When it comes to diet, many of the foods we consume contain preservatives; and sometimes those preservatives are consumed unknowingly as we don’t always tend to think twice about reading food labels to find out what, exactly, we’re putting into our bodies. If you do read food labels and can’t pronounce half of the list of ingredients, chances are it likely contains preservatives and isn’t something that you should be eating in the first place – snack foods such as cookies and crackers are a prime example.

Preservatives are a type of additive used in certain foods to prolong their shelf-life and prevent them from going bad – i.e. going moldy, growing yeast, or bacteria. Some preservatives you might be more familiar with include ascorbic acid, aspartame, taurine and nisin. Ascorbic acid is an FDA-approved form of vitamin C that is found naturally in different fruits and vegetables and is considered an antioxidant. It also prevents certain foods, such as cereals, as well as beverages, from spoiling. Aspartame is also something you may have heard of before. It’s an artificial sweetener also sold by the name NutraSweet, which people will sometimes use in coffee. Aspartame is also commonly found in diet sodas, certain teas, and energy drinks. Also found in certain energy drinks is taurine – and it can help maintain the balance of water and electrolytes in the blood. Research has suggested that consumption of anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams of taurine per day is considered safe and shouldn’t have any adverse reactions on one’s health. Another preservative that is considered safe to eat is nisin, as it’s known for its anti-bacterial properties. It is commonly found in meat, poultry, cheese and salad dressings.

Then there are other preservatives that are cause for concern. These include sulfites, sodium benzoate, nitrite, and BHA/BHT. Sulfites stop food from browning/discolouration, and are commonly used in baked goods, as well as canned fruits and vegetables. However, sulfites have also been linked to asthma as well as allergies. Sodium benzoate is another questionable preservative, as researchers believe that it can create a carcinogen known as benzene when mixed with vitamin C. When it comes to processed meat (hot dogs, for example), nitrite is a preservative you will also most likely find, and has been linked to different types of cancers – as has the preservative known as BHA/BHT.

When it comes to buying foods and ensuring your shopping experience is as preservative-free as possible, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends always reading the labels before putting it in your cart. If you can’t pronounce anything on those labels, don’t buy it. You should also always opt for fresh foods rather than canned, as well as foods that are organic and labelled as being natural, as they are more likely to be free of artificial flavouring, additives and dyes.