4 Reasons to Avoid Food Preservatives

Reader Contribution by Kathleen Jade and Nd

Chemical preservatives are found in almost every type of processed food, and they are posing serious risks to our health. Here are the top five reasons to avoid food preservatives.

Stomach Cancer

A study that monitored more than 61,000 Swedish women over 18 years found that the consumption of processed meat is associated with a 50% to 100% increase in the risk of gastric cancer.[1] The most dangerous types of meat were found to be bacon, pork, salami, ham, and hotdogs. Additional studies suggest that the development of cancer is due to nitrosamine, a product of nitrite preservatives.[2,3]


Sulfur dioxide is found in many soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, dried fruits, and dried vegetables. A study found that one in nine asthmatics experience worsening symptoms as a result of consuming soft drinks that contain sulfur dioxide.[5]

Lowered Blood Oxygen

A study found that sodium nitrite, a common preservative in processed meats, causes lower levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin.[7] These are the cells and molecules responsible for carrying oxygen to the body, a lack of which can lead to decreased energy production and cell death.

Diabetes and Heart Disease

Processed meats have been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30%, coronary heart disease by 42%, and diabetes by 19% as a result of their high salt and preservative content.[8]

How to Avoid Preservatives

The following foods are likely to contain the largest amounts of preservatives and should be avoided.

Processed meats such as salami, pastrami, bacon, and all deli lunch meats [1,4]
High-sugar beverages such as soft drinks and flavored coffee [5]
Restaurant food, especially fast food
Canned or dried food, including vegetables, fish, and fruits
Frozen food such as boxed meals.

In general, any food with a high sugar content, a low water content, and an acidic or low pH is likely to contain preservatives. The ones that are most commonly found on ingredient lists are:

Benzene: Sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, benzoic acid
Acetate: Sodium acetate, acetic acid
Sorbate: Potassium sorbate, sorbic acid, propanoic acid [6]
Nitrate: Sodium nitrite or nitrate, potassium nitrite or nitrate, nitrosamine, nitric acid.
Fresh vegetables and fruits may also be coated with preservatives, but these are easily removed by washing.

Safe Foods and a Vegetable Wash

Researchers suggest eating nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, and replacing processed meat with freshly butchered local meat or wild-caught fish.[8] Vegetables and fruits are safer than meats, but should be cleaned to remove pesticides and preservatives. Spraying and rinsing them with a vinegar or lemon solution will greatly reduce any surface preservatives. One common recipe includes:

1 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon baking soda.

By eating more organic, whole foods, and less processed and packaged food, in general, the better you will feel and the healthier you will be. You can find a variety of delicious, whole-food recipes here.


1. Int J Cancer. 2006 Aug 15;119(4):915-9.
2. Br J Cancer. Dec 1973; 28(6): 562–567.
3. Food Addit Contam. 1992 Sep-Oct;9(5):561-77.
4. Public Health Rep. 1984 Jul-Aug; 99(4): 360–364.
5. Br J Dis Chest. 1980 Apr;74(2):128-34.
6. Appl Environ Microbiol. Aug 2004; 70(8): 4449–4457.
7. J Egypt Public Health Assoc. 2001;76(3-4):281-95.
8. BMC Med. 2013 May 23;11:136. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-136.