Artificial preservatives have become so common in our food that most of us don’t even question their presence. Most people hardly bat an eye when seeing something like ascorbic acid–one of the more common manmade preservatives–on an ingredients label. In reality these substances have detrimental effects on our health–especially the friendly bacteria populating our gut–and should be eliminated from our diet if we are interested in being as healthy as possible.
The Two Processes Causing Foods to Decay.
The process of food decay can be easily demonstrated by placing a piece of ripe fruit, an apple for example, on the countertop and watching what happens. The browning and rotting of the apple is the result of two different processes. The first is a process known as oxidation. This is simply a natural chemical reaction which takes place when organic material, in this case the apple, is exposed to oxygen.
The second process causing the apple to decay is carried out by microorganisms. Bacteria on the outside of apple begin to “eat” the apple. These bacteria enjoy apples just like humans, and it is a great food source for them. As long as there is a continual supply of oxygen and a reasonable amount of nutrients–such as those provided by the apple–bacteria will continue to multiply and break down the organic material, in this case the apple.
Why Preservatives are put Into our Food.
The role of preservatives in our foods is to stop the processes of oxidation and bacterial growth. This might sound like a good thing, and it is, depending on which types of preservatives are being used. Preservatives can be placed into two different categories being natural and man made preservatives. There are many different types of natural preservatives. Acids, like citrus juice for example, prevent the oxidation of food. Salt is another natural preservative which has been used for thousands of years. Oils and vinegars are also common natural substances used to preserve food.
Unfortunately, most of the preservatives used in our foods today are unnatural chemical substitutes. It has become a common experience for many people to look at the ingredients label on a package of food and wonder, “what the hell is butylated hydroxytoluene?”. There are many foods on the market today where half of the ingredients on the label are extremely difficult to pronounce. The average person most likely has no idea what any of these substances actually are and some of these chemical compounds are man made preservatives. Some examples of how preservatives appear on the ingredients label include Sodium Sulfite, Sodium Nitrate, Sulfur Dioxide, Citric Acid and Butylated hydroxytoluene.
How Manmade Preservatives Affect our Body.
So how do these chemical substances affect our bodies? To put it simply, preservatives kill bacteria. But that’s a good thing right? Don’t bacteria make us sick? While some strains of bacteria do lead to illness, there are trillions of bacteria living inside our bodies right now which are actually benefitting our health. For example, there are bacteria in our intestines which help us to break down food and absorb the nutrients from our food.
Man made preservatives do not distinguish between “good” and “bad” bacteria. Imagine we have a hostage situation. There are five bad guys holding 100 innocent people hostage. We can’t just drop a bomb on the whole building just to kill the five bad guys. The same goes for our bodies. Eating preservatives is like bombing our intestinal tract because these preservatives kill both our “good” and our “bad” bacteria. The destruction of our “good” bacteria have a number of negative effects on our health.
One major effect is our ability to digest and breakdown food. Food needs to be broken down into very tiny pieces in order to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestine, and our “good” bacteria play a major role in this process. This is just one of the many positive benefits achieved by cultivating a healthy population of bacteria in the body. For anyone looking to learn more about this subject I would suggest reading Clean Gut by Alejandro Junger. This book goes into detail on how our gut bacteria play a major role in our health and how consuming preservatives severely damages our well being. 
Some Preservatives are Disguised as Healthy Vitamins.
Sometimes preservatives can also be presented in tricky ways. A great example of this is with Vitamin C. Most of the Vitamin C found in our foods is actually not the naturally occurring Vitamin C found in oranges for example. This form of Vitamin C has the chemical name ascorbic acid and is derived from synthesized corn syrup, corn which has a high probability of having been genetically modified. This topic could be a whole article on it’s own so I will save the details, but the main point is that there is a major difference between the Vitamin C found in natural whole foods and the synthetic form of Vitamin C known as ascorbic acid, which effectively acts as a preservative killing off our healthy gut bacteria.
How Do Natural Preservatives Affect the body?
So what about natural preservatives? Don’t they have the same negative impact on our “good” bacteria? The answer is no because most natural preservatives are easily digested and assimilated into the body, have nutritional benefits on their own, and can even promote the growth of healthy bacteria! Garlic is a great example of this because garlic can be used as a natural preservative. It extends the freshness of food because of its antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. The amazing thing about garlic is that it fends off “bad” bacteria while simultaneously creating conditions in the body which actually promote the growth of healthy bacteria!
Our General Attitude Toward Preservatives Needs an Adjustment.
When I first discovered this information I completed changed my diet and became incredibly vigilant about what I was eating. Some people might say that I took eliminating preservatives from my diet to the extreme. A few of my friends would even tease me saying things like, “Hold on, are you sure you can eat that because there might be preservatives in there!” This demonstrates the attitude most people have toward preservatives.
We have become so conditioned by society to accept that chemical preservatives are a natural and necessary ingredient in our foods that when I became adamant about eliminating them from my diet, my friends thought that I was being ridiculous. Once we begin to realize how detrimental these substances actually are to our internal environment we can see that eliminating preservatives from our diet is far from ridiculous and is actually an especially important step to achieving true health and vitality.
The main takeaway from this article is that the best way to avoid man made preservatives is to consume fresh, whole and natural foods. Other common natural preservatives include lemon juice, hot spices such as cayenne pepper and sea salt. In addition to purchasing food containing only natural preservatives, the best way to maintain a food’s freshness is to place the item in an airtight glass container in the fridge. Try to avoid plastic containers because plastic actually “breaths” letting in some small amounts of air which contributes to the oxidation process. By becoming more aware of the ingredients in our foods we can better detect foods which might contain manmade preservatives that could potentially harm our bodies and decrease our quality of health.