Preservatives are used to preserve foods, increase shelf-life and prevent the decomposition of food by microbial bugs. They also ensure that there is no loss of taste or flavour in the product over an extended period of time.

Because it can take days or weeks for foods to travel from one city to another, or even from one continent to another, the use of preservatives ensures that the goods will be received in the same state as at the time of manufacturing.

Not all preservatives are entirely bad, but excessive consumption of preservatives can lead to long-term health issues. 

Natural preservatives, which include oil, salt and sugar and are not chemically altered or mixed with any synthetic compounds.

Natural preservatives very often have antioxidant properties which delay oxidation and therefore aging. For example, pickles can last for years due to the pickling process.

Several methods are used to preserve foods naturally. These include curing, freezing, dehydrating, canning, jellying and fermentation.

Artificial preservatives are also used to delay spoilage and contamination in foods, but they are artificially produced or synthetic in nature.

These artificial preservatives are usually referred to as additives so it is ideal to read labels before buying foods. If the names on the ingredients list are long and confusing, or if they contain numbers, be wary.

Ready-made sauces, packed juices, baked goodies, spreads, salad dressings and jams often contain artificial preservatives.

Negative health consequences of artificial preservatives includes:

  • Asthma, bronchitis and other breathing problems
  • ADHD and hyperactivity
  • Eczema and allergies

Sulfur dioxide is usually the issue with breathing concerns or eczema. It is found in some soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, dried fruits, dried vegetables, salad dressings and bottled lemon juice.

MSG, colorants and tartrazine can exacerbate hyperactivity and ADHD.

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) are chemical compounds added to prevent fats and oils from becoming rancid. These can increase cancer risk in susceptible individuals.

Nitrate and Nitrites are used for preserving meats such as bacon and other deli meats and should be consumed in moderation as it can contribute to stomach cancer in susceptible individuals.

Ideally our diets should consist of a variety of fresh foods such as raw nuts, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as healthy proteins and fats. Replace processed meats with fresh cuts of meat, chicken or fish.

Wash vegetables and fruits well before eating them to remove the pesticides and preservatives. A simple solution made up of the following ingredients is very effective: 1 cup filtered water, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon baking soda. Apple cider vinegar can also be added to the mix and will greatly reduce surface preservatives.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 1 October to learn more.

Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am