Preservatives is the big “P” word that I always thought was a bad thing when it came to foods. I only knew a little about preservatives like it was something that helped foods have shelf life and that it wasn’t always a good thing especially since it kept something natural from aging like it should. But I’ve learned that preservatives offer so much more benefits thanks to ConAgra Foods and a recent blogger Q&A.
I got to hear from Lanie Friedman Director, Communications & External Relations at ConAgra Foods, Kelly Magurany, Principal Research Scientists- Toxicology – Food Protection and Regulatory Affairs at ConAgra Foods and Kristi Reimers, RD, PhD, Nutrition and Director of Nutrition in Research & Innovations at ConAgra Foods about how all antioxidants whether man-made or natural are safe for your food and body as part of a balanced diet.
This is important and as a mom of five and someone who is really trying to get my weight under control, there was a lot of info I learned that will go a long way in my fight to lead a healthy and balanced life. For one, I thought preservatives were unnecessary and harmful to my health when in fact, preservatives such as antioxidants are really necessary to reduce off-taste and odors in foods caused by breakdown of cells, fats and oils.
Lanie, Kelly and Kristi also answered these questions. Check this out:
What are the trends we are seeing with consumers and their concerns about the ingredients in their food? Are these valid concerns? Why or why not?
- Concern over the food we provide to our families is always valid so I want to make that point initially. And I applaud all the ladies on the phone for looking at this and considering it. I think it’s very important for us; however, I do see a lot of misinformation out there regarding food ingredients in the media, and I’m concerned that the public isn’t aware of the benefits, data and time spent to support their safety.
If there are natural antioxidants available, what is the need for man-made antioxidants?
- Natural antioxidants often times impart a flavor, a taste or even an odor to foods, so they are not always the best choice for us if we want to maintain the high quality of flavors that our consumers love. So we look to man-made antioxidants that are tasteless and colorless and odorless at the low levels used in food to maintain those flavors.
Is there anything new in the process [of preserving] that has come to the table recently or are you still using things that have been around for quite some time?
- Generally, the compounds we typically use like BHT and TBHQ have been used for a long time. I would say that TBHQ is a newer version in relation to BHT, but it has been used for a long time as well.
- I think food choices change over the years. I think the food maker definitely sees our lines of food evolving based on what people want, but the method of preserving food seems kind of consistent because they’re tried and true. Like Kelly said, there’s been a lot of steps taken to make sure that they’re safe and they’re going to deliver the flavors that people want. Food choice change, but because all approved methods are so safe, we chose the best method for our food that we can whether it’s a natural or synthetic antioxidant.
What are some examples of packaged foods that use antioxidants as preservatives?
- Any food product that contains a fat or oil will typically have an antioxidant added either to the starting batter oil or to the end food product. Things like microwaved popcorn, cookies, and cereal products all would contain antioxidants.
When I think of antioxidants, I think of the antioxidants I’ve heard about in things like carrots and kale, etc. that help prevent diseases like cancer. Are these the same type of antioxidants?
- Yes, the function of the antioxidants found in carrots and kale are similar to what we have in man-made compounds. So, in carrots and kale they are typically preserving color and freshness of the food by preventing oxidative damage, , the function is exactly the same in our food products when using man-made antioxidants.
Are natural antioxidants modified to use in foods they don’t come naturally in?
- Natural antioxidants are often extracted from the food products, but they’re also synthetically produced. There is actually no difference chemically in a naturally produced antioxidant and one that’s developed by man-made techniques. They’re often developed in man-made ways because it’s a more cost-effective way and actually protects our food supply. So although humans may make an antioxidant from a natural compound, they can also synthesize them, but they’re exactly the same. There is no difference.
What are BHT and TBHQ? What are they made from?
- BHT stands for butylated hydroxytoluene and TBHQ stands for tertiary- butylhydroquinone. They’re chemical names, but … their structures are very similar to natural antioxidants. So, where they come from or are made from are similar sources. And there are a variety of sources. One example of a source in making BHT is pine oil. But that is not the only option. Our suppliers identify the most cost-effective way in developing these compounds.
How are these synthetic antioxidants created?
- It’s really a chemical reaction, so we would identify a starting material. Starting materials vary depending on the chemistry and then it’s synthesized and purified for use in food. Happy to follow up with the specific chemical reactions if that’s desired. We provide more details in the follow up questions on this. Please refer to those.
The truth is that much of our food would go bad and spoil in just a few days without preservatives. Check out this Mental Floss video about preservatives facts too.
How long have BHT and TBHQ been in use? Is it something that has been a part of food production for a while?
- Yes, these types of compounds have been used for over 60 years in foods and they really parallel the advent of packaging of food products and also our understanding of the science of oxidation in foods.
How do you best explain the difference between man-made and natural antioxidants to people who do not understand?
- For my personal view as a mom and a scientist, I explain it to my family as synthetic antioxidants or man-made antioxidants are really the same function as a natural antioxidant. The science that’s available to support these man-made compounds are much more robust, in fact, and we spend a lot of time looking at the science and making sure these things are safe. So when we think about natural there’s an automatic tendency to assume safety, but that’s not always the case. We spend a lot of time looking at both. So when I explain it to my family, I explain that the functions are the same and they have exactly the same benefits. As an employee at ConAgra Foods, I can say that we do use both of these types of compounds.
- Kristi: In a more general sense beyond antioxidants, when I’m trying to explain the safety of ingredients I can use an analogy. And that is that the amount of these ingredients in our diets is like the amount of water in a puddle. And you can say well, water causes drowning, well that’s true, but it’s not going to cause drowning if you’re standing in a puddle. Now it might cause drowning if you’re in a river that’s going crazy, you can’t swim, the water is really cold and deep, then water imposes a risk. A lot of times the news that we read about ingredients that might be negative is the result of tests that are more analogous to standing in a river than standing in a puddle. So it’s important for us all to recognize that ingredients have been tested thoroughly and they are very safe consumed in the amounts that we consume in our diets. I think it’s important for the bloggers to understand that big words, scary words they’re just chemicals and foods are made of chemicals. And even blueberries. If we were to look at the ingredients in blueberries they would seem very intimidating, but in fact they’re just there natural antioxidants and other nutrients in plants that make them healthy.
For more info: be sure to check out Mental Floss, “6 Facts About Preservatives” http://mentalfloss.com/article/62014/6-facts-about-preservatives
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