10 Harmful Preservatives and Additives to Avoid in Food

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It’s common knowledge that a healthy lifestyle includes minimizing unhealthy fats and sugary items in your diet, but many additives and preservatives in the foods you eat every day can be even deadlier. Companies add chemicals to processed foods to make them look more appealing and stay fresh longer, but many have been found to cause all sorts of illnesses, from cancer to a weakened immune system. 

Margarine, juices, wines, and bread are typically full of additives that people aren’t aware of but consume daily, for example. This guide will explore harmful preservatives and additives, plus go into detail about some of the worst ones to look for.

An Overview of Harmful Preservatives and Additives

Effects of Harmful Preservatives and Additives

Health experts say to make whole foods the majority of your diet and steer clear of processed foods with harmful additives and preservatives. These chemicals have been known to cause:

  • Allergies
  • Brain damage
  • Diarrhea
  • Cancer
  • Congenital disabilities
  • Liver problems
  • Headaches 
  • Tumors

Additives consumed over many years or in large quantities can even cause death, because those substances build up in the body and prevent optimal functioning. Eliminating them is a good way to help your body reset, and naturopathic remedies such as herbal medicine and reiki are recommended to combat the effects of food additives.

Beware These Harmful Preservatives and Additives 

Harmful substances are found in many foods and often masked to look “normal” on labels. That means you have to be diligent about tracking them on ingredient listings. Here are 10 harmful preservatives and additives you can probably find right now in your refrigerator.

Partially Hydrogenated Oil

This additive is a big cost-cutter for manufacturers that add it to their products to stabilize flavor and increase shelf life. The problem is that it’s full of trans fats, which are twice as hard for the body to digest as saturated fats. It’s also a significant factor in heart disease, because it boosts bad cholesterol while reducing good cholesterol. This type of oil is also a factor in diabetes, cellular deterioration, and nutritional deficiencies. It’s found in shortening, margarine, crackers, baked goods, bread, chips, and salad dressing.

It’s worth noting that products containing partially hydrogenated oils, but less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving, can carry a “trans-fat free” label. Fully hydrogenated oil, it should be noted, does not contain trans fats. 

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup

This highly processed form of glucose is similar in chemical makeup to table sugar but much cheaper. You can find it in anything sweet, from breakfast cereal to soda pop. Many studies have shown how detrimental this form of sugar can be to the human body, including higher rates of diabetes and weight gain. 

Health experts recommend eating foods without added sweetener and sweetening them up with natural options like Stevia or yacon syrup as needed. 


There are over 40 forms of this additive floating among the food items on grocery store shelves. It goes by many names, including monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, and autolyzed vegetable protein. Some studies have shown that MSG promotes obesity, type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and it can cause headaches and nausea. It is a flavor-enhancer commonly found in Asian foods, canned soup, diet drinks, fast food, and hot dogs.



BHA and BHT are antioxidant preservatives used to keep foods from spoiling. The Department of Health and Human Services named them as known carcinogens, but the FDA still allows them in foods like cereals, chewing gum, and potato chips. Research has linked these additives to insomnia, loss of appetite, kidney and liver problems, hair loss, and cancer. 

Nitrates and Nitrites

You’ll typically find these additives in packaged meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage, to preserve their color and freshness. The problems begin when they enter the human body and blend with stomach acids, which causes nitrosamines to form. Nitrosamines are powerful cancer-causing cells linked to stomach, brain, oral, esophageal, and bladder cancers. 

Nitrates and nitrites are known to cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. To avoid these side effects, try meats packaged as all-natural or straight from the farm, which tend to have fewer preservatives. 

Propyl Gallate 

This additive is another designed to prevent spoiling, and it’s typically used in conjunction with BHA and BHT. You’ll find it in a great many food products, from chewing gum and pickles to most meat products, and even cosmetics. Propyl Gallate is said to be a cancer-causing agent and may induce malignant tumors, and it has been banned for use in baby foods.

Sodium Benzoate and Benzoic Acid

Sodium Benzoate and Benzoic Acid

Microorganisms can grow inside acidic packaged foods, but sodium benzoate and benzoic acid hinder that growth in things like fruit juices, pickles, and some carbonated drinks. These things occur naturally, however, and generally don’t affect anyone unless they have allergies. The problem starts when these compounds are introduced to vitamin C. Vitamin C in conjunction with sodium benzoate and benzoic acid produces small amounts of benzene, a known carcinogen

Potassium Bromate

This additive gives bread and rolls their fluffiness and fine crumbs. It is banned for use in many industrialized countries, but not in the U.S. It breaks down into bromate, which lingers in the body and is known to cause cancer. There are many brands of baked goods that do not use this additive, however, so it’s pretty simple to avoid. 


These preservatives are used in many foods such as fruits and vegetables, and in wine and other beverages, to limit bacterial contamination. Sulfites can cause headaches, allergies, palpitations and other symptoms that approximate an allergic reaction.

Mono- and Diglycerides

The FDA allows these additives in food, but they may contain trans fats, which can cause inflammation, obesity, and diabetes. Monoglycerides and diglycerides are approximately 70% of the emulsifiers used in the U.S. food industry, according to the Journal of Experimental Food Chemistry. You can find them in gum, ice cream, shortening, margarine, soft drinks, and baked goods. 

There is no doubt these chemical agents are helpful to the packaged food industry, but many are detrimental to public health. It’s best to avoid them when possible, but natural foods and therapies are an effective way to combat their effects. 

A Naturopathic Professional With Answers to Your Questions

It isn’t easy keeping up with the best foods for healthy living. Dr. Karen Threlkel, a naturopathic doctor serving primarily in the Greater D.C. area, can guide you to a naturally healthier diet and lifestyle. 

Dr. Threlkel provides a holistic approach to medicine as well as natural-focused remedies for treating both symptoms and underlying conditions. Contact her office today for more information about a naturopathic diet.

About The Author:

Picture of Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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