The Hidden Dangers of Additives and Preservatives
Image Credit: Store brought fruits have preservatives too | Unsplash

As we rush through the grocery store, scanning the shelves for our weekly necessities, we often overlook the fine print on the labels of the products we toss into our carts. But what exactly are we missing? The list of ingredients on a package of food may seem like a foreign language, filled with long chemical names and unfamiliar terms. One category of ingredients that frequently raises red flags is food additives and preservatives. But what exactly do these terms mean? And more importantly, what impact do they have on our health?

It's important to define food additives and preservatives in order to fully understand how they may affect the human body. Food additives are substances that are included in food to enhance its taste, maintain its freshness, and/or improve its overall quality. Correspondingly, preservatives are added to food to stop the growth of microorganisms and retain freshness for longer time periods. Both additives and preservatives can be found in a wide variety of foods, from packaged snacks to frozen meals.

Certain dietary additives, including vitamins and minerals, are seen as safe and even advantageous to human health. Others, though, have ties to possible health risks. Food dyes such as Red 40 and Yellow 5 have been linked to hyperactivity in children, while preservatives such as sodium benzoate have been linked to the formation of carcinogenic compounds. Additionally, some people may be sensitive or allergic to certain food additives, leading to symptoms such as hives or difficulty breathing.

The cumulative effect of consuming multiple sources of food additives and preservatives over time is also cause for concern. We are exposed to these substances on a daily basis, and it can be difficult to avoid them entirely. As a result, the constant exposure may overwhelm our bodies, causing a buildup of toxins and an increased risk of health issues.

Emulsifiers are a popular class of additives that are found in nearly every food, in order to blend or emulsify immiscible ingredients. These chemicals are added to a variety of household staples, including ice cream, chocolate, and mayonnaise. Several studies have shown that these emulsifiers can adversely affect the gut microbiome overtime, causing a variety of side effects such as bloating or inflammation, which can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Artificial sweeteners cause health risks | Unsplash

 Artificial sweeteners are another popular additive that can be found in diet and low-calorie foods to add sweetness sans calories. Sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose have been linked to a range of health issues, including headaches, allergic reactions, and even cancer. Some sweeteners, such as sucralose and aspartame, have been shown to adversely affect the gut microbiome, causing inflammation that can lead to changes in the gut-brain communication and affect the way our brain responds to sweet tastes. Some research suggests that artificial sweeteners may even lead to an increased risk of metabolic disorders such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Additionally, artificial sweeteners may also disrupt the delicate balance of bacterial populations in the gut and contribute to conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other gut-related issues.

So, what can we do to limit our exposure to food additives and preservatives? One of the best ways is to opt for whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Whole foods such as fruits and vegetables are naturally free of additives and preservatives, making them healthy, low-calorie alternatives to processed foods. When purchasing packaged foods, be sure to read the label and look for items with fewer ingredients, and try to avoid products with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

It's also worth noting that many companies have begun to use natural alternatives to synthetic preservatives and additives. For example, vinegar and citric acid are natural preservatives that can be used instead of artificial preservatives, and spices such as turmeric and paprika can be used to color food instead of artificial dyes. In a similar vein, natural emulsifiers derived from soy or sunflower seeds can be used in place of synthetic ones for a worry-free indulgence that is void of any side effects.

In short, while some food additives and preservatives may be safe for our health, others have been linked to potential health risks. We may limit our exposure to these compounds and lower the risk of health issues by paying attention to the components in our meals and choosing healthier alternatives as often as we can. It's important to be aware of the types and amounts of these chemicals that are in the food we eat. While not all additives and preservatives are harmful, it is crucial to make informed choices about the foods we consume. By choosing simple, healthy foods and reading food labels carefully, we can reduce our exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and improve our overall health.