5 Harmful Food Preservatives to Avoid


These days it can be difficult to avoid additives and preservatives, particularly if you eat any kind of packaged food.

Over 90% of packaged products you'll find on your supermarket shelf have been processed or chemically altered in some way to make them more profitable, more visually appealing, to create longer shelf life, or to make them more addictive.

The problem with additives and chemicals being added to our food supply is that it ultimately it can lead to a host of ailments and even chronic dis-eases.

However, with a little more consciousness when you shop and by adopting a more sustainable "whole food" mindset, you get to experience the wonder and taste of wholesome, living food and you get health and vitality benefits that come with it.

Keep reading to discover five of the most harmful food preservatives commonly found in supermarket foods and how to avoid them by making better, smarter food choices. 

1. MSG

MSG, or Monosodium Glutamate, is a very common and toxic food preservative you definitely should avoid.

You’ve probably heard of MSG before, because of how widely it's known and used, but what you may not realise, is just how many foods contain this harmful chemical. 

MSG is regularly added to packaged savoury foods to enhance the flavour and texture.  Foods that commonly contain MSG include:

  • Fast Food, particularly Chinese
  • Flavoured chips and crackers
  • Frozen dinners
  • Canned soups
  • Bottled sauces and condiments
  • Instant Noodle Products

You will see MSG in the ingredient listing or additive code #621.

One of the biggest problems with MSG is that it's highly addictive and commercial food companies know it.  Once you're hooked on foods that contain MSG, they basically have you as a customer for life!

Some people are naturally sensitive to MSG and can experience nausea, sweating, respiratory issues, headaches and more. While others may not be sensitive to this food preservative, it’s still important to avoid because of the potential health issues it can cause.

MSG adds a ton of extra chemical sodium to food, which can lead to elevated blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and more.  But don't mistake chemical sodium used in these foods for pure unrefined nature-made salt - the two are poles apart in how they impact your health.

By avoiding foods with MSG, you can ensure you don’t experience an adverse reaction while also protecting yourself from the dangerous health effects of this food additive. 

Learn more in Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Supermarket Foods. 

2. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are incredibly common in foods these days and they’re definitely one of the top food preservatives to avoid.

Chemicals like aspartame, sucralose, neotame and saccharin make food and drinks taste sweeter without increasing the calorie or sugar content of the food. Now whilst this might sound appealing to those on "a diet", they can actually wreak havoc with the health of your body and brain.

Foods and drinks that commonly contain artificial sweeteners include:

  • Diet Sodas 
  • Canned Foods
  • Candy, Jams and Jellies
  • Puddings
  • Baked Packaged Foods

Artificial sweeteners are neurotoxins which create an addictive chemical response in the brain.  Not only that, they can be a predominate cause of headaches and can lead to weight gain, because it can skew the natural insulin response and cause a yo-yo effect to your blood sugar levels. Artificial sweeteners also negatively affect the diversity of bacteria in our microbiome, which can affect everything from immunity to digestion.

Learn more in How to Improve Gut Health: 5 Easy Tweaks for Everyday Life. 

Stick to naturally sweeteners like raw organic honey, organic maple syrup, black strap molasses, raw dates and the natural sugars in fruits. This will help you avoid a ton of chemical additives in your food, and retrain your body to appreciate subtle wholesome sweetness in whole foods again.  

3. Sodium Nitrite

Sodium nitrite is an industrial salt preservative used to help prevent bacteria from growing on processed and cured meats like ham, salami, sausages, bacon and corned beef.

It not only adds to the saltiness of the food, but is also responsible for preserving the pink/red colour in the meats.

When these meats are heated at high temperatures, the sodium nitrate turns into nitrosamine. This dangerous compound can damage the cells and greatly increase the risk of stomach, pancreatic, colon, breast and bladder cancers.

It can also affect the thyroid and lead to type-1 diabetes. 

The simplest and most effective way to avoid consuming this dangerous food preservative is to avoid processed meat completely.

Opting for a plant-based diet will virtually take this preservative out of the picture, whilst working wonders for your overall health. If you are going to eat meat, be sure to only choose pasture-raised, organic, preservative-free and hormone-free.

4. Artificial Food Colouring

You might think colouring a food was an innocent-enough endeavour, but these are some of the top food preservatives to avoid.

Artificial food colouring is used in many food products, including:

  • Packaged cereals
  • Candy
  • Soft Drinks and Cordial
  • Energy and Sports Drinks
  • Frozen Treats
  • Salad Dressings and Condiments.

Mostly, foods laced with food colouring are commonly geared toward children which can create chemical addictions at an early age.

Artificial food colouring can lead to allergic reactions, hyperactivity, ADHD, thyroid tumours, asthma, and more.

Unfortunately, it’s become harder and harder to avoid artificial food colouring in foods due to our dependence on processed foods. But by focusing on whole foods which naturally contain no food colouring additives, you can help protect your health and the health of your children.  

Reading labels should become second-nature to you; put food products away that list colours and numbers like “Red-3” in the ingredient list. You can also use whole foods with naturally bright pigments to colour homemade wholesome treats, like berries, mango, avocado, beets, cherries and more. 

5. Trans Fats

While your body does need a certain amount of good fat each day, trans fats are not it. Trans Fats are highly acidic and inflammatory and are used to increase food shelf life whilst also improving the consistency of the food.

Trans Fats are in the following items:

  • Margarine
  • Cookies and Biscuits
  • Microwave Popcorn
  • Frozen Pizza
  • Refrigerated Dough
  • Baked Goods
  • Fired Fatty Foods and more. 

Trans Fats are incredibly dangerous for your health and should be avoided at all times. Foods high in trans fats can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, type-2 diabetes etc.

It’s important to learn to read food labels thoroughly to ensure there are no trans fats added to what you’re eating, but your best bet overall is to simply cut out heavily processed packed foods altogether.

Instead, prepare your own versions of these foods at home with your own wholesome ingredients and you'll eliminate the risk that trans fats cause. You’ll also feel better about your food choices, and you don’t have to worry about any added preservatives. 

Learn more in 6 Reasons Why Processed Foods Cause Weight Gain.  

Some final tips to avoid food preservatives:

  • Go with foods in their natural state that have not been processed or preserved;
  • Become a pro at skimming the ingredient labels of packaged foods.  If you see the word preservative, or strange ingredients or numbers, put it back on the shelf and find a better option;
  • Fill your diet with clean, whole foods that nourish you. When your cells are nourished, you will not crave chemical foods;
  • Make homemade versions of your favourite processed at home using real food ingredients.  Enjoy the process, you'll have peace of mind and your body will love you for it;
  • Be conscious of chemical preservatives in your face and skin care products as well.  As you know, your skin virtually eats whatever you put on it which is why we love the philosophy: "If you can't eat it, don't put it on your skin!" You can find chemical-free options for everything from natural deodorant to daily moisturiser in our store. 

There are many names given to chemicals and preservatives used in foods, so a basic rule of thumb is, if you can't recognise an ingredient, it's probably toxic and one you'll want to avoid.

Tolman Self Care,


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