Do you ever consider the harmful effects of food additives and preservatives?
Consuming food is what human beings and animals need to survive. Food supplies essential nutrients, vitamins, proteins, and the fats needed the body to function and be well. However, the line starts to blur when it comes to canned foods and other “junk foods” that are manufactured to have a longer shelf-life.
In today’s post, we talk about the health risks of preservatives and food additives that seem to find a way into nearly everything that we eat.
Food preservatives and additives
Have you ever taken the time to consider exactly what goes into the foods that you eat on a daily basis?
When buying processed food, there’s a lengthy list of ingredients and most of the time it isn’t plain English. You see words like “sodium phosphate”, “MSG”, “anti-caking agent”, “phenylalanine”, “non-nutritive sweetener”, “sodium benzoate”, “bulking agent”, “anti-foaming agent”, “emulsifiers”, and the list goes on.
You’ll find potentially harmful effects of food additives and preservatives in most of the food products that we generally consume. They all play a specific role in the “maintenance” and prolonged shelf-life that allows food to stay fresher for longer. However, there are consequences when consuming large amounts of preservatives and additives, which can, in the end, affect our health.
Keep in mind that most of these foods are also loaded with unhealthy fats and copious amounts of sugar. These foods should not form the bulk of your diet, but should be consumed extremely sparingly.
What do additives do?
Additives are included in processed foods to improve food taste, texture, smell, and visual appearance.
Additives may include the likes of “thickeners”, “stabilizers”, “tartrazine”, or “high-fructose corn syrup”, to name a few.
In order to ensure foods can withstand a long shelf-life, manufacturers add additional ingredients to change the physical environment making it extremely difficult for microorganisms to survive in that state.
Some functions of additives:
- Artificial sweeteners – increases the sweet flavour
- Emulsifiers – prevents fats from clumping together (eew!)
- Flavourants – enhance the flavour of foods
- Glazing agent – improves the appearance of the item
- Propellant – helps prevent food from sticking to the container
- Mineral salts – enhances texture
- Gelling agents – alters the texture with gel formation
However, there are some side-effects as a result of these artificial additives and preservatives that we will discuss in the next point.
What are the health risks of food additives?
If you’re concerned about the harmful effects of food additives and preservatives, you are not alone. Food additives have shown to create some negative side effects when consumed in large quantities. While some preservatives can have mild effects, others can cause serious damage and become life-threatening.
It is believed that some of the side effects of these chemicals could be linked to the following:
Preservatives that should be avoided
While it’s logical to understand the reason behind wanting to preserve food items for a longer period, adding foreign substances to our diet does not come without risks.
Oftentimes, these foods are enhanced with flavour and texture-improving chemicals designed with the express purpose of getting us to eat more of it.
And we all know that processed food is not the healthiest choice.
Here are some of the harmful preservatives found in foods:
Monosodium Glutamate aka (MSG/E621)
While glutamate is a natural substance found in foods such as cheese, grapes, tomatoes and mushrooms, there’s also an artificial version.
The artificial version’s purpose is to increase the longevity of the food substances consumed. By itself or in a pure state, MSG isn’t known to have a good taste unless it is combined with a savoury flavour, which then it combines with to further enhance the taste of the original savoury flavour.
There are many controversial arguments surrounding the safety of MSG and its effects. Some argue that it’s a biased statement to Asian cuisine and other findings suggest that large amounts of MSG consumed can lead to depression, headaches, and fatigue.
MSG is banned in certain countries especially Western and Western-influenced countries. Many Asian dishes contain MSG’s as this forms part of the ingredients such as soy source and soup stock.
This is a common food additive seen in crisps, biscuits, frozen pizzas, as well as fast food products and eateries. Trans fat oils can be used for longer and many fast food shops and restaurants save money using traditional deep fryers along with trans fats.
A process called “hydrogenation” produces trans fats, this is a process by which the molecules are treated with hydrogen. This has shown to increase cholesterol levels (LDL), putting patients at higher risk of heart disease and strokes over a long period of consumption.
Once again, the levels and use of trans fats are restricted in certain countries like Canada, Switzerland and Denmark.
Due to the proven health risks associated with transfat, and massive public outcry, numerous food industries have actively removed trans fats from their products. Take a look at the supermarket shelf and you will notice many items now boast a “Trans fat Free!” statement on their packaging.
This is a good first step but when buying groceries, be sure to check the rest of the ingredients in the small print.
Food dyes or artificial colouring
- Blue (E113)/blue #1/blue #2 – banned in countries like Finland, France and Norway because research has shown it has a negative effect on chromosomes. Blue dye is common in sports energy drinks, and fizzy drinks.
- Red (E124)/Red #40 – was notorious for interfering with nerve and brain communication and was often used in baked goods, cherry pie, fruit cocktail and ice cream.
- Yellow (E110)/Tartrazine (E102) – studies have shown it to cause kidney and adrenal damage and this dye is banned in Norway as well as Sweden.
- Yeast extract – a form of MSG often found in soups, bread spreads and store-bought dips.
- Rice extract – a stabilizer often used in ice-cream, pizza bases and savoury snacks.
- Roasted barley malt extract – used to enhance food flavouring to a toasty taste.
Aspartame is a form of artificial sweetener and often used in “zero” sugar drinks, and foods. However, studies tied to it show an increased risk of possible brain cancer. It may also result in increased blood pressure and anxiety.
- Sodium Nitrite – Sodium Nitrate enhances flavour and colour and is often added to cold meats like viennas, bacon, smoked fish and many other processed types of meat. Studies surrounding Sodium Nitrate indicate that it is a dangerous preservative and could lead to heart disease and failure, as well as diabetes.
- Potassium Bomate – this preservative has shown to cause cancer in animal studies. It is often used in white bread flour to increase its volume.
- Foaming agents – maintains uniform gas in foods.
- Sodium Sulphates (E221) – sulphates have shown to cause problems with the respiratory system, increases risk of asthma, and possibly linked to risk of heart attack or stroke by closing off the airways completely.
Artificial preservatives and its link to ADHD/ADD
Some studies show that ADD/ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to be a hereditary disorder. However, there are arguments that some artificial food colourants and dyes could make the symptoms worse.
There isn’t enough research to support the statement that “food colouring causes attention disorder in children”. However, some companies in the EU are compelled to state on their product labels that the colour used may have an effect on the child’s activity and attention.
If you are doing research into the harmful effects of food additives and preservatives, then this is definitely something to consider.
Sometimes it’s all about saving money. One may conclude that it could be down to sheer corporate greed that fuels the continued use of additives and preservatives in foods sold on the market. While there are ways to preserve foods naturally, this may prove an expensive route and thus many companies opt for chemicals.
Preserving foods mean less money spent on re-creating the same product because of spoilage. Thus in the long-run it also reduces food manufacturing costs.
How are foods preserved on a chemical or artificial basis?
Manufacturers may choose artificial preservative methods because they have long-lasting effects and are less expensive. Chemicals commonly used in preservation to inhibit microbials include the use of Sodium Benzoate, Benzoic Acid, Sodium sorbate, Potassium sorbate, and Citric Acid, to name a few.
It’s not just the foods that we eat that calls for the use of preservatives, but also the products we use in skin, hair, and cosmetics amongst other.
How are foods preserved naturally?
The less-harmful way of preserving, foods include curing it with salt and or alcohol, pickling, and dehydrating. These natural forms of preserving foods also reduce the chances of microorganisms thriving in products.
However, the natural process takes time, and time costs money, thus many manufacturers choose the route of artificial preservation. Artificial preservation can allow for mass production and quicker sales on the market.
While foods containing preservatives and additives will naturally retail at a more affordable price compared to fresh or organic foods, is it really worthwhile?
As we’ve already noted in this post, studies and scientific evidence prove that some people are sensitive to the harmful effects of food additives and preservatives.
Cutting down on processed foods ensures the lowest risk of side-effects from artificial additives. Real food gives your body the nutrition it deserves.
Transitioning to a preservative-free diet will improve overall wellness. This is possible because your body is no longer exposed to the harmful substances used to artificially enhance food products or preserve their shelf-life. This is a small price to pay to ensure that your body is free from harmful substances consumed via food and drink products.
Many factors pointed out and studies undertaken show that the corporate industry use alternatives like preservatives to SAVE money, even when this means putting people’s lives or health at risk.
The argument remains that people have a choice as to what they consume and if consumers choose preservative foods over natural and preservative-free foods, this is a choice made by them alone.
So the question is: do you want your food to be cheap, fast and fake or slightly more expensive but natural and healthy?