How Healthy Are Food Preservatives Anyway?
Food preservatives are common in our foods these days. It is nearly impossible to stay away from them because of the number of processed foods out there.
Being a health conscious person, you are eating better than most. You choose nutrient-dense whole foods more often than processed pre-packaged foods. So this may not be a huge concern for you. However, it is always good to know more about those random unpronounceable chemical-sounding ingredients in some foods. Would you agree?
Also, if you like salty chips, I have a much better alternative for you in the recipe at the end of the post.
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 is not a guarantee that they are safe for everyone or even healthy. Foods with preservatives are typically more-processed, less-nutritious foods to begin with - not exactly “health foods”. So, even if you don’t mind preservatives, you may might to start crowding out those pretty packaged beauties for whole foods.
Let’s take a minute to learn more about a few common food preservatives.
That is right - salt.
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. Either that or it was for their work conquering and/or guarding salt mines/roads. Either way, salt was sought because of its ability to preserve food before the advent of refrigeration.
In today’s day and age, with fridges and freezers in every home and grocery store, and refrigerated trucks, salt is not needed for food preservation as much. However, our taste buds still seem to crave it on an epic scale. The average American eats over 3,400 mg of sodium per day, well over the recommended 2,300 mg/day. Much of that is because it’s found in processed foods.
Nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines)
Nitrites are preservatives added to processed meats. They're not bad in and of themselves, but they do turn into harmful chemicals called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. Nitrites form nitrosamines when they're cooked at high heat, and sometimes even when exposed to the high acid environment of the stomach.
Nitrites are added to meats to keep the pink-red color 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 folks.”
Another interesting thing is that processed meats have been linked with colon cancer. Because of the nitrites? Perhaps, but either way, nitrosamines are a confirmed health-buster.
Since nitrosamines (from nitrites) are the bad folks and are formed by cooking nitrites at high heat, what are nitrates?
Nitrates are naturally found in many healthy foods like vegetables. They are especially high in beets. Sometimes our enzymes or gut bacteria change these healthy nitrates into nitrites. However, they rarely form nitrosamines because they are two-steps away from becoming these “bad folks.”
BHA & BHT
Have you seen “BHA/BHT has been added to the package to help maintain freshness” on packages? Possibly on cereal packages or in gum? Yep, you guessed it right. These compounds maintain freshness because they are preservatives.
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? Well, they are approved for use as a preservative at small doses. However, some studies show they can cause cancer in animals at high doses. Again, they are added to processed pre-packaged foods, so it's wise to crowd them out with whole foods.
Let’s wrap it up
There are many preservatives in our food supply, mostly processed foods. These compounds work by preventing the growth of bacteria and mold, or by preventing fats from going rancid. If you want to cut down on processed foods, eat more fresh whole foods and drink lots of water.
Does this information make you want to read all your food ingredient labels now? Let me know in the comments below.
Recipe (preservative-free): Kale Chips (Serves 4)
1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 dashes salt
2 dashes garlic powder
Instructions // Preheat oven to 300º F and place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Take the washed and dried kale, rip them into “chip” size pieces, and place in a large bowl.
Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder. Mix until the kale pieces are evenly covered.
Place kale onto prepared sheet in an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes.
Flip over the kale to cook the other sides of the pieces. Bake for another 10 minutes until the edges just start turning brown. Monitor them well, or you will have burnt kale chips.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can use any spice, so try onion powder, paprika, or even turmeric.
Start crowding out processed food now by signing up for the 48 hour green smoothie challenge below!
Leave a comment below and share the craziest thing you found on your food ingredient label. Also, take a photo to share on Instagram! Tag me @naturewellnessbeauty so I can see, and give me a follow if you don’t already! Or join our private Facebook Group here >>> and share it there. I’d love to stay connected!
Thank you for being here on this journey with me. I'm truly honored you're here.
I’m a small town Oregonian, a scientist, an integrative nutrition health coach, and a crunchy mom. Passionate about natural living, long distance cycling, cooking with my littles, kick boxing, cashew milk ice cream + margaritas (skinny, on the rocks - salt, please!).
My passion is helping people conquer their wellness goals and create a more natural, sustainable lifestyle. My love of nature and natural remedies have led me to dive deep into essential oils and creating simple, all natural household and personal care products on my own. My blog started on a simple premise of sharing my journey to a more natural lifestyle, including the science behind many natural remedies, DIY recipes, tips, and ways to save money using plant-based alternatives. Now, as I emerge from my health coach training program, I have married my passion to my purpose, combining all aspects of health and wellness with a holistic approach to create a platform that delivers online tools that bring you into alignment with where you want to be.
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