Today, most food items found in our supermarkets are processed. Our food can travel thousands of miles over the course of a just few days before it reaches the shelves, let alone our mouths. In order to maintain freshness and palatability, chemicals have to be added to the mix during processing. Most of us refer to these chemicals as preservatives, but what exactly are these chemicals, and more importantly, how do they impact our health?

Did you know that if you were to purchase processed meat products free of preservatives and other chemicals, they would appear an eerie brown/gray color? Gross. One particular food additive, sodium nitrite, is added to processed meat products including luncheon meats, bacon and ham as a color enhancer and preservative. Researchers have linked the consumption of sodium nitrite with various types of cancer. Nitrite is therefore now considered to be carcinogenic to humans by The World Health Organization and The International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The meat industry justifies the use of nitrites to prevent the growth of bacteria that causes botulism poisoning. However, experts suggest that the harm done by these products outweighs the benefit. There is no need to add nitrites into products because freezing and refrigeration could also protect consumers from botulism poisoning. Simply put, these harmful chemicals are unnecessarily being added into our food.

Some processed meat products are now labeled as "all natural", and companies emphasize how they no longer add nitrite into their products. How can they all of a sudden produce processed meats without the addition of nitrites? The answer is, they can't. Note that "all natural" processed meats are suspected to have 10 times as much nitrite as conventional processed meats due to the addition of celery powder or celery juice, a substance naturally high in nitrite. Even products labeled as "free of added nitrite" are loaded with sodium and other preservatives to make up for the absence of this chemical.

Want to learn more about chemicals in your food? Click here for an extensive list of food additives from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. You may be surprised by what you read.