When most of us talk about the harmful “E” in food, preservatives are usually the first to be recalled. Still would! What horror stories do not tell about these substances. Meanwhile, not everyone understands what these supplements really are and whether they are so dangerous, as is commonly believed.
What are preservatives and where did they come from
Before we say what preservatives are, let's recall why the products deteriorate. The answer is very simple: due to bacteria or fungi that multiply intensively inside the food. It is microorganisms that cause the product to have an unpleasant odor and taste, that it begins the process of decay or mold growth. To prevent or slow down these unwanted changes, you just need to get rid of microorganisms. Preservative substances are also called upon to perform this function.
But do not think that preservatives are something new, discovered in our time. In fact, substances with similar properties have been known to mankind since ancient times.
True, it is worth recalling that in the old days they used exclusively natural preservatives, which can not be said about modern life.
The most ancient preservatives used by people can be called ordinary table salt, honey, smoke, wax, wine, as well as some spices and herbs. Later this list was expanded with ethyl alcohol and wine vinegar, and in the 20th century the era of synthetic preservatives began.
Initially, the role of additives that destroy bacteria in food was played by salicylic, sulphurous, sorbic and benzoic acids, as well as their salts. Later there were attempts to use antibiotics as food preservatives, but it turned out that these substances carry more dangerous side effects than benefits. Therefore, this method of processing food products had to be abandoned.
Nowadays, quite a few substances with the properties of preservatives are known. Some of them are used in the food industry. Others have found application in perfumes, cosmetics, and pharmacology. There are special preservatives for feed, wood, and even for the processing of technical devices.
How to recognize nutritional supplements
Preservatives used in the food industry are usually marked with the letter "E". But not all E found on product labels belong to this group of additives, but only those near which there is a number from 200 to 299.
Substances collected in the group "Preservatives" have a different degree of safety. If some do not cause any harm to the body, then others are recognized as either unsafe or generally strictly prohibited for use in the food industry.
The effectiveness of modern food preservatives is achieved by regulating the acid-base balance within the product and the concentration of oxygen, which, as you know, promotes the growth of microorganisms. But the methods of processing the product with these additives may differ.
It is enough to apply some substances with a protective layer on top of the food (usually used to process exotic fruits), while for the preservation of other food, the additive will have to be introduced inside.
A good food preservative must first be safe for humans. In addition, it should not change the gastronomic characteristics of food or enter into chemical reactions with the packaging material.
Natural and synthetic: effects on the body
E-additives of this group can be natural or synthetic. Naturals are known as safe food supplements. However, it should be understood that even they in large quantities can be harmful. But most horror stories about the dangers of preservatives concern just synthetic substances.
It is clear that nothing will happen to a person if he once eats something that contains synthetic preservatives. The danger of these substances is different. Many of them have the ability to accumulate in the body, and when their concentration becomes critical, side effects cannot be avoided. For example, lovers of products sold in plastic packaging (fish, all kinds of drinks) risk accumulating benzoic acid and its salts in their bodies. The danger of these preservatives is that they can cause severe allergies, symptoms of bronchial asthma, kidney and liver diseases, disorders of the nervous system, and high blood pressure.
All citrus fruits should be washed thoroughly before use, as their skin contains diphenyl, thiabendazole and orthophenol.
They prolong the freshness of fruits undergoing prolonged transport, but for humans these substances are unsafe.
If you abuse smoked meats and sausages, there is a risk of accumulating sodium nitrite preservative in your body, which maintains a beautiful color of meat products, but at the same time has high toxicity. Another dangerous synthetic additive for humans is sulfite. Lovers of raw sausages, snacks, dried fruits, some oils and low-grade wine regularly eat it.
In addition, many of the synthetic preservatives affect the absorption of vitamins by our bodies, worsen the state of the immune system, and prevent the proper circulation of oxygen in the cells.
Some sources claim that synthetic preservatives do possess mutagenic properties and can cause incurable diseases. In addition, it should be understood that for maximum product safety, it is usually treated with a whole complex of preservatives, each of which has its own side properties.
What are the contents
A modern person is practically deprived of the right to choose: most of the products on the market contain preservative substances: from bread and milk to juicy strawberries in the winter cold.
All kinds of margarines, mayonnaises, purchased jams contain sorbic acid (E200). Canned vegetables and fruits, as well as marinades, are usually “improved” with benzoic acid and its salts (E210-213) or sulfurous acid and its salts (E220-224, E226, E227).
Canned fish and confectionery products almost always contain E214-219, which are esters of parahydroxybenzoic acid. And the beloved by many meat, fish, various types of cheeses are "stuffed" with nitrates (E249, E250).
How to replace chemistry
Synthetic food additives make our lives easier, but don't forget the existence of safer natural preservatives. Of course, natural additives do not allow storing milk for several weeks, and mayonnaise for several months.
However, their properties are enough to extend the shelf life of some products at home.
Take at least ordinary salt. A 20 percent solution is an excellent antibacterial agent that kills even staphylococcal bacteria. Using this safe and always available preservative, you can significantly extend the storage period of meat, fish, mushrooms, vegetables.
Vinegar can be used when there is a need to prevent fermentation, almost without violating the taste, color and aroma of the product. Another enemy of microorganisms is sugar. Pounded berries mixed with sugar can be stored without losing their qualities for several months.
The antiseptic and bactericidal properties of natural honey allow a relatively long time to preserve the freshness of raw meat. And if you fill the product with ordinary vegetable oil, you will be able to completely protect it from contact with oxygen, without which the bacteria will die. The result is a longer shelf life of the product.
It is difficult to imagine modern life without preservatives, but their use should be resorted to wisely. And if it is possible to choose a product without a synthetic additive, it is better to do it.