Artificial Food Preservatives: What You Need to Know

Artificial food preservatives are food additives that manufacturers add to food products in order to extend their shelf life. The use of these food preservatives began around the 1930s when a variety of food processing techniques were introduced, and has increased as food production became more mechanized. These artificial food preservatives are used because they cause less spoilage than natural methods of preservation such as pickling or fermenting.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that long-term consumption may lead to health problems for adults and children alike. This article will explore what you need to know about artificial food preservatives.


How do food preservatives affect your health?

Research has shown that artificial food chemicals may have a negative effect on immune systems when consumed over long periods of time. Evidence also suggests that eating those goods with high levels of food preservatives may lead to food allergies or food intolerances.

There is also a concern that artificial food preservatives are carcinogenic, meaning they could cause cancer over time in those who eat them. This claim has not been supported by the FDA however it remains possible as research continues into these agents and their side effects.

Evidence has shown that eating foods with high levels of food preservatives can have negative impacts on your gut microbiome, leading to inflammation in the body if consumed long-term.


What are these chemical agents known as? 

Artificial food preservatives come in a variety of forms such as chemical additives or enzymes. They are typically identified by their acronym, E-numbers. There is no uniformity in the naming of these agents and they can be difficult to spot on food labels as many manufacturers will list them under different names. Artificial food preservatives include nitrates, sulfites, benzoates (or sodium benzoate), propylene glycol, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and carrageenan among others.


What foods are they commonly found in?

Here are the main culprits to look out for:

1. Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate

Also used for: Producing that vibrant color in meats

The problem: The World Cancer Research Fund revealed that eating 1.8 ounces of processed meat every day increases your cancer risk by 20%. Meats contain amino acids which convert to nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates at high temperatures. Nitrosamines are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers.  

Food commonly found in: cured meats and fish such as bacon, ham, salami, corned beef, hot dogs, pate, smoked salmon, and other canned meats.

2. BHA & BHT

Also used for: Preventing food from going rancid 

The problem: The state of California has already listed BHA as a human carcinogen under Proposition 65. BHT can cause liver damage in the excretory system. Research has also shown that BHA and BHT have detrimental effects on the blood. 

Food commonly found in: baked goods, butter, cereal, chips,cooking oils, beer, candy

3. Potassium Bromate (also goes by: bromic acid, potassium salt, bromated flour, “enriched flour”)

Also used for: Increasing volume of breads

The problem: Banned in Europe, Canada and several other countries. When entered into the body, it can transform into highly reactive molecules which can damage DNA and may play a role in development of cancer. 

Food commonly found in: commercial breads, flour, pizza dough 

4. High Fructose Corn Syrup (also goes by: glucose syrup, corn sugar)

Also used for: sweetening soft drinks and enhancing flavour of foods 

The problem: Linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, high blood pressure, high triglycerides

Food commonly found in: packaged sweets, soft drinks, juice drinks, fast food, dressing, sauces, ice cream, fruit preserves, crackers, pancake syrup, canned vegetables

5. Sulfites

Also used for: sweetening soft drinks and enhancing flavour of foods 

The problem: Sulfites can trigger severe asthmatic symptoms for those with asthma. For those deficient in sulfite oxidase, an enzyme needed to metabolize and detoxify sulfite, sulfites can be fatal. Can also cause headaches. 

Food commonly found in: dried fruits, wine, sauerkraut, grape juices


Do packaged food with preservatives still have nutrients?

The food that has artificial food preservatives is usually lower in nutritional value. These chemical agents do not change the taste or texture of food, making it difficult to know whether you're eating something with high levels of these chemicals without reading the list of ingredients on your food label. It would be best if we could find methods that produce food with less food preservatives and food that is more nutritious.


Why do food manufacturers use these chemicals?

Manufacturers use artificial food preservatives to prolong food's shelf life without sacrificing taste or texture. Food producers don't have the resources to handle food spoilage, so they take preventative measures such as adding artificial food preservatives in order to ensure a fresh product is put on shelves and customers are satisfied with their purchases. The risks associated with food processing techniques often outweigh the benefits when it comes down to producing cheaper foods with an extended shelf life.


How do we avoid packaged food that contain preservatives?

While there are risks involved in consuming chemicals long-term, it will be challenging for food manufacturers to switch out these methods of preservation and produce food with less artificial food preservatives as well as healthier options.

There are food labels that contain a warning symbol if food contains artificial food preservatives. However, many companies will use different names for these chemicals which can make it difficult to identify them on food packages. 

The easiest way is to choose all natural or organic products as the preservatives used if any would be of a natural origin. Another way is to eat as close to the source of production and cook from scratch whenever possible. You can also choose foods without an E-number listed under their ingredients.


In conclusion:

Artificial food preservatives are one of the most controversial topics in nutrition. Some people say they're safe and others disagree vehemently, but if you want to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health, avoid eating foods with artificial food preservatives as much as possible. If you can't live without them (and some people find that hard) try reading ingredient labels carefully for ingredients ending in -cide or -zate, or spot E-numbers for these false additives while grocery shopping. 

The effects these chemicals have on adults and children vary depending on how long someone has been consuming them; short term consumption may not be harmful at all while long-term consumption could lead to serious illness such as cancer or diabetes. The best thing we can all do for our health is try to eat whole foods rather than processed ones full of food preservatives.

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