Preservatives can differ in their potential health impact. Citric acid is an example of a preservative that is not considered harmful. However, with many preservatives, we must weigh potential benefits and risks. For example, potassium sorbate, a preservative used to prevent mold growth in certain foods and supplements, may be harmful. Nitrites as a preservative in processed meats help reduce botulism risk but also raise cancer risk (see also here) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease risk. The preservative BHA may be a carcinogen. Sodium benzoate, a preservative often found in soft drinks, can combine with ascorbic acid in the drink to form the carcinogen, benzene. Sodium benzoate has also been linked with hyperactivity.
Phosphate additives in chicken can both stiffen arteries and appear to dramatically increase the growth of food poisoning Campylobacter bacteria. Phosphorus preservatives and additives in junk foods, meat products, and cola can also be harmful by possibly damaging blood vessels, accelerating the aging process, and contributing to osteoporosis. Yet, the meat industry is not required to list phosphorus content on the nutrition facts label. In this case, reducing our intake of meat, junk food, fast food, and processed cheese, all of which have redily absorbed phosphorus, may help lower intake until labeling is mandated. Some studies found that a 21-day whole plant-food diets without preservatives helped improve several metabolic and cardiovascular disease markers.
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