Preservatives 101

A food preservative is a substance added to foods to make them last longer; to "preserve" them. They are added to foods that can go bad quickly and have found themselves in all kinds of products in our grocery stores.

Preservatives work to preserve food in a few different ways. Some prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Others prevent delicate fats from going rancid. There are so many different kinds of preservatives out there and while they need to be “approved,” it doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to be safe or that the food is healthy, at all. 

In fact, foods with preservatives are more-processed and less-nutritious foods - not exactly health foods. So, even if you don’t mind 'safe' preservatives, you probably should cut down on these kinds of foods, anyway, for your gut's sake, as they are just another irritant to your gut lining which can lead to leaky gut, inflammation, constipation, diarrhea, you get the point.

Let's take a look at a few common food preservatives.

Table Salt; that’s right - salt.

FUN FACT: The term “salary” is from the Latin word for salt. It’s thought that it came from the ancient Romans who would pay employees, allowing them to buy salt. Either that, or it was for their work conquering and/or guarding salt mines/roads. Either way, salt was sought because of its ability to preserve food before the advent of refrigeration.

In today’s day and age, with fridges and freezers in every home and grocery store, and refrigerated trucks, salt is not needed for food preservation as much. But our taste buds still seem to crave it on an epic scale. The average American eats over 3,400 mg of sodium per day, well over the recommended 2,300 mg/day. Much of that is because it’s found in processed foods.

According to Harvard Health:

"... reducing dietary salt (table salt that is only sodium, chloride and iodine) will lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and save lives." So, salt is one of those all-too-common food preservatives that most of us will do better with less of. Stick to sea salt or Himalayan salt which contain more than 80 minerals and trace elements otherwise not found in our depleted soils, and they also make our gut bacteria and liver happy.

Nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines)

Nitrites are preservatives added to processed meats. They're not bad in and of themselves, but they do turn into harmful chemicals called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. Nitrites form nitrosamines when they're cooked at high heat, and sometimes even when exposed to the high acid environment of the stomach.

Nitrites are added to meats to keep the pink-red colour and prevent “browning.” Mostly in bacon, ham, sausages and lunch meats. Since nitrites can change into nitrosamines, nitrites are one-step away from being the “bad guys.”

Another interesting thing is that processed meats have been linked with colon cancer. Because of the nitrites? Perhaps nitrosamines disrupt the balance between the good and bad bacteria in the colon which can be related to cancer? Either way, Nitrosamines are a confirmed health-buster. 

Since nitrosamines (from nitrites) are the bad guys and are formed by cooking nitrites at high heat, what are nitrates?

Nitrates are naturally found in many healthy foods like vegetables. They’re especially high in beets. Sometimes our enzymes or gut bacteria change these healthy nitrates into nitrites. However, they rarely form nitrosamines because they’re two-steps away from becoming these “bad guys.”


Have you seen on packages “BHA/BHT has been added to the package to help maintain freshness?” Perhaps on cereal packages or in gum? Guess how these compounds maintain freshness? Because they’re preservatives.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are antioxidants added to many processed foods. The main way BHA and BHT work is by preventing fats from going rancid.Are they safe? Well, they're approved for use as a preservative at small doses. However, some studies show they can cause cancer in animals at high doses. Again, they're added to processed pre-packaged foods, so it's wise to avoid them nonetheless.

To conclude, there are too many preservatives in our food supply causing chaos in our bodies. These compounds work by preventing the growth of bacteria and mold, or by preventing fats from going rancid but are also disruptive to our gut microbiome. They're mostly found in processed foods. If you want to avoid tummy troubles and developing a leaky gut due to highly processed foods, eat fresh foods or foods that have been picked at the height of the season and frozen immediately for freshness. 

If you need a plan that will guide you through the process of eliminating all questionable foods and incorporating more fresh, whole foods, please check out my Kick Sugar for Good 5-Day Challenge, it is packed with amazing recipes, hand-holding and it is FREE! 

I hope this information makes you want to read all your food ingredient labels from now on.  Let me know in the comments below or go over to the Facebook group and start the convo!


Kale Chips

Serves 4

1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
1 tbsp olive oil
2 dashes sea salt
Garlic powder


Preheat oven to 300F and place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Take the washed and dried kale and rip them into "chip" size pieces and place in a large bowl.

Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder. Mix until the kale pieces are evenly covered.

Place kale onto prepared sheet in an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes.

Flip over the kale to cook the other sides of the pieces. Bake for another 10 minutes until the edges just start turning brown. Monitor them well, or you'll have burnt kale chips.

Tip: You can use any spice, so try onion powder, paprika, or even turmeric. You can also drizzle with fresh lemon juice and add any other trimmings like pine nuts...

Serve and enjoy!

'til next time!