Harmful Food Preservatives and their Effects

A long time ago, boiling, freezing, pasteurizing, dehydrating, or smoking were the most popular ways to preserve food. Salt, alcohol, and vinegar are also used to prolong shelf life. These are considered natural ways of food preservation. Fortunately, technology has given rise to the use of chemicals to stop the growth of bacteria, suppress specific reactions when food comes in contact with oxygen, prevent the loss of some essential amino acids and vitamins, and enhance food flavors and colors. On the flip side, however, many harmful food preservatives are now part of our daily diet. 

The use of chemicals or food additives has increased dramatically in recent years, and now 75% of the contemporary diet is composed of processed foods. Studies estimate that an average American consumes at least 4.5 kg of food additives annually.

Sodium Benzoate

Suppose you are eating a lot of store-bought sauces and salad dressings or trying to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet by drinking fruit juices or consuming pickled produce from the grocery. In that case, you may be doing something counterproductive. Aside from being rich in sugar, these foods are also rich in sodium benzoate – a chemical used to inhibit the growth of molds, yeasts, and bacteria. It is most commonly found in acidic foods as a flavor enhancer.

The FDA has categorized sodium benzoate as generally safe for consumption. However, the maximum usage should only be 0.1% by volume. Products with less than this amount are not considered a significant threat to health, but long-term, excessive consumption has been noted to cause the following health issues:

  • Suppression of functional responses of T and B lymphocytes, affecting the activation and regulation of adaptive immunity
  • DNA or chromosomal damage (genotoxicity)
  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in children
  • Reduced glutathione activity and increased oxidative stress
  • Poor learning and memory
  • Hives and allergies
  • When combined with vitamin C, sodium benzoate forms benzene, a known carcinogen

Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite

Processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, sausages, beef jerky, ham, and canned meats are so tasty and convenient. It’s so popular that as many as 74% of individuals consume processed meat in North America on any given day. A study among 26,000 adults revealed that Americans consume an average of 44.5 grams of processed meat daily.

Unfortunately, aside from being rich in salt and saturated fat, processed meats contain sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. These chemicals are responsible for the appetizing color and flavor associated with cured meats. They also protect against growth and toxin formation by bacteria in cured meats subjected to extreme temperatures. 

Similar to sodium benzoate, FDA has regulated the use of sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. Unfortunately, it still does not change the fact that it transforms into harmful compounds when consumed. In fact, the World Health Organization has classified processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer). Studies show that the relative risk of cancer increases by 18% per 50g of processed meat. Colorectal and stomach cancer are two of the most common types of cancer closely related to processed meat consumption.

Aside from cancer, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrate consumption is linked to: 

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Blood diseases

Make Wise Food Choices

While there is no substitute for the taste of bacon and many processed meats, you can healthfully consume alternatives such as fish, poultry, or tofu. The recipes in our Gallbladder Phase 2 menu plan will make healthy, pain-free meals more exciting!

If you want to avoid sodium benzoate or reduce your intake, read labels carefully while shopping. Look for alternative products if you see benzoic acid, benzene, or benzoate, especially if the product contains ascorbic acid, or vitamin C. Sodium benzoate is not only found in food items. Health and beauty products such as mouthwash, toothpaste, shampoo, and body lotions may also contain this chemical.

Staying healthy requires us to make some dietary sacrifices. Despite the convenience and tastiness of food laden with preservatives such as sodium benzoate and sodium nitrate, the long-term consequence of eating them should be enough to convince you to find alternatives. Going organic is still the best when it comes to food, whether meat, poultry, fruits, or vegetables. Learn more about the benefits of organic foods here.

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