfites in food. When exposed, they can experience breathing challenges, headaches, rashes, and even death in severe cases. Most of the people affected by sodium sulfite have asthma. Sodium sulfites are found in dried fruit and wine.
Sulfur dioxide. Although the Food and Drug Administration has prohibited the use of sulfur dioxide on raw fruits and vegetables because of its toxicity, the preservative is still allowed in potato products, dried fruit, vinegar, soft drinks, juices, beer, cordials, and wine. Its consumption can cause breathing problems (especially in people with asthma), flushing, tingling sensations, low blood pressure, and anaphylactic shock. Sulfur dioxide also destroys vitamins B1 and E.
Propyl paraben. You may recognize this preservative as being found in many cosmetics and health care products such as shampoo and lotions. However, propyl paraben is also present in some bread and bakery products, candies, food dyes, and tortillas. This endocrine disruptor has been shown to reduce levels of testosterone and sperm as well as change the expression of genes, including those associated with breast cancer. Names on food labels may include 4-Hydroxybenzoesäurepropylester; propyl paraben; propyl p-hydroxybenzoate; propyl parahydroxybenzoate; nipasol; E216.
BHA and BHT. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are preservatives commonly found in breakfast cereals, vegetable oils, potato chips and other processed potato foods, drink mixes, candy, dessert mixes, beer, and chewing gum. They help prevent foods from changing flavour or colour or from turning rancid. Both BHA and BHT have an ability to form cancer-causing reactive compounds in the body as well as affect behaviour.
Written by Deborah Mitchell. Deborah Mitchell is passionate about personal health and the well-being of animals and the planet. She has authored, coauthored, and ghostwritten more than 40 books, contributes regularly to several websites, and shares information on physical, emotional, and spiritual health on her blog, deborahmitchellbooks.com.
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Mercola J. Top 10 food additives to avoid. Food Matters. 2010 November 23. Accessed September 5, 2017.