Are Preservatives Bad for Your Health?

Choosing preserves

Everything has a shelf life — from food and beverages to pharmaceutical drugs and biological samples. Thankfully, preservatives are available so we can delay or prevent decomposition or undesirable changes. However, we often hear that products with preservatives should be avoided. Are preservatives bad? Let’s dig into details.

What are preservatives made of and what do they do?

What are preservatives? In general, they slow down or prevent bacterial growth in different kinds of products.

So, what are preservatives made of? They can either be obtained from natural substances. They can also be man-made or created through the combination of synthetic chemicals.

There are two types of preservatives:


This kind of preservative can easily be found in nature and are considered harmless. They have antioxidant properties that can naturally delay the oxidation or aging of different products or even retain their smell or taste. The most popular natural preservatives are salt, lemon juice, sugar, and oil. In the world of beauty and cosmetics, aloe vera, benzyl alcohol, and citric acid are some of the common natural preservatives used.


This kind of preservative is known to go through a process or synthesis with other substances. Artificial preservatives can be classified into organic or inorganic. Organic artificial preservatives are derived from living organisms, such as sorbates, benzoates, and propionates. On the other hand, inorganic artificial preservatives come from non-living organisms, like nitrites, nitrates, or sulfates.

Preservation in the Food Manufacturing Industry

Preservatives play a major role in food production. They are responsible for killing or slowing down the growth of microorganisms that may cause diseases or infections to people.

Apart from inhibiting natural aging and discoloration, they also serve rheological purposes. They provide food with desirable texture, consistency, aroma, and taste by acting as flavoring agents, thickeners, emulsifiers, and stabilizers.

To ensure that food is safe and will have a long shelf life, manufacturers use two methods. Chemical preservation is the process of adding special ingredients to food and food packages. The other technique is physical preservation wherein it involves various techniques, like refrigeration, salt curing, drying, smoking, and more. Depending on the requirements of the food, manufacturers may use one or both processes to protect food quality.

Harmful health effects of preservatives

Why are preservatives bad? Because, unfortunately, chemicals added to food can bring harmful reactions to our body. Some can even be toxic on their own. Here are the effects of some of the preservatives discussed in Dr. Sanjay Sharma’s article in the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications.

1. Sulfites

These compounds are used in preserving corn syrup, canned olives, and more. They stop the oxidation or browning of sliced fruits or vegetables. These preservatives may cause side effects in the form of allergies, headaches, palpitations, and even cancer.

2. Nitrates and Nitrites

They serve as curing agents in meat products. Manufacturers normally add them to bacon, sausages, and salami to make them last longer. However, these compounds can cause stomach cancer. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics also warns us that these preservatives can interfere with the thyroid and the blood’s functionality in delivering oxygen to the body.

3. Benzoates

They act as antimicrobial preservatives which help increase the shelf life of food sold at grocery stores. These preservatives are typically added to margarine, pickle, and juices. Suspected side effects include allergies, asthma, and skin rashes.

4. Sorbates/Sorbic Acid

They enhance both the color and flavor of food. These preservatives serve as fungistats in beverages, salad dressing, and cheese. Reaction to sorbates is rare but a study reveals that there are reports of urticaria and contact dermatitis.

Are preservatives bad? As per research, yes, if there is constant exposure to synthetic ones. An individual who usually eats food with a high amount of preservatives is likely to experience side effects either immediately or later on in life. Immediate effects may include a change in energy level or behavior while long-term effects may put individuals at risk with conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.

Replacing preservatives with whole foods

Why are processed foods bad? Because when food goes through processing, valuable components are taken away from the original whole food. Minimizing your processed food intake and switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet is a sure way of getting healthier. Here are some simple steps to get you started:

  • Eat the fruit instead of drinking ready-made fruit juice. If you really want fruit juice, prepare it in a fruit juicer at home. In this way, you can be certain that there are no unnecessary preservatives in your juice.
  • We all know how much preservatives go into potato chips. As a replacement, try baking potatoes or lightly crisp it in a pan. You may also use other kinds of vegetables and make your own healthy chips.
  • Ketchup is a widely used condiment in every household. However, it contains high fructose corn syrup and other kinds of preservatives. The easiest alternative is slicing up actual tomatoes.
  • White rice is a refined carbohydrate. Although we need carbs in our body, the intake of white rice should be limited as it may raise your blood pressure. Brown rice is a better option.
  • Water is an extremely important part of our lives that we should never forget. Skip the soda as it is just full of sugar. But don’t fret. There are great alternatives available if you’re really craving for soda.
Are preservatives bad? Yes and no. We still owe preservatives our gratitude because they help keep our food edible for a long time. However, they are bad for our health if we consume food that is high with artificial preservatives regularly. Luckily, a whole-foods, plant-based diet is not only the answer to this conundrum, but the key to good health!

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