How to Avoid The Top 3 Harmful Food Preservatives

One area I didn’t start to question until well into my healthy living transformation were the preservatives in food

Preservatives in our food just wasn’t something I thought much about.

And I don’t remember exactly what led me to do more research on them, but once I began researching I learned that there are very harmful chemicals in many food preservatives.

I’ll share 3 of these toxic preservatives in this post.

What is a food preservative?

A food preservative is a substance added to foods to make them last longer. Preservatives are added to foods that go bad quickly and have found themselves in all kinds of products in our grocery stores.

Preservatives work to preserve food in a few different ways. Some prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Others prevent delicate fats from going rancid.

There are so many preservatives out there. While preservatives added to foods should be “approved,” this doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to be safe for everyone always. And it doesn’t mean that the food is healthy.

Foods with preservatives are more-processed, less-nutritious foods to begin with - not exactly health foods. So, even if you don’t mind preservatives, you probably should cut down on these kinds of foods, anyway.

Now let’s learn more about a few common food preservatives.



That’s right - salt.

Salt was used to preserve food before the advent of refrigeration.

Today, with fridges and freezers in every home and grocery store, and refrigerated trucks, salt is not needed for food preservation as much. But our taste buds still seem to crave it on an epic scale.

The average American eats over 3,400 mg of sodium per day, well over the recommended 2,300 mg/day. Much of that is because it’s found in processed foods.

The problem with our average table salt is that it’s only sodium, chloride, iodine, sugar and anti clumping chemicals.

Avoiding table salt, including packaged foods that contain table salt, is a must!

Certain salts have many healthy benefits. The top two beneficial salts are Himalayan Pink Salt and Celtic Sea Salt.

These salts both have 80+ trace minerals that our body must have. (source)

Be sure to read the labels of the packaged foods you’re buying. If you see ‘salt’, it’s most likely the table salt that you want to avoid.

Nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines)

Nitrites are preservatives added to processed meats. They're not bad in and of themselves, but they do turn into harmful chemicals called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. Nitrites form nitrosamines when they're cooked at high heat, and sometimes even when exposed to the high acid environment of the stomach.

Nitrites are added to meats to keep the pink-red color and prevent “browning.” Mostly in bacon, ham, sausages and lunch meats. Since nitrites can change into nitrosamines, nitrites are one-step away from being the “bad guys.”

Another interesting thing is that processed meats have been linked with colon cancer. Because of the nitrites? Perhaps, but either way, nitrosamines are a confirmed health-buster.

Since nitrosamines (from nitrites) are the bad guys and are formed by cooking nitrites at high heat, what are nitrates?

Nitrates are naturally found in many healthy foods like vegetables. They’re especially high in beets. Sometimes our enzymes or gut bacteria change these healthy nitrates into nitrites. However, they rarely form nitrosamines because they’re two-steps away from becoming these “bad guys.”

If you choose to continue to consume processed meats, you’ll want to read the labels of packaged meats for ‘no nitrites/nitrated added.

I also highly suggest looking for other good keywords like ‘no antibiotics used’ and ‘no growth hormones given’.


Have you seen on packages “BHA/BHT has been added to the package to help maintain freshness?” Perhaps on cereal packages or in gum? Guess how these compounds maintain freshness? Because they’re preservatives.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are antioxidants added to many processed foods. The main way BHA and BHT work is by preventing fats from going rancid.

Are they safe?

Well, they're approved for use as a preservative at small doses. However, some studies show they can cause cancer in animals at high doses (source). Again, they're added to processed pre-packaged foods, so it's wise to avoid them nonetheless.


There are a lot of preservatives in our food supply. These compounds work by preventing the growth of bacteria and mold, or by preventing fats from going rancid. And they're mostly found in processed foods.

If you want to avoid them, eat fresh foods.

Does this information make you want to read all your food ingredient labels now? Let me know in the comments below.

Peace and wellness -


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Hi! I'm Bri....the wife, mom, RN, and Certified Health Coach behind HippieDippieMom. Read more about me here.

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