Let Your Food Be Food: On Additives and Preservatives

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Have you ever heard the saying “Let food be thy medicine” ?

This was said by the Greek physician Hippocrates who lived from 460 BC to 370 BC.   If you weren’t aware already, he is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine.  Hippocratic medicine is only one part of our ancient achievements. However there is an incredible difference when summing up today’s medical knowledge and comparing it to ancient medicine.

Talking strictly ingredients, food has been incredibly modified over the centuries.  Our ancestors used to preserve foods with natural additives such as salt, herbs, sugar, and vinegar.   Today consumers are demanding a high supply of food that is flavorful, convenient, and affordable.


Advances in technology allow for the possibility of preserving foods for an extended period of time while also supplying the consumer with their demands.  Literally thousands of ingredients are used to make and preserve foods these days. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a list of over 3,000 ingredients that are considered to be “harmless until proven otherwise.”   

So how are additives approved by the FDA?
The Food and Drug Administration is responsible to study, regulate, and monitor the safe use of every food additive.  Upon evaluation of a substance the following is considered:
1.  the composition an properties of the substance
2. the amount that would typically be consumed
3. immediate and long-term health effect
4. various safety factors

Some consumers take caution about food additives, and I am one of them.   Next time you pick up a product in the grocery store take a look at the list of ingredients on the nutrition label.  Many of these ingredients are lengthy words, unfamiliar names, and complex chemical compounds that you will not recognize and neither will your body.    In fact, in almost every food we eat – whether it’s a freshly picked apple or a homemade brownie – there are ingredients or chemicals that are unrecognizable to our bodies.   

Personally, I have some concerns with the FDA evaluations on food additives, and this is because of inherent limitations of science.   The FDA can never be completely certain of the risks from the use of any substance.  Therefore, the “best science” available is determining if there is “reasonable harm” or “possibility of no harm” to the consumer.


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What additives and preservatives should we be mindful of and try to avoid?

Sorbic Acid
Sodium Sorbate
Potassium Sorbate
Calcium Sorbate

Benzoic acid
Sodium Benzoate
Potassium Benzoate
Calcium Benzoate

Both Sorbates and Benzoates have been associated with food intolerance reactions

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Sulphites (Sulfites)
Sulphur dioxide
Sodium sulphite
Sodium bisulphite
Sodium metabisulphite
Potassium metabisulphite
Potassium sulphite
Potassium bisulphite

Sulphites can be harmful to asthmatics.  (Not to be confused with sulfates)

Potassium nitrate
Sodium nitrate
Sodium nitrite
Potassium nitrite

Propionic acid
Sodium propionate
Calcium propionate
Potassium propionate

Propyl gallate
Octyl gallate
dodecyl gallate

tert-Butylhydroquinone, tBHQ
Butylated hydroxyanisole, BHA
Butylated hydroxytoluene, BHT

Gallates and TBHQ, BHA, BHT are preservatives in vegetable oils and margarines.  
BHA and BHT can also enter foods from plastic packaging.

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Lactic acid

Carrageenan  – used as a preservative in yogurts, ice creams, and other dairy products.  I’ve also seen it in desserts, chocolates, and pre-packaged meals. It has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation.  



Flavor enhancers

L-Glutamic acid
Monosodium L-glutamate (MSG)
Monopotassium L-glutamate
Calcium di-L-glutamate
Monoammonium L-glutamate
Magnesium di-L-glutamate
Disodium guanylate
Disodium inosinate
Disodium 5’-ribonucleotides

MSG is well documented to have adverse effects on the body.  Yeast extract, hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP) and hydrolysed plant protein (HPP) are ways manufacturers include MSG without having to indicate it on the label.  

Let’s not forget about…

Artificial Sweeteners
Acesulphame potassium
Aspartame-acesulphame salt

Aspartame has been linked to stomach complications, allergies, and many other unfortunate side effects.  


When you are growing up and raising a family in a big world like ours with so many choices, it’s important to be diligent in your research.  I have a general rule in my home:  If I do not recognize an ingredient, do not know where it comes from, or cannot pronounce it, it will not be eaten.    What do you feel is safe for you or your family to consume?   The best thing you can do for your future is to research. Know that your food is food.

Learn to Eat Organic: The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen
The Ultimate Tool for the Eco-Minded
10 Surprising Ways to Boost Your Metabolism
What’s Up with Grass-Fed?
Up Your Coffee Game with a CHEMEX


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