Food Preservatives in What You Eat

Preservatives in food are a type of food additives. They can be natural or artificial. Different kind of preservative work in a different ways. However, mostly preservatives are added to the food to prevent the food from decomposing by microbial growth or by any undesirable chemical changes. However, a process can also help to preserve the food better. Many fruits and meats are dried, so that they stay edible for longer. Also, process like freezing, pickling, smoking or salting can greatly help to preserve the food. For example, we tend to store fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, to keep them fresh for longer. Here are some natural common preservatives which we generally find in stored natural food items, and some of the synthetic harmful preservatives and their short term and long term effects explained. Wondering, what are the preservatives in food and what are the harmful ones that you need to avoid?

Natural Preservatives


Sugar, Salt, Oil, Acids, Antioxidants, Spices, Herbs, Glycerin, Chelating Agents, Alcohol, Honey. Natural preservatives like salt and sugar have been used since ages to preserve foodstuffs. Sugars are generally used to preserve fruits, or to make jams. While salts are added to dried meats and vegetables to preserve them for longer. Salt and sugar acts as excellent natural preservatives, as they prevent the bacterial growth through the process of osmosis. Preservatives like vinegar or herb extract like rosemary extract are also used. Vinegar is a kind of acid, which helps to kill microbes and bacteria. Rosemary extract works as an excellent antioxidant, and prevents the oxidation of foods.

Spices seem to slow down the growth of microbes and also reduce the rate of oxidation. Spices like cloves, sage, mustard, thyme and oregano are commonly used. Oil helps the foods to stay fresh, by preventing microbes coming in contact with the food, also it reduces the rate of oxidation in food. Honey in its undiluted form acts as a great natural preservative, as it creates an excellent barrier against microbes. Wine which is a type of alcohol in itself acts as a good preservative. Processes like heating, cooking, pasteurization and desiccation also act as a natural preservative alternative.

Synthetic Preservatives

This is a list of synthetic preservative food additives.

Antimicrobial agents, Antioxidants, Benzoates (like benzoic acid, sodium benzoate,), Nitrites (like sodium nitrite), Caramel, Butyrates, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), Sulphites (like sulfur dioxide), Sorbates (such as potassium sorbate, sodium sorbate).

There are some synthetic chemicals that pose many health problem. So you should know the preservatives in food to avoid. Nitrates, are carcinogenic in nature and may even cause reactions like vomiting, headache, sneezing, etc. Sulfites are antioxidants which can destroy vitamin B1 in the body, and cause problems in patients who have asthma. Benzoic acid and sodium benzoate can cause skin conditions and eye irritation. BHA and BHT are also carcinogenic in nature and cause many other symptoms like dizziness, asthma attacks, nausea, allergic reactions, hyperactivity, etc. One should also avoid propyl gallate as it is linked to various types of cancer. Sodium citrate is also another toxic preservative in foods, which when eaten in high amounts can cause bladder tumors. TBHQ which is tertiary butylhydroquinone is another harmful preservative in food, which can cause nausea and delirium.

Eating foodstuffs which contain natural preservatives in small portions is okay. However, if your body is sensitive to natural preservatives containing foods too, then you need to completely avoid them. Also, synthetic preservative in food, need to be completely avoided. Because, the side effects of synthetic chemical preservative may not be evident but after some time a person might suffer from major side effects.

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Photo. Grant Cochrane



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