Preservatives are something humans have been using to keep food fresh for a very long time. Beginning with natural methods such as smoking, salting or pickling, preservatives allowed us to store food and have reserves over winter or in other times where food sources were scarce. Now, preservatives are used to keep foods fresh during shipment and to prolong their shelf life.
I find it kind of weird to look at the expiry date on certain items I buy and see that the ‘best before’ date isn’t until 2019. I know that even if I leave a package of store bought cookies open, they might get a bit stale, but they won’t really go bad. And this makes me wonder what they are putting in these foods to make them last so long, and how is it affecting my body.
Of course there are regulations regarding what chemicals and how much can be in our food, but the government websites are not super user friendly if you don’t have prior understanding (links below if you want to check them out). And of course they insist that everything in our food is harmless at these levels.
Some chemical preservatives are more harmful than others. In fact, there are some in use in North America that European countries have banned because they are toxic. I am not going to list all the chemicals used because it will just be a bunch of words no one can pronounce, but if you are interested in what chemicals do what, check out the links below.
The most common health related issues caused by chemical preservatives are headaches, asthma and triggering allergies. But others can lead to the development of tumors, cancer or birth defects.
There are three primary ways that you can protect yourself from harmful chemical preservatives.
- Organic – organic food are free from preservatives. Or alternatively, look for a ‘preservative free’ label
- Fresh – fresh food is much less likely to contain preservatives. Especially those with less packaging and processing
- Natural – natural foods should be free of all chemicals, including pesticides, preservatives, dyes, additives and flavours
Generally, I try to avoid buying things that come in a package (a. to reduce the amount of plastic/garbage I create and b. to reduce the amount of chemicals I ingest in my food). When I do, I buy vegetarian/vegan, organic and natural products as much as possible. But of course, I usually end up with a package of cookies, some granola bars, bread, etc. In our society, it is difficult to avoid these things entirely, but I think it is important to try and limit these things (for our health and for our planet). And of course it is important to be aware of what you are buying/eating.