Preservatives 101: Will they kill you?

2 Mins read

Popular food additives being dangerous

No one has ever said, ‘yum, trans fat’ while munching potato chips. Most of us remain unaware of the additives and chemicals added to our food. Processed food is altered from its natural state. It is then treated with additives – to increase shelf life, taste better or add colour. Most of these additives help retain the nutritional value of the food and prevent spoilage. However, heavily depending on processed food is harmful, linking it to a number of chronic diseases. Here are a few of the most commonly consumed food additives that one should think twice about.

Sodium nitrates

This is used to flavour and colour meat. It is also used to prevent bacterial growth. Adding sodium nitrate causes a salty taste and reddish-pink colour. However, studies show heating this processed meat at high temperatures or its reaction with stomach acid is harmful. It is linked to producing nitrosamines, which can cause cancer and type 1 diabetes. It’s important that we reduce our intake of processed meat. Unprocessed meat, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes are healthier sources of protein one can opt for.


These are mostly found in canned or frozen food, fruits, vegetables, jellies and jams. Sulfites are known to aggravate asthma. Labels also mention sulfites as sulfur dioxide, potassium or sodium bisulfite and sodium sulfite. It is necessary to double check the amount of sulfite one consumes.

Trans fat

Trans fats are unsaturated fat that undergoes hydrogenation. This is known to cause heart diseases, type 2 diabetes and increase inflammation. These hydrogenated oils are often used in baked goods, crackers, margarine and popcorn to improve shelf life and consistency. Recently, its GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status has been revoked due to its unsafe nature.

Sodium Benzoate

 Found in carbonated drinks and acidic foods, sodium benzoate has a lot of side effects despite being considered safe by regulations. It has been known to increase hyperactivity in children and increase symptoms of ADHD. Consuming sodium benzoate with a source of vitamin C like citric acid is linked to developing cancer. It is best to avoid food containing benzoic acid, benzene or benzoate, especially if combined with a source of vitamin C.

Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is known to enhance the flavour and texture of savoury foods. Used in Asian cuisines, it can cause nausea and breathing problems. It also adds extra sodium in the blood, thereby elevating one’s blood pressure. Observational studies have also linked it to causing metabolic syndrome and weight gain.

Artificial food colouring

 Used in candies and other condiments, these improve the appearance and brighten the colour of the product. They can cause asthma and allergic reactions. Red 3 (Erythrosine) is known to cause thyroid and is now being replaced with Red 40. However, it is essential to limit food colouring and to opt for whole foods that are artificially coloured.

The bottom line is that a lot of additives are harmful. They present a health risk. Phosphate rich food is known to cause a strain to the heart. Most additives, when consumed in excess are linked to causing heart failures. Many snack foods contain additives which disrupts hormonal balance. Studies have shown additives like paraben act as a weak synthetic oestrogen and diminish fertility.

Despite certain food additives being linked to scary side effects, many others can be safely consumed as a part of a healthy diet. It is important to read the ingredient labels while shopping and to take control of what one consumes. Try cutting back on processed food. One can always opt for fresh and whole ingredients in your diet to ensure additives are consumed in moderation.

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