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 and are found in a large number 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.

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 you.

Foods with preservatives are generally more-processed, less-nutritious foods to begin with – not exactly health foods. So, even if you don’t mind preservatives, it is always good to know more about those random unpronounceable chemical-sounding ingredients and try to minimize the consumption of them as much as possible.

So, let’s learn more about a few common food preservatives.

Sodium Benzoate

Sodium benzoate is a preservative often added to carbonated drinks and acidic foods like salad dressings, pickles, fruit juices and condiments.

It has been generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but several studies have uncovered potential side effects that should be considered.

For example, one study found that combining sodium benzoate with artificial food coloring increased hyperactivity in 3-year-old children (41). And higher intake of beverages containing sodium benzoate was associated with more symptoms of ADHD.

When combined with vitamin C, sodium benzoate can also be converted into a benzene, a compound that may be associated with cancer development (43, 44).

Carbonated beverages contain the highest concentration of benzene, and diet or sugar-free beverages are even more prone to benzene formation.

To minimize your intake of sodium benzoate, check the labels of your food carefully. Avoid foods that contain ingredients like benzoic acid, benzene or benzoate, especially if combined with a source of vitamin C such as citric acid or ascorbic acid.

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 color 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.


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, Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) `is a preservative that affects the neurological system of your brain, alters behavior and has the potential to cause cancer. It can be found in breakfast cereal, nut mixes, chewing gum, butter spread, meat, dehydrated potatoes, popcorn, chips and beer, just to name a few.

BHA may also trigger allergic reactions and hyperactivity. BHA is banned from infant foods in the U.K. and is banned from use in all foods in certain parts of the EU and Japan. In the U.S., the FDA considers BHA to be a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe)additive. BHT is chemically similar to BHA and the two preservatives are often used together.

Again, they’re added to processed pre-packaged foods, so it’s wise to avoid them nonetheless.

How to Avoid Preservatives?

  • Opt for organic. USDA organic-certified food products are guaranteed to be free of these potentially harmful preservatives. If all-organic isn’t your thing, look for packaging that indicates the contents and preservative-free.
  • Go fresh. Fresh produce and plain ol’ grains and fresh meat are less likely to contain preservatives and other additives. Stay away from pre-packaged, over-processed foods as much as possible.
  • Choose natural products. When purchasing processed foods, look for those labeled as “natural.” While the USDA doesn’t have a very strict definition of the “natural” labeling, these products are generally free of any artificial additives, dyes, or flavors.
  • Try to detox and reset your body with https://www.beewellnutrition.com/product/dietitian-approved-10-day-metabolism-reboot-diet-vegan/

Does this information make you want to read all your food ingredient labels now? Let me know in the comments below.








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Passionate about the science of nutrition and its practical applications, Liat brings a wealth of expertise to unravel the complexities of wellness, providing insightful guidance for your journey to a healthier lifestyle.

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  1. All things good to know. I don’t buy much packaged food but I will be on the lookout now. Thanks Liat.

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