How to Avoid Common Food Preservatives

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Are you an avid label reader when grocery shopping? It’s a smart tactic, as many commercial food products contain preservatives and other additives. While food manufacturers claim additives are necessary to prevent food from spoiling, some are safer than others. If you’re interested in a naturally healthy diet, it’s worth learning about the most common food preservatives, and how to avoid them:

• Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used to prevent rancidity in a variety of packaged products, from cereals to snack chips to vegetable oils. Both have been classified as potential carcinogens in humans by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and have been banned in several countries.

• Sodium nitrite and nitrate are used to preserve meat products, maintain the red color consumers expect, and add “flavor” to processed meats. However, nitrites can form carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines, especially when meat is grilled. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends avoiding them, given their carcinogenic potential.

• Sodium benzoate has helped to preserve foods, such as beverages, jams, pickled products, salads, cheeses, meats, and margarine for more than a century. While the Food and Drug Administration deems this additive safe in small amounts, under some circumstances it can form into a known carcinogen called benzene.

Given the amount of preservatives in processed foods these days, avoiding them may seem virtually impossible. Take heart, you can indeed minimize your consumption of unnatural additives, even if you aren’t prepared to grow and produce your own food.

An ideal strategy is to choose organic whenever possible for meat, grains, fish, fruit, and vegetables. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic foods are minimally processed and do not contain artificial preservatives. Organic food is also free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. If you don’t eat organic on a regular basis, the next best bet is to stick with whole, intact foods. It’s fairly safe to say that the more processed a food is, the more likely it is to contain preservatives and other additives.

If you do use processed foods, shopping in natural food stores is well advised, as they typically refrain from carrying products with artificial or chemical additives. Instead, you’ll find a wide range of sauces, condiments, dressings, and mixes that are free of potentially dangerous additives. Here’s to safe, nourishing, and healthy food for you and those you love!

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