Preservatives are crucial to the preservation, safety, and freshness of the foods in the food supply system. They are added to food to prevent spoiling and to maintain nutritional value. There are two types of food preservatives, natural and artificial. Natural preservatives, such as oil and salt, don’t alter the chemical composition of the food and are full of antioxidants, helping to delay the process of aging or oxidation. Curing and freezing are two methods of natural preservation.
Artificial preservatives are artificially produced and also synthetic in nature. There are three categories of chemical preservatives commonly used in foods:
- Benzoates (like sodium benzoate)
- Nitrites (like sodium nitrite)
- Sulphites (like sulphur dioxide)
While preservatives prolong the shelf-life of food by preventing their spoilage, regular consumption of these chemical additives can cause serious health hazards such as hypersensitivity, allergy, asthma, hyperactivity, neurological damage, and weight gain.
If you are looking to limit the amount of preservatives in the foods you eat, follow these tips:
- Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat. The more processed foods you eat, the more preservatives you’ll eat, too.
- Shop for foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, dried legumes, and plain poultry, meats, seafood, milk, eggs.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables carefully before consuming.
- Read the label. Most pre-packaged foods have a list of ingredients, which includes preservatives. Food additives are normally listed near the end of the ingredient list, as they are usually found in smaller quantities. Generally, the shorter the ingredient list, the better.
- Cook at home as often as you can with fresh ingredients! Have yogurt with fresh berries instead of “fruit-flavored” yogurts; make your own trail mix with dried fruits and nuts instead of buying prepackaged; mix your own salad dressing rather than using bottled.
Being mindful of eating foods without preservatives can result in a healthier diet. Be sure to eat a wide variety of foods to meet your recommended intake of essential nutrients.