- Food preservatives have become part of our normal food chain, but are they safe and do they have any negative consequences for our health?
A food preservative is a substance added to foods to make them last longer; to “preserve” them. Preservatives are added to foods that go bad quickly and have found themselves in all kinds of products in our grocery stores.
Preservatives work to preserve food in a few different ways. Some prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Others prevent delicate fats from going rancid.
There are so many preservatives out there. While preservatives added to foods should be “approved,” this does not mean they are guaranteed to be safe for everyone always. And it does not mean that the food is healthy.
Foods with preservatives are more-processed, less-nutritious foods to begin with – not exactly health foods. So, even if you do not mind preservatives, you probably should cut down on these kinds of foods, anyway.
According to health.com, nowadays, with fridges and freezers in every home and grocery store, and refrigerated trucks, salt is not needed for food preservation as much. But our taste buds still seem to crave it on an epic scale.
The average individual eats more than 3,400mg of sodium per day, well over the recommended 2,300mg/day. Much of that is because it is found in processed foods. According to Harvard Health: “reducing dietary salt (table salt that is only sodium, chloride and iodine) will lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and save lives.”
Nitrites are preservatives added to processed meats. They are not bad in and of themselves, but they turn into harmful chemicals called nitrosamines. Nitrates are naturally found in many healthy foods such as vegetables. They are especially high in beets. Sometimes our enzymes or gut bacteria change these healthy nitrates into nitrites. However, they rarely form nitrosamines.
BHA and BHT
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are antioxidants added to many processed foods. The main way BHA and BHT work is by preventing fats from going rancid. Although they are approved for use as a preservative at small doses, some studies show they can cause cancer in animals at high doses. Again, they are added to processed, pre-packaged foods, so it is wise to avoid them.
Bernard Odoi, a nutritionist with Africa Herbals, says consistent consumption of nitrates, nitrites, sulfite and sodium benzoate also cause allergic and asthma reactions, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, fainting and bloody stool.
Odoi advises the use of natural ways of preserving food such as the use of lemon or lime juice because the ascorbic acid found in lemon acts as an antioxidant and the citric acid, an antibacterial which helps to preserve the flavour, colour and test of lemon juice.
Odoi adds that while packing food for refrigeration, use plain plastic bags known as food grade of 30 micros, as opposed to black polythene since they attract heat during the process the radiation.
He adds that other traditional preservation methods could be used such as sun drying food stuffs and fruits for easy storage.
There are a lot of preservatives in our food supply. These compounds work by preventing the growth of bacteria and mold, or by preventing fats from going rancid. And they are mostly found in processed foods. If you want to avoid them then focus on eating fresh foods.
Authority track check.
WHO encourages national authorities to monitor and ensure that additives in food and drinks produced in their countries comply with permitted uses, conditions and legislation. National authorities should oversee the food business, which carries the primary responsibility for ensuring that the use of a food additive is safe and complies with legislation.
According Godwin Muhwezi, the public relations officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards admits that the manufacture of each product is guided by a specific standard which prescribes the safety levels of each additive and those that are prohibited. He adds that laboratory tests are also carried out on products often to determine whether a product meets standard or not.
Additional information from