Preservatives are used to keep food fresh, but sometimes the long list of unpronounceable ingredients on the back of processed foods should be a cause for concern. From aspartame to sulfur dioxide, it is important to be knowledgeable about the types of preservatives you are ingesting and the effect they have on our bodies. Dr. Bomi Joseph, who is the Director of Peak Health in Los Gatos, California, is a leading authority on food-related diseases, food and drug safety, and drug intolerance. Dr. Bomi Joseph graciously took the time to explain the dangers of preservatives and the impacts that they can impose on our body.
Dr. Bomi Joseph explains that preservatives are food additives added to prolong shelf life and keep products from being broken down by microorganisms (including mold, bacteria and yeast). These modern additives are believed by researchers to have changed eating habits and food production habits more than any other type of food additive. There are a number of different types of food preservatives and they include antimicrobials, antioxidants, and products that slow the ripening process are often the most common.
Natural vs. Artificial Preservatives
It is important to note that not all preservatives are created equal and can be broken down into two categories: natural and artificial preservatives. Natural preservatives are used to preserve ‘as is’. Dr. Bomi Joseph explains that their chemical composition is not altered, and they are not mixed with any synthetic items, as a majority of them have antioxidant properties. Naturally occurring preservatives include but are not limited to oil, sugar, and salt. For example, pickles can last for years due to the potent combination of oil and salt. Similar methods that are used to preserve foods are curing, freezing, canning, jellying, and fermentation — many of which are considered safe according to FDA standards.
Now onto the more damaging preservatives, the artificial and chemical ones. Dr. Bomi Joseph explains that these preservatives are also used to delay spoilage and contamination in foods, but these are artificially produced or synthetic in nature. Often, these are also called ‘additives’ on food labels. Many of these additives can be found in processed foods, like ketchup, packed juices, baked goods, spreads, etc. Despite their important function to companies and food manufacturers, preservatives can pose a number of serious health risks.
Health Concerns of Preservatives
Dr. Bomi Joseph explains that one of the possible harmful effects of preservatives is that it could be a trigger for asthmatic breathing or bronchitis, associated with chemicals such as sulfites, and nitrates. They can also cause problems with young children, including hyperactive behaviour. The sustained and excessive consumption of artificial preservatives can also weaken heart tissue, which is especially dangerous for the elderly. Artificial preservatives also contain BHA and BHT food additives which could be cancer causing. There has been evidence to suggest that humans may develop a resistance to antibiotics because of the use in food animals.
Dr. Bomi Joseph’s Final Thoughts
When in doubt, eat whole organic foods wherever possible. There are food additives and preservatives on the approved FDA lists that have never been tested or which are of concern to health professionals and other groups. Many of the substances on the FDA list were allowed on without testing because of long-standing use. For this reason, Dr. Bomi Joseph suggests researching preservatives and their names, to ensure that you avoid them the next time you head to the grocery store.