So what's the big deal about preservatives anyways? Well, let's talk about a few common ones and why you may want to avoid them.
A food preservative is a substance added to foods to make them last longer, you know, preserves them. Preservatives are added to foods that go bad quickly and have found themselves in all kinds of 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. And 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 either.
Foods with preservatives are more-processed, less-nutritious foods to begin with - not exactly
health foods. So, even if you don’t mind preservatives, you probably should cut down on these
kinds of foods, anyway. So, let’s learn more about a few common food preservatives.
That’s right - salt. Salt was the original preservative.
FUN 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. Even things like fish and pork were salt cured in order to prevent them from going bad.
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 that is because it’s found in processed
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." So, salt is one of those all-too-common food preservatives that most of us will do better with
Nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines)
Now you may have heard of these guys in the news lately. 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.”
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, packaged foods. The main way BHA and BHT work is by preventing fats from going rancid. But 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. Again, they're added to all kinds of processed, pre-packaged foods, so it's wise to avoid them nonetheless.
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. So ff you want to avoid them...then eat fresh foods! Those foods that don't have ingredients, but ARE ingredients. (ie. fruits, veggies, whole grains etc.)
Now, I haven't even scratched the surface on preservatives, but hopefully this information makes you want to read all your food ingredient labels now. Let me know
in the comments below if you'll be keeping an eye out for them.
Now here's a great, preservative-free recipe to satisfy those chip cravings!
Simple Kale Chips
- 1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 dashes salt
- 2 dashes garlic powder
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-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.
Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder. 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. Watch them closely, or you'll have burnt kale chips.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can use any spice combo, so try onion powder, paprika, or even turmeric.