Preservatives are added to food to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life. There are two main categories of preservatives. Natural preservatives like vitamin C, vinegar, and salt which are beneficial and easily processed by the body. But, man-made chemical preservatives, which are not natural nutrients, are very hazardous to the body because they destroy beneficial bacteria and cell structure. Preserving food naturally instead of with chemicals aids in preventing spoilage, but won’t harm the body’s beneficial microbiome.
How do Chemical Preservatives Affect the Body?
Why are bread and other foods able to sit on the counter for a long time without getting moldy? To put it simply, because of chemical preservatives which destroy bacteria and other microbes. But that’s supposed to be a good thing right? While some strains of bacteria do lead to illness, there are billions of beneficial microbes living inside the body which are vital for good health.
Man-made preservatives, just like antibiotics, can not distinguish between “good” and “bad” bacteria. Consuming chemical preservatives is like dropping a death bomb on the intestinal tract because these preservatives kill both the “good” and “bad” bacteria. The destruction of the “good” bacteria has a variety of negative effects. One major effect is the ability to digest and breakdown food. Food needs to be broken down into microscopic pieces in order to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestine, and the “good” bacteria play a major role in this process.
So what about natural preservatives? Don’t they have the same negative impact on “good” bacteria? Natural preservatives are easily digested and assimilated into the body, having nutritional benefits on their own, and can even promote the growth of healthy bacteria! Garlic is one example. It extends the freshness of food because of it’s anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. The amazing thing about garlic is that is fends off “bad” bacteria while simultaneously creating conditions in the body which actually promote the growth of healthy bacteria! Praise God for wonderful garlic!
Hazardous Preservatives to Avoid
Processed ingredients and food preservatives like nitrates/nitrites, BHA/BHT, potassium bromate, sulfites, propylene glycol, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), trans fats, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial colors and flavors, to name a few, are harmful and should not be used in the food supply. Consuming toxic chemicals in any of these forms is not worth the long term destruction of the microbiome!
Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate
- What it is: These two chemicals are used to preserve meat and also give it a reddish color.
- Why it’s bad: When added to meat (containing amino acids), which is then cooked, these nitrates convert to nitrosamines, which are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. In a 2007 analysis, The World Cancer Research Fund revealed that eating 1.8 ounces of processed meat every day increases a person’s cancer risk by 20%.
- It’s found in almost all processed meats.
BHA & BHT (Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT))
- What it is: These are two preservatives used to extend shelf life and keep foods from becoming rancid.
- Why it’s bad: Both of these preservatives have been deemed potentially carcinogenic to humans and the State of California has listed them as a known carcinogen. They are hormone disruptors.
- It’s found in: Cereals, processed meats, gum, chips, beer, butter, vegetable oils, shortening, and candy.
Potassium Bromate (other names it goes by: bromic acid, potassium salt, bromated flour, “enriched flour”)
- What it is: This is a food preservative used to increase the volume in breads, rolls, flour.
- Why it’s bad: It has been banned in the European Union, Canada and several other countries because it has been shown to cause cancer in animals. It is an endocrine disruptor.
- It’s found in most commercial breads.
Sulfites (other names it goes by: sodium sulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite)
- What it is: It is added to food for its antioxidant properties and to enhance color.
- Why it’s bad: It causes adverse reactions like dermatitis, hives, breathing issues, abdominal pain, and diarrhea for some people.
- It’s found in: Wine, dried and canned fruits and vegetables, nut butters, and a variety of condiments.
Propylene Glycol (other names it goes by: 1,2-propanediol or propane1,2-diol, E1520, methyl ethyl glycol, trimethyl glycol or 1,2-dihydroxypropane)
- What it is: This is antifreeze. However, unlike ethylene glycol which is used as a car antifreeze, it is registered by the FDA as safe for consumption. It helps retain moisture in products.
- Why it’s bad: Symptoms associated with this include central nervous system depression, seizures, hypoglycemia, the breakdown of red blood cells, and coma.
- It’s found in: Ice-cream, other frozen foods, dried soups and seasonings, salad dressings, baking mixes, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes. It is common in almost all fast foods and highly processed foods.
- What it is: a highly refined sweetener made from corn starch.
- Why it’s bad: It has been shown to contribute to weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, elevated triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.
- It’s found in: Soda, salad dressings, breads, cereals, yogurt, soups, canned vegetables, lunch meats, sauces and condiments.
Trans Fat or Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (other names it goes by: shortening, partially hydrogenated oil).
- What it is: Trans fats are created when a regular fat like corn, soybean, or palm oil is blasted with hydrogen and turned into a solid. Trans fats help packaged foods retain a longer shelf life, even years.
- Why it’s bad: Trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. They contribute to heart disease, obesity, stroke, and increase the risk of metabolic syndromes.
- It’s found in: Deep fried foods, margarine, chips, crackers, baked goods, fast food.
What foods Should be Eaten Then?
Stick to whole foods which are typically found in the perimeter of a grocery store. Only buy packaged foods where: 1) you can pronounce all of the ingredients on the label (e.g. nut butter should just have nuts and maybe salt listed, but nothing else) and 2) none of the harmful chemicals listed in this post are listed on the ingredient label. Organic foods don’t tend to contain these ingredients.