Additives and Preservatives are scary. This is what one mum said, after learning to read packet labels at one of my parent workshops. At first I was a little concerned that this was one of the messages she took away from the workshop. But then I realised it’s not a bad thing – if these workshops open parents’ eyes to the need to look at the ingredients they are feeding their families, then this is a good thing. Wouldn’t you agree?
I do feel it’s important to acknowledge that additives and preservatives do serve a purpose. A food additive is defined as “substances added to food to preserve flavour or enhance its taste and appearance.” A preservative is defined as “substance or a chemical that is added to products such as food, beverages, pharmaceutical drugs, paints, biological samples, cosmetics, wood, and many other products to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes“.
Let’s take a closer look.
Traditional Additives and Preservatives
For many, many years foods have been preserved to prevent growth of bacteria and fungi, plus to slow down oxidation and food turning rancid. Initially this was done using ingredients such as salt, sugar, vinegar and natural spices.
For many, many years, the flavours of foods were enhanced by using salt, sugar, vinegar and natural spices.
In fact, when cooking at home in our own kitchens, we still use salt, sugar, vinegar and natural spices as a way to enhance flavour, appearance and help food to last a little longer.
Modern Day Additives and Preservatives
Today the purpose of additives and preservatives is still the same. The big difference is that today many, many additives and preservatives are made chemically from artificial substances or from natural substances (animal or plant derived).
The other big difference is that today, so many people rely on processed foods from the supermarket, which have these additives and preservatives in them. Every day, people are eating a cocktail of foods made initially in a laboratory, then in a factory, rather than from a kitchen with love and attention.
Although additives and preservatives are assessed for food safety before they may be used, there are still many known potential side-effects such as asthma, hyperactivity, skin conditions (eczema, dermatitis), migraines, heart palpitations, learning difficulties and more. Should these really be allowed in our food?
Some additives and preservatives are derived from synthetically-made substances, sometimes from petroleum, and sometimes from natural sources such as animals or plants. Regardless of whether they are synthetic or natural, they are still made in a lab. The label “natural” or “synthetic” simply describes where they came from initially. You may like to read this post I wrote about 5 Secrets of Natural Flavours. How much of this food made in a lab can our bodies tolerate?
The question I always ask parents to think about is this:
Do you think that food companies are adding these additives and preservatives to our foods for the benefit of our health, or for the benefit of their bottom line?
A New Life Skill – Reading Packet Labels
I totally get that life is busy, and cooking from scratch may not work for many people. Marketing of processed food is also very strong, and is a very well-funded industry. There’s currently approximately 80,000 processed foods on our supermarket shelves (as opposed to about 3-4,000 in the 70’s). So being able to read packet labels today has become an important life skill. Here’s a couple of posts I’ve written on this topic already:
Some other information you might find useful:
- Food Additives To Avoid by Choice
- Great Fact Sheets from fedup.com.au
- The Chemical Maze app is also a wonderful resource.
The New ‘Old’ Life Skill – Cooking At Home
Many people tell me they can’t afford to eat real food because it costs too much, or that processed food is so much cheaper. I remember when I was growing up (I’m 47), my mum worked 3 jobs to keep us 4 kids looked after. My Mum always found time to cook, because she said it was too expensive to buy packet foods from the supermarket.
This makes me wonder: What has happened in the last 30-odd years of food production, that has made it so cheap for manufacturers to make processed food? What has changed in the types of ingredients they use to make this food? What has changed in the techniques used to make this food? What has changed about the supermarket supply chain that makes it so cheap to buy processed food?
One thing I know for sure is this: The only way to ensure your family are eating foods not laden with additives, preservatives, or too much sugar and salt, is by taking back control of what they eat. This means cooking more real food and buying less processed food.
Grab yourself a cuppa and watch this fantastically informative presentation by Michael Pollan – How Cooking Can Change Your Life.
A Simple Way To Start
Having simple conversations with your kids.
My recommendation is to refrain from telling them they need to eat foods because they are healthy. In most kids minds, healthy translates to yuk. And to be honest, healthy means different things to different people. I also recommend not labelling foods as good or bad. Instead you can talk about how food helps their body or some food doesn’t really help their body.
Learning to ask What’s In My Food is such a valuable life skill. Practice that yourself and empower your kids to learn too. That way, their health isn’t all your job and you’re setting them up with a life skill they’ll need when they leave home.
In our Kids Health Quest Membership, we have a special language we teach parents around how to empower their kids to understand that they only have one body for life and every day they need to be fuelling it with foods that help their body, and only sometimes with foods that don’t. With the kids we empower them to learn how to read packet labels themselves and how to cook food simply at home in our monthly Cook-Alongs.
If you’re tired of having the same conversations about food with your kids, and getting no-where because they still just want to eat junk food and aren’t too fussed on fruit or vegetables, then pop your name on our Kids Health Quest Waitlist. Many parents comment about how there’s a certain kid of special sauce I have that in getting the message through to their kids. Let me help you empower your kids to make better food choices so their health isn’t just all your job.