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The Health Ramifications of Preservatives in Food

The levels of food contamination are on the rise. Various preservatives are used in the food processing and manufacturing industry to compact this issue. Preservatives help avoid food spoilage and improve the shelf life of processed foods. Certain additives like nitrites also preserve the color of food and make them look more appetizing. While the primary aim of food preservatives is to make food safer, sometimes, they can have a negative effect on health. This is especially true when a large amount of food preservatives is consumed. Eating small amounts of food additives might be safe but consuming a lot of processed junk food can lead to increased obesity, high blood pressure, and greater susceptibility to heart diseases and even cancer.

The Downside of Preservation 

When chemicals are used in preservatives, it can lead to significant health issues. Since we live in an era where people have less time to cook healthy meals and instead opt for preserved foods, it’s important you stay aware of the impact that food preservatives can have on your health.


Substances that cause cancer are called carcinogenic or carcinogens. Often, we ingest food containing preservatives that could transform into carcinogens after they enter our bodies. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), carcinogenic agents are classified into various categories based on the risk they pose to humans. Processed meats and alcoholic beverages containing nitrates and nitrites are classified as group 1 carcinogens. Food items that are highly salted, pickled, or smoked often contain nitrates. Nitrates add color to the food alongside, protecting it from contamination. However, once they enter our body and mix with gastric juices, they turn into N-nitroso, which is associated with an increased risk of developing cancers, particularly stomach and colon-rectal cancers. Similarly, smoked food absorbs tar which is again carcinogenic. 

High Cholesterol 

Trans fat is an additive that has undergone hydrogenation and therefore helps increase the shelf life and improve the consistency of products. They are most commonly found in hamburgers, chips, biscuits, popcorn, and more. While saturated fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, trans fat not only leads to high cholesterol but also depletes the amount of good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) in your body. Therefore, you become susceptible to health issues like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. So, your best bet is to avoid processed food, particularly junk and fast food, that boosts bad cholesterol levels (low-density lipoprotein), thereby increasing the chances of more severe health problems. 

Weight Gain 

Studies have found high-fructose corn syrup to be a primary reason for obesity and diabetes in people who mostly consume processed foods. High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener frequently used in soda, candies, juice, breakfast cereals, and other junk foods. This additive is rich in simple sugars, aka fructose which can result in serious health issues when taken in high amounts. According to a study, fructose-sweetened beverages caused a significant increase in belly fat and blood sugar levels. Additionally, it was also linked to decreased insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, animal studies found that fructose could trigger inflammation in cells, a condition that is believed to play a crucial role in various chronic diseases, including cancer and diabetes.

Ingredients in Medicine 

Food is not the only way unwanted ingredients make their way into your body. Medicine can also be the culprit and create unwanted side effects. 

Eye Health and Preservatives 

It’s important that you read the ingredient list or consult a doctor before deciding on one medication over another to treat a condition. For example, if you use over-the-counter eye drops, ensure they are preservative-free. Ideally, stick to highly-quality physical eyeglasses or eyewear and don’t use eye drops that contain preservatives. With a bit of research, you can easily find such eyedrops and traditional, framed glasses online. This makes it easier to shop for a wide variety of styles that suit your face and vision needs. 

Over-the-Counter Medicine 

You can buy over-the-counter medicines from a pharmacy without a prescription from your doctor. While these medicines help treat or prevent common health problems, like headaches, common colds, or fevers, sometimes they can cause unpleasant effects. The most common side effects of taking over-the-counter medicines include nausea, dizziness, or excessive sleepiness. Often, such medication interacts with your usual prescribed medications or even food, resulting in harmful effects on your body. One common reason for such interaction is the preservatives included in them. 

Fewer Preservatives for A Healthier Life 

Completely cutting down preservatives or additives from your diet can be challenging. However, you could take simple steps to reduce their intake. For instance, consider switching to fresh fruits, vegetables, freshly squeezed juices, and low-fat dairy products. Also, make it a habit to read the labels on processed foods carefully. This will help you determine if they contain harmful additives and avoid such food if they do.

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