Q: I have been given a ginseng and cactus nectar liquid supplement. Honey and sodium benzoate have been added to retain its freshness. What is sodium benzoate?
Please Advise. Thanks, Nadica

A: Nadica, sodium benzoate or benzoate of soda, chemical compound, C6H5CO2N is a colorless or white crystalline, aromatic compound, the sodium salt of benzoic acid. It is soluble in water and is used as a preservative in foods and beverages. Because it is poisonous, the concentration is limited by law to 0.1%. It is highly recommended to avoid unless it is urgent. There are so many similar other products that avoid the use of chemicals. While small amounts might be considered safe, many people eat foods or take supplements continually throughout the day with preservatives. So this is not safe in my opinion.

I have even read labels on food that say no preservatives but if you search the label carefully it says sodium benzoate! Other common preservatives are calcium propionate, disodium EDTA, BHA , BHT, nitrites and sulfites, sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, sodium and potassium bi-sulfite, sodium and potassium meta-bisulfite all common sulfite preservatives to avoid, are used in everything from fresh meats to packaged cereals to fresh breads to dehydrated potatoes to vinegars and wines…

Wines? Vinegars? These foods last for years without preservatives! It’s like adding a preservative to raw honey which is a natural preservative and never goes bad unless it is heated!

Do you regularly want to eat a food that has preservatives? How fresh is it? When I see some products that have a 6 month, 1 year and even 2 years shelf life, I ask myself how healthy is that food going to be for my body?

So Nadica, even regarding nutritional supplements, if it needs a preservative, it is solely for the purpose of extending shelf life and not to improve your health. So for the most part I would recommend to avoid taking any products with preservatives, as even the ones I mentioned above are known to be cancer causing at certain doses.

Sulfites especially can cause allergic reactions. Side effects of use can be the symptoms most reported by sulfite-sensitive people such as difficulty breathing. Other problems range from stomachache, headache, diarrhea, hives and anaphlaxis shock.

Many restaurant and most canned and packaged foods contain a variety of preservatives. So beware when you eat out. At home lemon works well as a natural preservative. Raw honey (not unpasteurized!) also works well as a natural preservative. In fact raw honey has been found thousands of years old and is still perfectly fine to consume. It never goes bad! Ideally try to eat food as fresh as possible!

References: U. S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, June 1999