What are they? Preservatives are added to foods to extend the shelf life of products. Vinegar, salt and sugar have been used for centuries to preserve but it’s the chemical preservatives that are giving health concerns. The use of them is growing rapidly and we find them in our staple foods like bread, cookies, fruit juice, margarine and processed meats and fish products. There are two main types of chemical preservatives – Antimicrobial and Antioxidants. Antimicrobial preservatives prevent the growth of bacteria. Antioxidants prevent the oxidation process. The oxidation process spoils food, especially foods with a high-fat content. Fats can quickly turn rancid when exposed to oxygen.
Preservatives found to cause problems:
Sulphites (220 – 228) – We get sulphur naturally from vegetables and protein, our body needs this form for good health, but it’s not the sulphur I’m talking about. It’s Sulphur Dioxide 220 and other Sulphites 221 – 228. You find them in dried fruit, wine, jam, bread, cheese and processed meats. Most dried fruit is preserved by the use of sulphur dioxide 220, they are commonly coated in vegetable oil as a preservative too and the oil can contain antioxidants. A big concern is that dried fruit based snacks are eaten by children. Sulphites should be avoided if you are asthmatic, other adverse health problems are: heart damage, behavioural issues, diarrhoea, gastric irritation, liver toxicity, rashes, bronchitis.
Proprionates (280 – 283) – This group of preservatives are a common ingredient found in breads, bakery products and pastas. It’s added to bread to extend the shelf life, make it soft and fluffy and stop mould. Proprionates are associated with an array of adverse health problems including behavioural and learning problems, lethargy, gastro-intestinal problems, migraines, irritability, depression, sleep disturbances and growing pains. These same symptoms can distress babies who are exposed through breast milk. Researching this group of preservatives I found that they were prohibited in foods for infants but many toddlers and young children are given toast for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, which concerns me greatly.
Benzoates (210 – 213) – The preservative benzoate is found in soft drinks and particularly cordials. They are also considered dangerous for asthmatics and people sensitive to Asprin (salicylates). Benzoates have a reputation as one of the worst additives that provoke behavioural and learning problems in children. They are also linked to eye and skin irritation and gastric burning. Sodium Benzoate 211, is associated also with liver and kidney health issues.
Antioxidants BHA (320) and BHT (321) – These are probably the most common suspect antioxidants to avoid. (BHA is Butylated hydroxyanisole and BHT is Butylated hydroxytoluene). Food companies use these in products that have oils and fats in their products to prevent oils going rancid and to give them a much longer shelf life for the manufacturer. You find them in sweet and savoury biscuits (cookies), margarine, peanut butter, frozen foods, mayonnaise, even though they’re prohibited in food for infants and young children. They are a particular concern as they accumulate in the body fat, so levels increase over time as more and more is consumed. They are a known animal carcinogen and a suspected human carcinogen. Apart from their strong links to cancer, they can disrupt the body’s hormone balance. (The EU has banned these antioxidants).
How to Avoid: Purchase organic dried fruit or naturally sun-dried fruit with no seed or vegetable oils coating them. Check the ingredients label on your bread, you can purchase from bakeries that don’t use preservatives. Make freshly squeezed juice for your family instead of soft drinks or cordials, you can also freeze the juice to make popsicles. Look for products that use the ‘good antioxidants’, 300 – 309 are safe for most people. However, 310 – 312 and 319 – 321 should be avoided wherever possible.
Thanks to Susan Joy from The Joyful Kitchen for her insight. Listen to the full segment below!