A diet focused on natural, organic food is essential to maintaining a healthy body, but the majority of food is laced with preservatives to make it last longer on supermarket shelves. Some of these preservatives may harm you when eaten in large quantities, explains the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Organic foods contain no preservatives, and can be found in many supermarkets, while farmers’ markets should offer preservative-free meat, fruit and vegetables.
Preservatives and Their Side Effects
Nearly every food that is processed includes preservatives, from natural ones like salt, vinegar and sugar, to chemicals produced in a lab. For example, sulfur dioxide protects dried fruit against bacteria. The University of Minnesota explains that a chemical called nitrite preserves the flavor of meat, prevents rancidity and bad odors, and develops the color and flavor of cured meat. However, the university also found that when you cook the meat on a high heat, the nitrite may create nitrosamine, and there is a link between nitrosamine and cancer. Baking soda, added to canned corn and tomatoes, can raise your blood pressure, according to the USDA. The CSPI also explains that some preservatives may cause tumors to grow on your body.
Instead of processed, packaged food found on supermarket shelves, search for organic meat, grains, fish, fruit and vegetables. Organic food is not genetically modified, is generally free of pesticides and chemical crops, and has minimal additives. According to the Organic Trade Association organic foods are processed minimally and are free from artificial ingredients and preservatives “to maintain the integrity of the food.” Preservatives are a recent addition to the human diet, and organic food represents a shift back to older practices.
The OTA says a wide variety of foods are now available in organic form, including cereals, bread, milk, ice cream, bread, juice, pasta, prepared sauces, meat, poultry, soup, chocolate, cookies, wine, beer and vodka. However, just because beer and chocolate are organic, you do not have free reign to eat vast quantities of them. Excess alcohol and sugar are bad for your health regardless. The key is to read the label. Ignore packaging that reads “All Natural;” instead check the list of ingredients and make sure they do not include anything that sounds like chemistry homework, such as diglyceride or BHT.
For a no-preservatives diet, you may have to radically change your shopping and eating habits. Avoid fast food and most restaurant food, because you cannot control the preservatives used. Shun processed food from supermarkets and instead focus on natural food. Many supermarkets have sections devoted to organic, preservative-free produce, but also check for farmers’ markets in your area. If you are not accustomed to cooking at home, buy cookbooks and try new recipes to increase your enjoyment of your new food choices.
Certain medications and cosmetic products also contain preservatives, using different chemicals than those used to preserve foods, but for the same purpose: to extend the shelf life and freshness of the product. The 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic -- FD&C -- Act was amended in 1958 with a Food Additives Amendment, and it states that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must endorse all preservatives. It monitors the safety of all preservatives in line with scientific advances.