What Are Preservatives And Are They Bad For You?

Preservatives are food additives that are designed to keep food fresh and extend their shelf life by preventing spoilage and the growth of mold and harmful bacteria (via LiveStrong). While food preservatives can be helpful and are sometimes necessary, they may not always be good for our health. Natural preservatives like salt and sugar should be consumed in moderation, but certain artificial preservatives should be more strictly limited.

Although food preservatives are supposed to make food safer and more convenient, not all food additives are equal. For instance, artificial preservatives typically use synthetic chemicals to prevent food spoilage, and while these types of preservatives are generally safe when consumed in small amounts, consuming large quantities of processed foods may pose a risk to your overall health and well-being. Not to mention, artificial preservatives are also more likely to be added to foods that are already less healthy and nutritious to begin with.

Which preservatives should you try to limit?

Artificial preservatives like ascorbic acid, aspartame, and taurine are generally considered safe to eat (via Greatist). However, there are certain food additives that can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer. That's why it's important to know which preservatives to look out for. Some preservatives that you should be wary of include nitrates, sulfites, and butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHA/BHT).

Nitrates are often used to preserve and flavor meat. They're also used to add color to hot dogs and other red meat products. While it may be safe to consume nitrates in tiny amounts, they are linked to certain types of cancer. That's why the American Cancer Society recommends limiting the consumption of nitrates or avoiding them altogether.

Sulfites are another artificial preservative to watch out for. Used to prevent discoloration, sulfites can trigger asthma and other allergies (via LiveStrong). If you are prone to asthma, it might be a good idea to steer clear of food products that include ingredients with the word "sulfite." BHA and BHT should also be avoided or consumed in small quantities. They're used to preserve oils and fats in processed foods, and while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers BHA and BHT to be generally safe, they are both linked to an increased risk of cancer.