Food Preservatives to avoid
There are so many preservatives out there, mostly in processed foods.
While preservatives added to foods should be “approved,” this doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to be safe for everyone/always.
Here are a few common food preservatives:
Nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines)
Nitrites are preservatives added to processed meats. Nitrates themselves are not bad as such, but they do turn into harmful chemicals called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are carcinogens (cancer forming) found in cigarette smoke.
Nitrites are added to meats to keep the pink-red colour and prevent “browning.” Mostly in bacon, ham, sausages and lunch meats. Since nitrites can change into nitrosamines, nitrites are one-step away from being the “bad guys.” Processed meats have been linked with colon cancer.
Nitrates on the other hand are naturally found in many healthy foods like vegetables. They’re especially high in beetroot. Sometimes our enzymes or gut bacteria change these healthy nitrates into nitrites. However, they rarely form nitrosamines because they’re two-steps away from becoming these “bad guys.”
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. Are they safe? Some studies show they can cause cancer in animals at high doses. However they have been approved as a food preservative at “small doses”.
Fun fact: The term “salary” is from the Latin word for salt. It’s thought that it came from the ancient Romans who would pay employees, allowing them to buy salt. Salt was so highly sought because of its ability to preserve food before the advent of refrigeration.
Obviously salt is not needed for food preservation as much today but is increasing with the acknowledgement of the health benefits of fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi (recipes here).
Try to get into the habit of reading your food ingredient labels, you may be surprised by what’s packed in them.
The best way to avoid unwanted additives and preservatives is to eat fresh foods.
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