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. You can find them in all kinds of products in 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 doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to be safe for everyone always. And it doesn’t mean that the food is healthy.
For the most part, foods that contain preservatives are processed, meaning they’re less-nutritious than eating fresh, whole foods. While home-made whole-food meals will always have the highest nutrient quality, sometimes our busy schedules lead us to pre-packaged foods.
It’s wise to cut down on packaged foods as much as possible. They all contain one type of preservative or another which you should learn about to know what’s going into your body.
So, let’s learn more about a few common food preservatives.
That’s right – salt.
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. But 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 this elevated salt intake is because salt is found in processed foods.
According to Harvard Health:
“… reducing dietary salt (table salt that is only sodium, chloride and iodine) will lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and save lives.”
But don’t be afraid to include salt in your diet. The type of salt matters as much as the quantity. Choosing a Himalayan or sea salt gives your body minerals as well as sodium which can be beneficial for a number of bodily processes.
The easiest way to cut down on excess salt in your diet is to limit your take of processed foods. This includes condiments like salad dressing, dipping sauces, even ketchup and mustard. There are many ways you can make homemade dips and condiments to avoid getting an added boost of salt in your diet.
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 colour 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 guys.”
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 guys and are formed by cooking nitrites at high heat, what are nitrates?
Nitrates are naturally found in many healthy foods like vegetables. They’re especially high in beets. Sometimes our enzymes or gut bacteria change these healthy nitrates into nitrites. However, they rarely form nitrosamines because they’re two-steps away from becoming these “bad guys.”
The bottom line- processed meats like bacon and deli meats aren’t health promoting foods. Your best bet is to limit your intake, or avoid them altogether.
BHA & BHT
Have you seen on packages “BHA/BHT has been added to the package to help maintain freshness?” Perhaps on cereal packages or in gum? Guess how these compounds maintain freshness? Because they’re 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’re approved for use as a preservative at small doses. However, some studies show they can cause cancer in animals at high doses.
That’s enough evidence for me to say steer clear of processed pre-packaged foods, especially those with BHA and BHT added to them.
There are a lot of preservatives in our food supply. These compounds work by preventing the growth of bacteria and mold, or by preventing fats from going rancid. And they’re mostly found in processed foods. If you want to avoid them. Eat fresh foods.
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
1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
1 Tbsp. avocado oil
½ tsp. sea salt (finely ground)
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. chili flakes (optional)
Preheat oven to 300F and place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet.
Take the washed and dried kale and rip them into “chip” size pieces and place in a large bowl.
Drizzle with avocado oil, salt, garlic powder, and chili flakes (if desired). 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’ll have burnt kale chips.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can use any spice, so try nutritional yeast, paprika, or even turmeric.