What to Know About Artificial Preservatives
Undoubtedly, you’ve seen healthy-looking food labels boast “No Artificial Preservatives” in bold, eye-catching letters. It feels like a good sign, but what exactly does it mean? As with all food that fuels our body, it’s important to understand what artificial preservatives are used for and be mindful of the potential risks in consuming them.
Simply put, artificial preservatives help food stay fresher longer. Artificial preservatives can prevent contamination and maintain freshness by slowing product spoilage caused by mold, air, bacteria, fungi or yeast. So, it almost sounds like artificial preservatives are the good guys—right?
The answer is complicated. While most artificial food preservatives have been deemed GRAS, or Generally Recognized as Safe, this classification is based on scientific consensus and known to change. Preservatives that used to be considered safe, like sulfites and nitrites, have since become extremely restricted and scrutinized. It’s important to remember that the safety level of any artificial preservative is never permanent.
Your best bet is to enjoy organic or mindfully-made foods that don’t include artificial preservatives. It’s also smart to learn to read food labels and watch out for the particularly nasty offenders.
The Main Culprits: Artificial Preservatives to Avoid
Artificial preservatives might keep food fresh, but a select few compounds can cause negative health effects. Stay tuned for some scary side effects of these risky additives.
To begin our deep-dive into risky preservatives, let’s introduce sodium benzoate. This synthetic chemical is created when benzoic acid combines with sodium hydroxide. On its own, sodium benzoat does not occur in nature. However, benzoic acid is found in many plants including plums, apples, cranberries, berries, tomatoes, cloves and cinnamon.
The US Food and Drug Administration has declared this chemical preservative as safe when consumed in low amounts. However, the concern lies in sodium benzoate’s ability to easily convert into benzene, a known carcinogen.
Additionally, sodium benzoate has been tied to increased hyperactivity and ADHD. A study of college students linked ADHD with higher intake of sodium benzoate in beverages. It further has been associated with weight gain, as a test-tube study of mouse fat cells showed sodium benzoate decreases the release of leptin, which is an appetite-suppressing hormone.
Watch out for sodium benzoate masquerading on food labels as benzoic acid, potassium benzoate and benzoate.
Primarily found in processed meats, sodium nitrate prevents the growth of bacteria in food while also adding a reddish-pink color and salty flavor.
However, when exposed to high heat and mingled with amino acids (found in protein), nitrates can transform into their evil counterpart, nitrosamine. Nitrosamine is a compound that can lead to higher risk of stomach, liver, breast and bladder cancer.
To air on the side of safety, swap out processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and ham for unprocessed meat instead. Healthy sources of protein include chicken, fish, beef, pork, legumes, nuts, eggs and turkey.
Stick to these to decrease your exposure to sodium nitrate, and avoid foods that include words like “nitrate” or “nitrite” on the label.
Sulfur Dioxide (E220)
A preservative and an antioxidant, sulphur dioxide is widely used in the food and drink industries. Take a look at your grocery list. If it includes dried fruits or vegetables, soft drinks or alcoholic beverages, there’s a high chance E220 is also in your cart.
The good news is, sulfur dioxide is primarily harmless to healthy individuals. However, if you have asthma, sulfite sensitivity or a sulfite allergy, ingesting foods with this preservative could cause scary health issues. These issues include breathing problems, life-threatening allergy symptoms and, in rare cases, death. In fact, studies show about one in nine individuals with asthma experienced worsened symptoms after drinking soft drinks containing sulphur dioxide.
Stay Smart, Eat Right
When it comes to fueling your body, it’s important to stay mindful and educated. Keep it fresh whenever possible and check labels for risky additives when shopping for packaged goods. Want to make eating right simple? Check out SmartBox Express boxes. SmartBox Express offers healthy snacks made with real ingredients delivered right to your doorstep. It makes avoiding the bad stuff a no-brainer!