WHAT IS A PRESERVATIVE?
A preservative is a substance or a chemical added to the food products, beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceutical drugs, etc. to prevent them from decomposition.
It enhances the shelf life of these products and reduces their wastage. In this article, we are going to limit our discussion only to the food preservatives & their effects on our health.
Preservatives prevent the decomposition of food products by following means:
- Antimicrobial Action: When food is kept for a long without consuming, it undergoes decomposition due to the growth of the microorganisms like bacteria, fungus, etc. Preservatives destroy these microorganisms or at least delay their growth, thus prevents the rapid decomposition of food.
- Anti-Oxidant Action: Exposure to the oxygen quickens the breakdown of fats and oils in the food and make them rancid. Through anti-oxidant action, preservatives either stop or slow down the oxidation of fats and oil and prevent them from getting rancid.
- Anti-Enzymatic action: There are many enzymatic processes are happening continuously within the food, e.g. Ripening of fruits, vegetables, change in colour and taste, decomposition, etc. Some preservatives block these enzymatic processes occurring in the food, thus delay the transition of food from one state to the other or prevent its decomposition.
WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF PRESERVATIVES?
Preservatives are generally classified under two broad classes:
- NATURAL PRESERVATIVES:
These are naturally occurring food substances. They do not contain any added chemicals or synthetic substances to alter their composition and are used in their original state. They Prevent the decomposition of food by anti-oxidant action.
- ARTIFICIAL PRESERVATIVES:
These are the synthetic chemical preservatives produced artificially. In the ingredients label, they are mentioned as ‘Food Additives’. Artificial preservatives are routinely present in Jams, Jellies, Sauces & condiments, salad toppings/dressings, etc. They prevent decomposition of food through various processes like antimicrobial, Anti-enzymatic and anti-oxidant action, etc. Ideally, there should not be more than one artificial preservative present in a single food item.
ARE PRESERVATIVES BAD FOR HEALTH?
The primary purpose of using preservatives is to preserve the food from early decomposition and increase its shelf life. The natural preservatives like Sugar, Salt, Citric acid, etc. are safe to use. They are the common food ingredients which we consume daily. It is important to note that, though the Natural preservatives are safe, we should limit their consumption. When consumed in a higher quantity, they can be harmful, as they (Sugar, salt, oil) increase the risk of Hypertension, Diabetes, obesity, etc.
Artificial preservatives are chemical compounds. They are not the natural food ingredients, thus there consumption over the permissible safe limit can be very harmful to our health. It can make us prone to various health issues and diseases like:
- Increased risk of suffering from Cancers e.g. Colon, Pancreas, Stomach, etc.
- Increased risk of suffering from Asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
- Developing new allergies or worsening of the existing allergies
- Damage the cardiac muscles and weaken the heart function. (Risk of Heart failure)
- Can make the blood vessels stiff, increasing the risk of chest pain and heart attack
- Stomach irritation (Frequent stomach pain, diarrhoea, indigestion)
- Pain and swelling in joints
- Skin irritation, dryness and allergies, etc.
- Increased risk of Infertility (Both Men and women) and PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) in women.
- Obesity and excess weight gain
- Risk of suffering from type-2 Diabetes Mellitus
- Reduce the number of Helpful (Good) Gut bacteria.
- Reduced immunity with frequent infections
- Abnormal or overactivity of the immune system (Autoimmune diseases)
- Damage to the Nervous system (Increased occurrence of Alzheimer’s And Dementia)
- Problems with thyroid function. Either Hypothyroidism (Underactive thyroid) or Hyperthyroidism (Overactive thyroid).
HOW TO PREVENT TOXICITY?
- As far as possible, try to cook and eat your food at home. Fresh home-cooked food does not contain any artificial preservatives. One can easily adjust the quantity of natural preservatives like salt and sugar in it.
- Reduce the quantity and frequency of eating outside food.
- Reduce the quantity of processed food, canned food and beverages in your regular diet to the minimum.
- As far as possible try to avoid buying frozen food (Fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, etc.)
- Include food like fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, Legumes, fresh chicken (Non-processed or cold storage), eggs, fresh milk, curd, cottage cheese, etc. into your regular diet.
- Try to buy organic food (fruits and vegetables) if possible. Organic food does not guarantee the absence of preservatives, but usually, the quantity is meagre.
- Make a habit of reading the ingredients label while buying any processed or packed food to identify the preservatives used in it. (Usually mentioned at the end of the ingredients list).
- If possible, try to bake bread, cake, cookies at home.
- Try to make your sauces, chutneys at home without adding any preservatives except salt, sugar, citric acid, etc.
- Soak the fruits and vegetables in lukewarm water with salt and turmeric for 20 minutes and then wash them thoroughly before eating. It removes the pesticides residues from their surfaces.