Recently I have heard from many women who are wanting to improve their health my decreasing the preservatives in their foods. So here it is a little dirt dishing on the often long winded unpronounceable chemical-sounding ingredients in some of our most common foods.
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 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.
There are so many preservatives out there. While preservatives added to foods need to 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.
Foods with preservatives are more-processed, and often less-nutritious foods to begin with. So, even if you don’t mind preservatives, it's always worthwhile to know about them so you can decide if you need to reduce them in your diet to support you improve your health, or not.
Let’s learn more about a few common food preservatives.
Yep - salt.
FUN FACT: Salt was sought because of its ability to preserve food before the advent of refrigeration.
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 National Health and Medical Research Council has set an ‘Adequate Intake’ of 20–40 mmol (460–920 mg) of sodium per day. This corresponds to 1.15–2.3 grams of salt. Most Australian adults have a daily salt intake of about 10 grams, i.e. many times the maximum value of the Adequate Intake range. A ‘Suggested Dietary Target’ of 1600 mg of sodium (equivalent to about 4 grams of salt) has been set for Australian adults. This is about half the average Australian adult’s current salt intake. Much of that is because it’s found in processed foods.
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 less of.
TIP: Opting for salt reduced foods is a great start to lowering the salt in your diet. In addition, another great way to reduce salt is to make and eat most food at home, rather than eating out or on the go. Simple and effective.
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 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.”
TIP: Use processed meats more sparingly. Aim to include more wholefood options, cooked fresh at home, and you could even try having a vegetarian night once per week.
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 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, some studies show they can cause cancer in animals at high doses. Again, they're added to processed pre-packaged foods, so it's wise to avoid them nonetheless, or be aware of them.
TIP: Start checking out the food labels, and as a general rule the less ingredients listed the better, and the first 3 ingredients are the most heavily weighted in the item - you want to know what these are!
Now days supermarket shelves are packed with processed foods and these foods contain a lot of preservatives. 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. If you want to avoid them, eat fresh foods most of the time.
Does this information make you want to read all your food ingredient labels now? Let me know in the comments below!
Recipe: Kale Chips - a healthier, less preservative-packed alternative to regular chips
1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
1 tbsp olive oil
2 dashes salt
2 dashes garlic powder
1. Preheat oven to 150 C and place a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray.
2. Take the washed and dried kale and rip them into "chip" size pieces and place in a large bowl.
Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder. Mix until the kale pieces are evenly covered.
3. 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. Monitor them well, or you'll have burnt kale chips.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can use any spice, so try onion powder, paprika, or even turmeric.