Preservatives do exactly as their name says: they preserve food, medications, cosmetics and other products and protect them from spoiling. But you may have to eliminate them from your diet if you have a reaction to a preservative, your doctor tells you to avoid them or you just want to simplify your diet or avoid chemicals. Eliminating preservatives from your life is doable, but it may take you a while to remove as many of them as possible.
Learn exactly what you have to look out for. If your doctor has told you to try to avoid preservatives, find out exactly what you have to avoid and ask about sample foods. While “eliminating preservatives” often refers to eliminating artificial preservatives, realize that salt, sugar and vinegar are preservatives too, and some preservatives you might consider artificial can occur in a natural form. Sulfites, for example, form naturally when grapes ferment into wine, and they can be present in balsamic and wine vinegars as well.
Scour the ingredient labels on everything you buy and everything you have in your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer. Learn the tricks of the trade -- all variant names and all ingredients that may have preservatives themselves. For example, bottled lemon juice sometimes contains sulfites, but whether a restaurant that uses lemon juice in its food uses a type with sulfites won’t be obvious.
Seek out substitutes, but prepare an alternate plan in case you can’t find any. Health food stores often carry no-preservative versions of snack foods -- though they might still contain salt or another food with preservative qualities -- plus cosmetics and cleaning products with simpler ingredient lists. If you don’t have access to those stores, you might end up having to cook much of your food from scratch, or mix your own skin care and cleaning products. You can find books with instructions, but be wary of instructions to mix ingredients you don’t recognize. Investigate everything to ensure you don’t follow the wrong advice and that you handle everything safely.
Devise a plan for eating out and eating food provided by someone else, such as at an office party. Not everyone may cooperate with your plan to stop eating preservatives -- some might try to sabotage your diet -- or you may not want to tell everyone. You’ll have to figure out how to handle the platter of preservative-laden cookies at the office or a night out with friends. Be aware that you might end up having to avoid certain people or situations.
Review your emergency supplies. Preservative-free food will spoil much more quickly, so ensure you know how soon everything you have will expire.
Talk to your doctor about any preservatives in medications you’re taking. There might be an alternative brand or generic that doesn’t have preservatives, or at least doesn’t have the ones you most want to avoid.
When faced with pressure to eat something you know you shouldn’t, remind yourself of the consequences. For example, the University of Maryland Medical Center notes eliminating preservatives from your diet might help lessen edema. If you and your doctor have decided to try this tactic, remind yourself that stopping edema is more important than trying the latest restaurant or letting a co-worker tempt you into eating something. However, don’t try to treat a medical problem without consulting your doctor. Edema, for example, can also be caused by a kidney problem, which requires professional medical intervention.
Even labels cannot always be trusted. For example, many companies label their wines sulfite-free. This means only that no sulfites have been added -- the fermentation process still results in a small amount of sulfites forming anyway. The Organic Wine Company notes that completely sulfite-free wines don’t exist except by accident.