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Preservatives and stabilisers in food
Wednesday, 22 June, 2022, 16 : 00 PM [IST]
Adity Sharma

FnbNews “The energies of nature and the infinite universe are absorbed through the foods we eat and are transmitted into our thoughts and actions” -Michio Kushi

A stabiliser is an additive to food which helps to preserve its structure. Its added to foods to improve their texture and appearance. They are used to prevent foods from separating & becoming too soft. Food stabilisers also help to extend the shelf life of foods by preventing them from spoiling. Food stabilisers are used in a variety of applications such as bakery, confectionery, dairy & dairy products, beverages, convenience foods and other applications. ‘Lecithin, agar-agar, carrageenan and pectin” are common in ice cream, margarine, dairy products, salad dressings and mayonnaise. Gelling agents also function as stabilisers and thickeners to provide thickening without stiffness through the formation of gel in jellies, jams, desserts, yogurts and candies. Gums, starches, pectin, agar-agar and gelatin are common gelling agents.

The term “preservatives” refers to a wide variety of compounds that help slow or prevent bacterial growth in a wide range of packed items. Preservatives are added to food to fight spoilage caused by bacteria, fungus and yeast. Preservatives can keep food fresher for longer periods, extending its shelf life. Food preservatives also are used to slow or prevent changes in colour, flavour or texture and delay rancidity. Preservatives can come in many forms. For example, sugars, salts, and vinegar are examples of natural preservatives, whereas artificial preservatives such as sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate and propionate have long been used in food preparation because they are effective in small amounts.

Two significant factors that cause foods to go bad quickly are microbes and oxidation.
Microbes that cause spoiling are undesirable bacteria, fungi, and yeasts that can grow in our food products. These microorganisms feed off the foods’ nutrients and can cause serious harm to humans if consumed.
Oxidation, which is a term for certain types of chemical reactions, can impact food safety and flavour by causing an undesirable chemical change that can turn fats rancid and can cause vegetables and fruits, such as cut potatoes and apples, to brown.

Growth Factors:
Increasing demands for packaged food which are quickly accessible and ready to eat. Every corner including schools, hospitals, shopping malls and convenience stores contains food stalls/kiosks for packaged foods and beverages. We allow these food companies to make our kids and adults addicted. Addiction is the other factor, we heard about alcohol addiction, and drug addiction but we hardly hearabout the addiction to food, which food companies intentionally add to these packaged foods. Food companies hire a special team to add hidden ingredients like sugar, stabilisers, emulsifiers and of course taste and pleasure which makes you crave more for that particular food. It's simple the more we eat, the more we want. You consume certain foods even if you are not hungry.These food items are high in sugar, salt, and trans fats, which makes them a major contributor to obesity and other health problems. When you eat sugar and refined carbohydrates it jacks up insulin, which leads to a viscous cycle when you eat the wrong food, your body makes insulin, and your cells get resistant to insulin, it stores as fat. However, despite their negative health implications, processed foods continue to grow in popularity due to their convenience factor.

Preservatives in food lead to obesity and gut issues
The gut microbiome refers to the billions of live bacteria humans have in the gut, but it also includes things like fungi and viruses. The gut refers to the place where food is digested, metabolised, and absorbed to be delivered into the cells and provide the body with energy. Diet has the most powerful influence on gut microbial communities in healthy human subjects. Artificial preservatives used in many processed foods could increase the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases, and metabolic disorders and leads to obesity. These emulsifiers and stabilisers affect the gut lining and lead to inflammation and leaky gut issues.

Food preservatives may be harmful to beneficial bacteria in the human body, according to a study at the University of Hawai?i Maui College. The research found that sulfites in food preservatives kill or inhibit the growth of good bacteria when tested at levels generally regarded as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These bacteria are also found in fermented products rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kimchee and kombucha. Numerous studies have indicated their benefits to immune response, diet quality, metabolic profiles and overall health.

Natural preservatives: Alternatives to artificial preservatives
Before the advent of preservatives, food was placed in containers such as clay jars to keep them away from spoiling. Drying food was a popular preserving method, as most bacteria and fungi require moisture to grow.“Neem, Tulsi, Cinnamon, Basil, Vinegar, Salt, Clove, Rosemary, Turmeric and Nisin” are the common natural preservatives. Natural preservatives offer greater advantages over their artificial counterparts due to their nontoxic nature along with a wide range of health benefits. Awareness about the harmful effects of these chemicals in food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals is increasing. Nowadays parabens, benzoates, sorbates, metabisulphites, toxic gases and other synthetic chemical preservatives have appeared. Manufacturers and retailers are responding to consumer resistance to chemical preservatives in food, beverages and cosmetics and to research which has been shown that artificial preservatives are causative agents of several health hazards such as hypersensitivity, and asthma and cancer. Natural substances obtained from plants, animals and minerals can serve as beneficial alternatives.
The food choices you make every day have a major impact on the environment, and factory farming in particular takes a considerable toll on the health of the planet.

Adity Sharma
(The author is naturopathy and integrative nutrition health coach with specialisation in gut health. She can be reached at

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