Profile on Preservatives

why preservatives are bad for you

The intentions behind adding preservatives to the food supply seem pure enough. Preservatives help keep foods from spoiling. For anyone who has ever had to toss good bread into the garbage because it had been romanced by the mold monster can attest, food spoilage sucks.

Preservatives typically work by inhibiting the growth of mold, bacteria, or yeast, or by preventing the oxidation of the food’s ingredients. Who wants to eat bacteria? How about mold? No? So, what’s wrong with preservatives?

Well, certain preservatives have been linked to negative health effects. Let’s take a look at some common ones, what’s wrong with them, and where they’re typically found.


Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are petroleum-derived preservatives which are added to foods because they keep the fats or oils in the food from oxidizing. Instead of making the fats in the food itself go rancid, the oxygen reacts with the BHT or BHA, leaving those precious fats unsullied.

The problem with BHT and BHA is that they have been repeatedly implicated as carcinogens. Not only that, but evidence suggests they are also responsible for allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and hyperactivity.

These two preservatives are often found in breakfast cereals, margarine, soft drinks, and snacks. They’re also used in cosmetics, so if you want to avoid them entirely, you may want to research the ingredients of your favorite beauty products.

Sodium Nitrite

It seems like everyone is crazy about bacon, these days. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bacon walking down the street in dark shades and a leather jacket, refusing to be seen in public with its old friends, Scrambled Eggs and Hash Brown. Nobody has bumper stickers featuring them.

But, bacon is chock-full of nitrites. So are hot dogs, ham, lunch meats, and smoked fish. And, the use of nitrites as a food additive has been linked to certain types of cancers. So, you may want to lay off the processed meats.


TBHQ stands for tertiary butylhydroquinone. Say that three times, fast. High TBHQ intake has been linked to vomiting, collapses, deirium, asthma, and ringing in the ears. It has also been linked to ADHD and stomach cancers. True, the FDA limits TBHQ content to less than .02% of the oils in foods. But, if it’s safe, why are such stringent limits necessary?

TBHQ is found in many snack foods, such as processed cookies and other baked goods. It’s hard to know where you might find TBHQ, so it’s best to read the ingredients labels, in order to avoid this common preservative.

How to Avoid Harmful Preservatives

While the amounts of these and other potentially harmful preservatives one might consume during an individual meal are minimal, over a lifetime, they add up. That’s why many health-conscious consumers choose to avoid them as much as possible.

You can limit your intake of these pernicious chemicals by:

  • selecting preservative-free bread
  • avoiding processed meats
  • staying away from processed foods
  • cooking your own meals
  • buying organic foods whenever possible
  • making your own lunch meats

[Photo Credit: seven30runner]


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