Food Additives to Avoid #3

In our quest to find common food additives that should be avoided, we have taken a look at MSG and food coloring. Our journey continues today with a look at those things that have directly replaced fermentation in modern American life. Keep reading as Andrew enlightens us on other harmful, yet ubiquitous, food additives.

Fermentation is a completely natural method of food preservation that has been used for thousands of years that actually increases the healthfulness of food. Yet, we have replaced that health-bolstering preservation process with easy-to-add chemicals that have a whole host of detrimental effects on the human body. So, let’s take a look at just a few of them and what the research has to say about them.

Food Additives to Avoid


Oh, acronyms! What secrets are you trying to hide from us in your innocent-looking strings of letters? What do you really mean? BHT and BHA stand for Butylated Hydroxytulene and Butylated Hydroxyanisole, respectively. Hmm..these real names sound a bit less like something I want to put in my body.
I group these two food additives together because they both perform the same basic function in food: prevent lipids (like fats and oils) from going bad. These fats oxidize (react with oxygen in the air) and go rancid. But is that really all that they do? Sadly, no, if you believe the research. Nobuyuki Ito and his colleagues found that these two compounds were either carcinogenic or increased the growth of tumors in various organs across the body in rats. The negative effects of BHT were focused on the stomach and bladder, while BHA targeted the bladder and thyroid. Their original article published in the Critical Reviews in Toxicology journal can be found here.

Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur dioxide is a common preservative in many sorts of plant-based products – dried fruits  like raisins and apricots, fruit juices, wine, concentrates, syrups, and sulfured molasses. It is a toxic gas that is used to treat plant-based foods specifically because it can kill the microbes that cause spoilage on the surface of those foods. It also helps retain the original colors of the fruits and vegetables as they dry which helps them look more appealing to consumers.
Most people will be able to eat foods treated with sulfur dioxide and not notice any immediately observable problem. However, one group of individuals often react to this chemical – asthmatics. A study published way back in 1977 by B. J. Freedman in Clinical and Experimental Allergy reports on the link between consumption of sulfur dioxide and a worsening of asthma symptoms in those individuals with asthma. Fourteen subjects were given an orange drink – which should be noted also always contains sulfur dioxide – and eight of those were stricken with worsening asthma symptoms. The original report can be found here.

Sodium Nitrite

The final preservative that we will look at today is sodium nitrite – a common additive to preserved meats and fish. Take a look at the ingredient list of beef or turkey jerky, hot dog, bacon, or your favorite lunch meat, and you are bound to find this chemical. It is added in order to give these meat products their pleasing color and to help prevent any sort of microbial growth and retard spoilage.

However, bacteria is not the only thing that does not get along with this chemical; it has been found that this additive does not react well with your body, either. Sherif and Al-Gayyar reported in the July-September issue of the European Cytokine Network that sodium nitrite caused several-fold increases in many different forms of oxidative stress in the body. This oxidative stress caused particular damage to the liver – a vital organ necessary to correct function in the human body. As if that was not enough, they also noticed that DNA damage was increased in the group fed sodium nitrite.

These are only a few of the myriad preservatives that you will find in your foods. Tocopherols (vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sugar, and salt, are all more natural things that are being used as preservatives. However, a whole article could be written on the health problems associated with having too much sugar or salt in the diet. So in the end, I ask the same question: if you have the option of preserving your food using a method that has been used for thousands of years and actually increases the healthfulness of the food, why wouldn’t you choose that method? Fermentation is the way to go!

If you are just beginning your fermentation journey, you need the proper tools. Fermentools lids to fit Mason jars are made in North America from non-toxic materials (stainless steel and glass). Visit the Fermentools store to get your Starter Kit, today.


Andrew and Michelle are the new owners of a 12-acre homestead in rural America. They are just embarking on this journey that is far removed from their city-life upbringing, so they realize that they have a lot to learn in order to succeed in this new place.Come along with them and read more about what they learn as they make this transition at their blog Simple Life Homestead.

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