5 Things You May Not Know About Antioxidants and Food Preservatives #AntioxidantFacts

Disclaimer: Disclosure: I received compensation to attend a virtual briefing and write about antioxidants on behalf of The Motherhood and ConAgra Foods. All opinions are expressed are my own.

Foodie Friday is early this week! I was so excited to share this with you that I couldn’t wait. I recently attended a very interesting virtual briefing hosted by ConAgra Foods and The Motherhood all about antioxidants and how they relate to food preservatives. Preservatives. You hear that word when it relates to food and immediately cringe and assume that they are bad. But did you know that antioxidants are actually a type of preservative? I was shocked to find it out!

During the briefing we were introduced to some key people at ConAgra Foods. We met Lanie Friedman (Director, Communications & External Relations, Kelly Magurany, Sc., DABT (Principal Research Scientists- Toxicology – Food Protection and Regulatory Affairs), and Kristi Reimers, RD, PhD, Nutrition (Director of Nutrition in Research & Innovations). What we learned is that preservatives are not all big, bad, scary words that we should steer clear of completely…they are necessary to make our food last longer than a day or two. I learned so, so much that I didn’t know about antioxidants and food preservatives! Here were some of the eye opening things that I learned.

5 Things You May Not Know About Antioxidants and Food Preservatives #AntioxidantFacts

Did you know that antioxidants can be both natural or man made? Some food preservatives are also antioxidants! Learn how they are related. #AntioxidantFacts

Why Is It Necessary To Preserve Foods? 

The main reasons that preservatives are used are due to taste, freshness, safety, natural color preservation, and food waste reduction (a nice way of saying that preservatives keep our food from rotting).

What happens is that when air hits food, it immediately begins to change it. The oxygen in the air breaks down fats and oils in foods which causes them to go rancid (makes them smell and taste bad). In some cases this break down of oils and fats can also be hazardous to our health. Preservatives are necessary to prevent this.

If nothing was added to foods they would rapidly spoil and go rancid. We add preservatives to foods at home all the time. When you cut an avocado, you add lime to it so it won’t turn brown. Same with adding lemon juice to apple slices. What are you doing when you do that? You are adding antioxidants to the avocado and apple!

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants help prevent oxygen from damaging other molecules. In our bodies, they help protect cells, slows the aging process, boosts the body’s natural defense system, fend off environmental toxins and stress, and generally keep us healthier.

In foods, antioxidants protect oils from damage that can cause them to spoil.

Do you know what Alpha-Tocopherol is? While it’s a scary sounding word, and many would assume may be a chemical, it is actually Vitamin E! That doesn’t sound as scary, right? Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant, found in nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables.

Not All Antioxidants Are Natural, Some Are Man Made

BHT is a tasteless, colorless antioxidant which maintains freshness in grain-based foods like crackers and cookies. TBHQ is also a tasteless and colorless antioxidant commonly used to keep vegetable oils and other packaged foods fresh. Both of these antioxidants are man made. Used at low levels in accordance with regulatory guidelines and safety thresholds, these preservatives are fine to consume. They meet “food grade” criteria and do not introduce hazardous by-products or impurities in foods.

Either man-made or natural, when you consume antioxidants as part of a balanced diet, they are totally safe for your food and for your body. These antioxidants help you and your family enjoy the foods you love without compromising on taste or quality. They also save you money because it reduces food waste by improving the shelf life of foods.

Not All Preservatives Are Bad For You

Not all man made ingredients are unsafe, and not all natural ingredients are safe. Most natural and man-made preservatives and antioxidants used in food are completely safe.

Kristi Reimers, Director of Nutrition in Research & Innovations at ConAgra likened it to water in a puddle. Water causes drowning, but if you are standing in a puddle, you are not going to drown. Too much of anything (even good things) can be bad for you!

Preservatives Keep Us Safe And Foods Flavorful

Food makers like ConAgra Foods choose certain preservative ingredients because these preservatives will deliver food with the best flavor and freshness. They explained that a common misconception among consumers (me included before this briefing) is that preservatives in foods are harmful and unnecessary. Preservatives – such as man made antioxidants – are necessary to reduce off-taste and odors in foods caused by breakdown of cells, fats and oils.

Check out this video from mental_floss that helps explain 6 facts about antioxidants and preservatives!

photo credit: USDA Farmer’s Market Blueberries via photopin (license)