In our increasingly busy lives, as our need for convenience increases, it’s becoming harder than ever to avoid consuming food additives and preservatives. Preservatives are added to a huge proportion of our foods, in order to ensure that they can maintain a long shelf life. Some preservatives in food aren't harmful in small doses, and benefit us with increased food safety.
But other food additives and preservatives have many harmful properties, and, in the long-term, can cause a myriad of health issues like increased risks of cancer and reduced heart health.
So, what are the dangers of food additives and preservatives in food, where are they found, and how can we avoid them?
What are preservatives?
Preservatives are a food additive added to our food to help increase shelf life and avoid foods being broken down by microorganisms. They ensure food doesn’t get spoiled by mould, bacteria, and yeast.
Other food additives don’t actually serve a function other than to make a product more appealing by adding colouring, thickeners, whiteners, or other artificial flavourings.
Some foods contain natural preservatives, most of which are not harmful. Food Standards Australia And New Zealand (FSANZ) is responsible for approving food additives and preservatives in our foods to ensure they are safe; and most of them are. But there are some which can be harmful if consumed regularly or if you are prone to allergic reactions, or medical conditions like asthma.
Which foods use preservatives and food additives?
By law in Australia, all food additives and preservatives need to be listed on the packaging of foods. Many people assume that all pre-packaged foods contain additives and while many foods do, this isn't always the case. Many packaged foods; for instance, milk and canned foods, do not contain preservatives. Some fruits and vegetables in fact, can be more harmful if they are grown and washed with pesticides and chemicals and contain residual chemicals.
When checking for food additives, many are listed in the ingredients list, however this can often be confusing. Some listed ingredients themselves may contain food additives, for instance; margarine contains food additives, yet is an ingredient in some foods.
Health risks caused by food additives and preservatives
A staggering 50 of the 400 food additives which are currently approved in Australia have also been associated with adverse reactions in some people.
The food additives which often cause a reaction are:
- Flavour enhancers – in particular, monosodium glutamate (MSG) 621
- Food colourings – tartrazine 102; yellow 2G107; sunset yellow FCF110; cochineal 120
- Preservatives – benzoates 210, 211, 212, 213; nitrates 249, 250, 251, 252; sulphites 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225 and 228
- Artificial sweetener – aspartame 951
These can cause:
- Digestive disorders
- Nervous disorders
- Respiratory problems
- Skin problems
These problems can lead to long term health issues.
Avoiding food additives and preservatives in food
It’s extremely difficult in this day and age to completely avoid food additives and preservatives in food, but luckily, there are a number of ways in which we can minimise the amount we consume.
- There are a number of natural preservatives in foods which we can utilise, for instance, the fruits used in jams, which can be used to give foods a naturally-long shelf life
- Wash all fruits and vegetables to ensure any residue from pesticides is washed away
- Avoid heavily processed meats such as salami and cabanossi
- Avoid consuming sulphites which are used to preserve dried fruits, fruit juices, wine and beer if you’re an asthma-sufferer, as they may increase the risk of asthma attacks
- Avoid buying products at the supermarket which have a long list of ingredients with long chemical names and codes. Usually these are quite easy to spot. If the colour of the food is not natural; for instance; Coca Cola or bright orange cheesy chips, there’s a high chance the product has a lot of additives!
- Cook more using fresh ingredients from scratch. Avoid using stir fry sauces; aside from additives these usually contain a high amount of sugar which counterbalances all those fresh greens you’re eating! Instead make your own sauce using fresh ingredients like chilli, ginger and garlic
- This doesn't mean you don’t have to buy any packaged foods. Just buy the ones which have less ingredients. For instance, you can still buy Smiths Original Potato Chips. But the plain version has significantly less ingredients than the flavoured versions, and no additives
- Not all food additives are “bad”. Learn to know which are, and which aren’t
At Beach Body Tea, we are on a mission against preservatives to help Aussie women look and feel their best every day, naturally, which is why we created our range of teas.
Check out our diverse range here.