Humans have been preserving foods for a long time. Before the invention of the refrigerator and freezer, the only ways to keep food from going “bad” too quickly was by using techniques such as canning, pickling, dehydrating, fermenting and salting.
In our modern food-processing society, many of these preserving traditions have been lost in favour of preserving food by adding a chemical substance to them to make them last longer. These chemical preservatives are now in most packaged products in our 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 many types preservatives being used. While preservatives added to foods are considered to be generally safe, this doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to be safe for everyone all the time. And it doesn’t mean that the food is healthy. Foods with preservatives tend to be more-processed, less-nutritious foods to begin with.
Let’s learn more about a few common food preservatives.
Nitrites are preservatives added to cured meats like salami and ham. They’re not bad by 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 to colon cancer. Because of the nitrites? Perhaps, but either way, nitrosamines are a confirmed health-buster.
So, if nitrosamines (from nitrites) are bad 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 full of antioxidants and phytochemicals that block the conversion. So eat up those veggies!
BHA & BHT
Have you seen on packages “BHA/BHT has been added to the package to help maintain freshness?” Perhaps on cereal packages, chips or in gum? 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.
BHA is listed by the IARC as a possible human carcinogen and by the European Union as an endocrine disruptor. BHT fed to animals has resulted in tumors and developmental problems. They are often used together in food products and it is wise to steer clear of those foods that contain 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. Make it easy for yourself and download this meal plan to get you started.
Does this information make you want to read all your food ingredient labels now? Do you want some help determining what foods are best for you and your goals? Book a FREE discovery call with Bonnie here to discuss your needs.