Preservatives are additives to food to help them last longer. Whether they are frozen meals or crackers or slices of turkey, these items were designed to have a longer shelf life than what is normal for them. Preservatives are also used by food manufacturers to block the growth of harmful microorganisms and improve the appearance of the food. Sounds beneficial, right? But what you need to know is that preservatives may increase health risks. Preservatives can be fairly natural, like salt or sugar, or they can be complex chemicals manufactured in laboratories. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), some of the food preservatives used to protect foods can actually harm humans when eaten in excess. Is it shocking to learn that the food industry would sell items that could be harmful to us? What is important to remember is that the food industry’s goal is to make products look and taste appealing without thought to the products’ nutritional value. To help prevent high consumption of preservatives in your diet, it is recommended to eat fresh, whole foods that are cooked by you. If you do choose to buy pre-packaged foods, it is recommended that you read the ingredients on the label and determine if preservatives were used in the packaging. What are some common preservatives to keep an eye out for?
One commonly used preservative is butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)/ butylated hydroxy anisole (BHA). These are used to preserve common household foods such cereals, chewing gum and potato chips. BHA has been shown to cause tumors in rats, rabbits and hamsters. And while it has not been scientifically proven to cause tumors in humans, CSPI believes that there is a strong correlation to the same effects in humans when a chemical causes problems in at least three different species. There is a very strong possibility that these preservatives could also cause tumors in our own bodies if they are frequently found in the foods that we are consuming. Another preservative is the nitrate and nitrite family. These preservatives help prevent discoloration in meats and are commonly added to bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, smoked fish, and corned beef. Studies have linked eating it to various types of cancer. After ingestion, your body converts nitrites, into nitrosamines, which is a substance that can cause cancer. Research has linked high dietary consumption of processed meat that has been preserved with nitrites with an increase in the risk of stomach cancer. In addition, pregnant women are warned by their physicians to remove lunch meat and processed meats from their diets. The reasoning behind this recommendation is that a fetus is too vulnerable to be able to fight off the effects of nitrites. It makes me wonder if this preservative is dangerous for a fetus, how can it be healthy to consume as a child? Or an adult? It’s not.