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Butylated hydroxytoluene, butylated hydroxyanisole, sodium nitrate and erythorbic acid. Who’s hungry? These preservatives and many others exist in the foods we purchase and feed our families every day.

If they sound synthetic, it is because they are – at least in comparison to natural preservatives such as sugars, salt, vinegar and citrus.

These hard-to-pronounce preservatives are created in laboratories and may contribute to health and behavioral problems ranging from hyperactivity to cancer, according to research. Not exactly what you had on the menu for your family, is it?

Which preservatives should be avoided? Let’s take a brief exploration of these chemicals and their effects; then we’ll walk through some simple ways to limit them in our diets.

Preserve With Purpose

Preservatives do serve an important purpose. They prevent spoilage and bacteria growth, can improve the appearance of foods and prevent oxidation. These are good things. Unfortunately, adding synthetic preservatives to foods comes at a cost of good health.

This is why Vegy Vida contains no preservatives and must be kept refrigerated. If a package of food is able to sit on the shelf for months without spoiling, something is keeping it fresh.

Fortunately for you label readers, food makers are required to list all synthetic preservatives such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, benzoic acid, calcium sorbate, potassium nitrate, erythorbic acid, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).

The health risks associated with preservatives vary depending on age and overall general health and are listed below.

Breathing issues: Aspartame, sulfites, benzoates and yellow dye No. 5 could exacerbate breathing problems in asthmatics and others, according to MayoClinic.com. Medical News Today, meanwhile, linked sulphites with shortness of breath and other breathing problems.

Behavioral changes: This is particularly the case among young children. A 2003 study of 1,873 children showed that the consumption of food additives and preservatives led to significant increases in hyperactivity, according to to the Archives of Disease in Children. It did not matter whether the children had been previously identified as hyperactive in terms of the effects.

Heart damage: Preservatives have been shown to weaken heart tissue, according studies of heart tissue by InChem. Further, in laboratory research the rats that consumed the highest levels of food preservatives registered the highest levels of heart damage over time.

Cancer: A critical concern of chemical preservatives is their ability to transform into carcinogens when digested. Specifically, nitrosamines, which include nitrites and nitrates, can interact with stomach and gastric acids to form cancer-causing agents, according to InChem.

Limiting the chances of these side effects means getting savvy about ingredients. Here are three easy ways to pare down the preservatives in your family’s diet.

  • Shop the perimeter: You’ve probably read this before – the processed food (the stuff that can sit on the shelf for months) is stored in the middle of the supermarket, while fresh foods are stored on the outside. Instead if cruising aisle by aisle, shop the perimeter first.
  • Go natural! Fresh fruits and vegetables are gorgeous and colorful, making them attractive to young children. Complement them with lean proteins (not processed meats) and fresh dairy products. In short, shop for beauty.
  • Bring your glasses: Sorry to make you work, but being a responsible eater means becoming an informed one. Opt for products that include ingredients you can pronounce and recognize. The fewer the better.

Some articles claim that preservatives are not bad for your health at low levels. That may be true, but you should not ignore the potential health risks. Better to make your purchase decisions with a pinch of salt than a pinch of erythorbic acid.

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