Types of Food Preservatives

Gone are the days when vegetables and fruits came from the backyard to the table. Our organically grown is now replaced with commercial, prepacked or processed options that are more convenient to obtain. 

Commercially produced food products face the biggest dilemma when put on the shelf. The product should have a shelf life long enough for a customer to pick it up and consume it before it goes bad. This is where preservatives come into play.

Preservatives reduce the risk of food going bad due to rotting of bacteria, moisture and others. However, it is often assumed adding preservatives is harmful as it tampers with the natural ingredients of the food. 

Are they bad for us? It depends on the types of preservatives added. Not all preservatives are harmful and not all are healthy.

Ascorbic Acid

Commonly an additive found in cereals, candies and beverages, Ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C.

It’s commonly found in fruits and vegetables and is safe to consume in moderation. This is a FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) approved additive.


Whenever you see “sugar-free” or “no added sugar”, artificial sweeteners are likely involved. One that you can look for is Aspartame. Most sugar alternatives are made from this. Aspartame is FDA-approved but its health risks are still a controversial topic to discuss. There are reports that link Aspartame to brain damage and cancer. It’s advisable to keep Aspartame added food items in moderation.


Nitrate is a meat additive that’s commonly used to cure meat such as sausages and ham. It gives the meat the pinkish hue that you often see. Nitrate is a riskier preservative as it is linked to certain types of cancer. When it comes to meat, it’s best to shop fresh and avoid preserved or processed.


Nisin is a natural preservative found in cheese, buttermilk, salad dressing and other poultry products. It works by preventing the growth of bacteria in the product and is safe to consume due to its natural source.


Sulfite is commonly found in dried food, bottled juices, wine and other food with colouring. It is used to prevent the discolouration of food. Consuming large amounts of sulfite is linked to increase in asthma and allergies.

It is almost impossible to avoid preservatives when most of our food is sourced from the shelves. Organic options are not uncommon nowadays but are often highly-priced compared to non-organic options, limiting affordability. So is your health is put at risk by consuming food with preservatives? The answer here is not what you consume, but how you consume. Most of the approved preservatives do not pose a high risk to your health if consumed moderately. Your body should be able to tolerate it at a low level of exposure to the substance. However, if you can go organic and consume fresh, that should be the way to go.

Certified in Nutrition and General Fitness, Surin was a Tae Kwan Do instructor and a kickboxer before finding his footing in fitness writing. He also coaches on muscular fitness and assists in formulating specific training and meal plans for those looking to achieve physical wellness.

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