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The Low-down On Preservatives

The Low-down On Preservatives

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Learn about the ingredient that keeps your food ‘fresh’.


How many of us would actually flip over a packaging, just to read its ingredient list?


Well, the unfortunate truth is that not everyone does!


Many are guilty of buying food products based on its packaging and the company’s marketing efforts. Ask yourself, “Do you solely rely on the food label to tell you about the product instead of looking at the ingredients list?”


For example, words such as “sugar-free”, “contains real meat” or “fortified with vitamins” are commonly used to promote a food product. Hence, leaving consumers to evaluate for themselves, if the product is truly what you think it is.


However, is that all that it contains?


Amidst the many ingredients listed, one common category that is found in majority of food items that you find on supermarket shelves (no matter how natural they look) are preservatives.


Most food contain preservatives to prolong shelf life and to prevent it from rotting due to bacteria, moisture and so on. Preservatives may be useful in ensuring that the food you buy does not go to waste too quickly.


However, you’ll also need to understand that not all preservatives are good for your health, nor are they all harmful.


To help you understand better about preservatives, read on to find out how preservatives affects your body.




Preservatives come in many forms and names. They play such a huge role in modern day food production. So, to help you out, we’ve named a few below including the good, bad and ugly.




This is a form of vitamin C, commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Ascorbic acid is an additive approved by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), United States of America and can be commonly found as an ingredient in cereals, candy and beverages.




A form of artificial sweetener commonly found in sugar-free food items. Most conventional sugar alternatives are made from aspartame. Though, there are mixed reviews on the effects of this preservative towards the human body. In previous years, it has been reported that aspartame could cause brain damage and cancer. However, the good news is, the FDA conducted further research and found that it is generally safe to be consumed.




Ever wondered why most cold cut meat are of a pinkish or reddish hue? Well, that’s because of a preservative used to prevent spoiling called nitrate. Nitrate is commonly used to cure meat such as sausages and ham. However, this ingredient is linked to certain types of cancer. Hence, it should be avoided if possible.




Sulfite is used to prevent the discolouration of food. This preservative is commonly found in dried fruits, bottled juices, wine and pickled onions. Sulfite can cause harm to individuals with asthma or allergies when consumed in large amounts. Several studies have shown that sulfite can increase asthma symptoms after consuming food containing this preservative or inhaling sulfite fumes.




Nisin is a natural preservative, derived from the bacterium Lactococcus lactis. This preservative is used mainly for cheese, buttermilk, salad dressing and products that contain fresh poultry. Nisin’s main role is to prevent the growth of bacteria in the product. This preservative is generally categorised as safe due to its natural source.




Although some of the preservatives listed are generally labelled as safe, eating food that’s natural is still the best option to preserve your health. The key to consuming food that contain little to no preservatives is to firstly, read food labels.


Take a look at the ingredients list and how many on the list are you able to recognise or pronounce?


If the product contains ingredients that you know, that’s a step forward. On the other hand, if the product contains ingredients that you do not know or can’t pronounce, you would probably want to give it a pass.


Next, look for products that indicate ‘preservative-free’ on the packaging. Some products that market themselves as ‘natural’ or even ‘organic’ may not be 100 percent free from preservatives.


Lastly, try your very best to go fresh. Eating freshly prepared food is the best way to fuel up. Also, stay away from pre-packed and processed food as the chances of it containing preservatives are higher.

Keng Yau Chan

Keng Yau is a Malaysian-based editor & writer for YesMyWellness.com. Fitness as a career wasn't always in his first choice and in fact, he was quite an obese lad before! However, after a major health scare, Keng Yau has decided to pursue a healthy lifestyle and solidify his commitment by completing Associate Degree of Applied Fitness from Australian College of Physical Education and is also an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor. He has worked for major fitness centres and often volunteers in public and community health initiatives.

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