This is one of a series of articles on food written by David Murray (see the full list on the right hand sidebar). It was originally posted on The Common’s Facebook page and, with David’s consent, is now being re-posted here.
You’ve seen the labels. “No artificial colours or flavours.”
That’s a step in the right direction.
What we’re discussing this time, though, are preservatives. These are substances that are often added to our food in order to make it last longer, or look better.
Very often, in fact. And that’s just one reason why we don’t use preservatives in our kitchen at The Common.
If the food you are looking at is processed in any way, or even packaged for that matter, you’d better take a look at the ingredients. Chances are you’ll find something there. And that is a reason to be concerned.
You have to weigh up the pros and cons of using preservatives in food. On one hand, they prolong the life of your food. That’s great if you’re mass-producing or conquering the American West. On the other hand, they can cause reactions in a large percentage of the population and consistent consumption can result in serious health complications. That’s not great at all.
These preservatives ARE in our food, that’s a fact. The next question is: who benefits from them?
There are foods and circumstances that call for a preservative in the interest of health and safety, but the large-scale, blanket use is most often superficial. It’s aesthetic. It’s to make the food appealing. So they allow us to safely eat some foods that would otherwise be dubious, and they assist marketing departments in making more sales. Overall, who are they benefitting?
Now it’s time to get into why we should be concerned. So what if these preservatives are so prevalent?
Even though they may be on the ‘safe’ list (with often-exceeded maximum portion limits), some of them come with ominous phrasing from the World Health Organisation (WHO) such as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, while others have been linked to allergic reactions in asthmatics strong enough to cause death. In children they can cause behavioural difficulties and inhibit learning, and in adults and the elderly they can exacerbate neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Reason enough to be concerned?
Or, you could be feeling the effects and not know it. You might just think that you are having a bad day. Maybe you’re feeling nauseous. Maybe you’re skin or eyes have been irritated. Maybe you’re experiencing a numbing sensation, or irritated bowels, or some degree of eczema. These are common reactions to a lot of things, including preservatives. If you want to rid yourself of them, eliminating preservatives from your diet is something to consider.
When checking the ingredients list on the back of a packet, keep your eyes open for number codes in the 200s, particularly 202 and 220.
And anything else that you don’t recognise, for that matter.