The first rule of good medicine is to “do no harm”, and food is our best medicine. In general, I want you to minimize the additives and preservatives you consume. One of our main tasks with this series of essays on eating has been to simplify the approach to eating better. We are learning to KISS- Keep It Simple & Short. If it’s not natural and if it’s processed, try to avoid it, and this includes additives and preservatives, and pesticides too. It’s not the end of the world if you have the occasional Diet soda, birthday cake, or Cheetoh’s. But look at that type of food as a rare thing. Avoid all the extras most all of the time.
It’s not that every additive and preservative is always harmful, not in the least. They have both played a key role in survival and in making food taste better. Where would we be without salt? But in general, we want to eat for health, and not waste calories and intake on things which are not nutrient dense, on one hand, and may have harmful side effects on the other. If there is a proven downside, risk, or even a potential risk, why not minimize it? It makes sense.
Preservatives and additives have been around forever. Think about it. Humans have been using salt, vinegar, and sugar to change and preserve food forever. Food colorings and other chemical substances added to increase the shelf life and taste of food are much newer. That being said, they aren’t all bad. But consider this scenario. You’re in a gas station on a 4-hour trip, and you’re starving. Gas station food is notoriously unhealthy, so what are you going to choose?
- Worst choice: A regular soda and a pack of chips- No nutritional content, high sugar, high sodium, high fat.
- Next worse choice: A regular soda and peanuts- Good fats, but high in sugar, sodium, and preservatives.
- Good choice (tie): A diet soda and a pack of peanuts- High in preservatives, some caffeine, artificial sugar, and sodium. But healthy fats and no sugar, better than juice for weight loss.
- Good choice (tie): A regular juice and peanuts- High in sugar and sodium, but low in preservatives, and high in good fat. Not as good when trying to lose weight.
- Best choice: A bottled water, a banana, and peanuts- Low in calories, low in preservatives, and high in nutrients, hydration, and good fat.
- Possible best choice- Don’t eat at all. No calories, no preservatives, but no nutrients. Wait until you find a healthy place to eat. *Warning, may cause disorientation and bad driving.
Again, it’s not that you can never have processed food or food containing food coloring or preservatives, but cut way back. Minimize those things, or if you can eliminate them from what you regularly eat. When you buy fruit or veggies, wash them before you eat them, and buy organic if you can afford it.
In another common example, it’s best to choose breads which are made fresh, or which you buy frozen. Check the ingredients. If you can’t pronounce it, it may not be the best choice!
Here are some other facts about preservatives:
- Food coloring has been inconclusively linked to asthma and hyperactivity. Limit.
- High fructose corn syrup is not necessarily any worse than any other type of sugar, but it’s still sugar, which can cause health problems. Limit your sugar intake.
- Aspartame has been studied at length and found to be safe, but then again, why push the envelope if you don’t know for certain. Moderation is sound and Stevia is an all-natural substitute, but try to break the addiction to sweet, real or artificial.
- MSG- a form of glutamate, which occurs naturally, and serves to add flavor. Some people swear they are allergic to it, but the evidence is slim. Proceed with caution.
- Sodium Benzoate- A food additive preservative. Inconclusive findings but avoid if possible. It may cause hyperactivity in children.
- Nitrates are preservatives for meat, which are associated with cancer, though the link is inconclusive. Avoid if possible.
- Trans fats are one of the worst things you can eat. Avoid at all costs, and check food labels. Restaurants serve fried foods, baked foods, and deserts which may be high in trans fats.
- Sulfites are a preservative found in wine, and in certain types of juices. Probably safe, but may cause allergic reactions. I have had certain wines cause this.
- Pesticides are made to kill things. Why would we want to ingest them?
So, the philosophy is simple, when it comes to additives and preservatives:
Choose foods that are unrefined and unaltered most all the time because you’ll get more nutrient density and less chance of harm.
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