List of the Main Groups of Preservatives
What are preservatives and why should I worry about them if they don’t seem to affect my children?
Quite often the effects of preservatives can be delayed and are far less obvious than other harmful additives, so it can be very difficult to work out exactly what’s causing the problem. This is made increasingly difficult by the fact that preservatives are more likely to have a slow, accumulative effect on our bodies and the bodies of our children, soevery tiny little bit adds to the problem, as it slowly gets worse. That’s not to say that some people don’t react immediatelyto some preservatives, for example, I know quite a few people who can instantly tell if they have accidentally consumed 282!
There are 5 main groups of preservatives that can found in the foods children are consuming on a daily basis, these are sulphites, propionates, benzoates and nitrates and nitrites as well as sorbates. Each of these groups of preservatives has different effects on our health, and a different role to play in our food.
Sulphites, an impossible powder to detect on fresh produce without the use of a sulphite test strip and known to induce mild to severe asthma attacks.
This is a white, odourless powder, which is known to induce asthma attacks, as well as many other heath issues. Some sulphites are also known to cause headaches, hives, and anaphylaxis and are known to destroy vitamin B1.
This preservative can commonly be found in wine and other alcoholic beverages, baked goods, dried fruits, coconut, sausages, hot chips and much, much more. Because of the 5% loophole, often ingredients containing sulphites will be in packaged food, but the sulphites will not appear in the ingredients list, making it very difficult to avoid.
Illegally used sulphites in Australia
By far, the most frustrating foods to find sulphites in are fresh mince, seafood, salads, fruit salads and cooked seafood. These are marketed as fresh foods that are often purchased in deli sections at supermarkets, buffets or at your local butcher. You believe you are doing the right thing and purchasing fresh produce or a fresh healthy snack for your children and you are simply not being told that there are toxic chemicals in that food. The simple reason sulphites are sprinkled or sprayed over these foods is to make them appear fresh and prettier. In Australia it is illegal to add sulphites to mince, prepacked salads and fruit salads but it happens a lot more than you may think. The fabulous Sue Dengate found that 43% of mince in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden contained illegal sulphites at high enough levels to induce asthma attacks. That’s nearly?! Sue offers some fantastic advice to avoid falling for it; never purchase mince between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, as health inspectors have knocked off for the weekend and always grill your supplier before purchasing any meats, fish or prepacked salads. You can also purchase your own sulphite test strips directly from her website: www.fedupwithfoodadditive.com
The use of these could be HUGELY reduced if companies chose to use proper hygiene practices instead!
This small group of additives are designed for one purpose only, as a mould inhibitor. Many food manufacturers have been convincing Australians that it is a necessary additive for our health and without it we would be eating mould. What they are choosing to NOT tell us, is that if these massive companies chose to instead wash their equipment with vinegar each day and wait for the bread to cool before packaging, these toxic additives would not be needed at all in breads or baked products. Put simply, propionates only job in baked goods is to allow some bread product manufacturers to be lazy, use poor or no hygiene practices and to speed up the packaging process, making more money for them, faster. These additives can now also be found in other food such as fruit juices, dried fruits and some cheeses, so keep an eye out for them there too.
Propionates are known to cause many ill health effects, such as migraines, developmental delay, and neurological problems, learning difficulties, lethargy, depression, gastro intestinal distress and irritability. It is no wonder that there is so much anecdotal evidence from parents, who report after removing this group of chemicals from their child’s diet; a huge improvement in behaviour, concentration and mood was noted. Ofcourse a child is not going to be on their best behaviour if they are feeling some of those awful side effects, I wouldn’t be on my best behaviour either! As with all of the preservatives, propionates have an accumulative effect, so the reaction may not be instant and can build up over a matter of days, making it very difficult to pin point the exact cause of the reaction. My advice, avoid them all together and chose to support the companies who use decent hygiene practices.
Petroleum derived and known to cause hyperactivity and dangerous for asthmatics!
As benzoates can be a naturally occurring substance in some fruits and spices, many people associate this group of food additives with something that is natural, and therefore safe. This is not completely accurate, the preservatives commonly added to pickled foods, soft drinks and other drinks and jams are benzoates, but they are not taken from a fruit or some spices, they are petroleum derived and created in labs. There are a number of people who are extremely sensitive to benzoates, these people will also be sensitive to the naturally occurring benzoates, if you think you may be, have a look at the fail safe diet. One thing that most researchers can agree on is that all of the research that FSANZ and the FDA use to justify allowing these chemicals in our food is out dated. There are mountains of studies that have found benzoates to be detrimental to health; some researches have even noted that consuming benzoates can lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, as it can damage DNA. Benzoates are also known to cause health issues such as skin irritation, headaches, tummy aches and hyperactivity. Although only a small percentage of people seem to be sensitive to the fruits and other natural food containing benzoates, a 2004 study, noted in Julie Eady’s amazing book Additive Alert concluded that all children across the board were affected by benzoates, not just the children more prone to hyperactivity or allergies.
Is your child drinking the cancer causing substance, benzene?
The most alarming news to come out of any studies relating to benzoates is the findings of benzene in many drinks sold in Australia! Benzene is a colourless, flammable liquid and is a major industry solvent, its use in factory’s has come under fire on many occasions, as it is quit common for workers to come down with benzene poisoning from over exposure. This is not a substance that anyone would want their children to drink. Benzene is a toxic, cancer-causing chemical which has been strongly linked to causing leukaemia, the benzene is formed by combining two substances, vitamin C and either sodium benzoate 211 or potassium benzoate 212. If you are purchasing any drinks containing both of these ingredients, put it straight back on the shelf.
The natural preservative
There is not a huge amount of studies on sorbates. These are another substance, which can occur naturally in some fruits and vegetables so often food manufacturers will label their products as containing no artificial preservatives or 100% natural but we need to remember that just because this sustenance does occur naturally, does not mean that is the form of sorbates which the manufacturers are choosing to use. Sobates used in the food making process are mainly petroleum derived and created in labs; therefore I choose to avoid them altogether. Some of the possible health risks associated with sorbates are allergic reaction, asthma, skin irritation, hay fever headaches and tummy aches.
Nitrites and Nitrates
How much processed meat is it safe to feed my child? These preservative are deemed a necessary evil in the making of meats such as salamis, bacons, hams and other processed meats. Without the use of a preservative, more people would die of food poisoning from the microorganisms that love to breed in such meats. Nitrates are not considered cancer-causing substance, but are converted to nitrites in the gut as you are eating them. Nitrites are also a substance, which occurs naturally in the gut and is needed for digestion, so it seems perfectly harmless. However, it is a well researched fact that when you eat amines (found in foods high in proteins, such as processed meats and cheeses) they combine in your body to form Nitrosamines; a highly dangerous environmental toxin which is known to cause cancer and more recently, has been linked with causing DNA damage which can lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The best solution for avoiding these toxic substances is to simply not eat processed meats. You can get nitrate and nitrite free bacon from some butchers; they can be expensive but may be worth it for a special treat.
For each and every single one of these preservatives with potentially catastrophic consequences, there is a perfectly safe and harmless alternative which some food manufactures are already choosing to use. They are the companies who get my shopper dollar!
Article by Tegan Benfell, Co-Author of Additive Free Kids Parties