Health-conscious consumers beware – poisons are lurking in unexpected places, and you may be unknowingly exposing yourself to them daily. Even those of us who choose healthy options may be unaware of foods containing dangerous chemicals, or the many names used by companies to disguise the true content of their products. The following five culprits are some of the most commonly-consumed poisons to watch for:
Butylated Hydroxytoluene aka BHT: BHT is a preservative found in many breakfast cereals and high-fat items meant to be stored for long periods of time. It also makes an appearance in numerous skincare products, cosmetics and petroleum products, as well as embalming fluid and jet fuel. Although it is FDA-approved for use in both food and cosmetics, it has been linked to cancer, developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, hormone disruptions and allergic reactions.
The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on BHT states bluntly that this chemical should not enter the environment, is combustible, may have effects on the liver, causes nausea, dizziness and abdominal pain if ingested, and causes harm to aquatic life. A 2011 report on carcinogens by the U.S. Department of Health shed light on studies from 1986 and 1990 that found multiple cancers in mice, rats and hamsters after exposure to BHT. Yet, it remains a popular preservative, so be sure to choose your pantry items wisely. Some of the skincare brands that use BHT in select products are Revlon, Neutrogena, Oil of Olay, L’Oreal, Lubriderm, Aveeno and CVS.
Yellow #5 aka Tartrazine aka E102: Commonly used as a coloring in many food products such as baked goods, cereals, dessert powders, potato chips, jams, candy and pet foods, yellow #5, also known as tartrazine or E102, can also be found in certain cosmetics, shampoos and vitamin supplements. It is responsible for the bright yellow and orange shades in candy corn. Although banned in many European countries including Austria and Norway, it is still freely used in the United States. Yellow #5 carries with its ingestion a high risk of allergic reaction – ranging from mild to serious – and is especially dangerous for those who are allergic to aspirin.
Additionally, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician, has pointed out the likely contamination by various carcinogens that can occur during its manufacturing process. This food coloring has also been linked to hyperactivity in children. A 2008 report by the Food Standards Agency, the UK’s equivalent to the FDA, warned that certain colorings including tartrazine can cause impulsiveness, loss of concentration, hard-to-control activity, and other ADD and ADHD symptoms in children.
Zeranol: This synthetic compound with estrogenic and progesterone-mimicking properties is used to promote faster growth rates in livestock including cattle and swine nationwide. According to research performed at Ohio State University and published by Breastcancerfund.org and the 2011 Anticancer Research Journal, consuming meat from zeranol-treated animals may be a significant breast cancer risk factor. Studies exposed breast cancer cells to zeranol, and the resulting abnormal tumor cell growth showed an increase even at zeranol levels 30 times below the FDA-approved level. You read correctly – the level of zeranol found in your steak, hamburger or pork chop is 30 times greater than the quantity that caused cancer cells to multiply in lab tests.
Monosodium Glutamate aka MSG: MSG and its use as a popular flavor enhancer started in Japan, where a Japanese doctor isolated the compound chemically from kombu seaweed. The dangers of MSG have been well-researched, and reactions include heart problems, weight gain, headaches, asthma, ADD, seizures and incontinence. While some people show little reaction to consuming MSG on a regular basis, others have life-threatening symptoms.
Today, MSG can be found in numerous canned, frozen, processed and fast foods, among others. It also hides under many names and clever packaging techniques. A label that states ‘no MSG added’ does not mean that the ingredients used to create the dish do not contain monosodium glutamate, just that no additional quantity was used in the recipe, so be sure to check your ingredient labels. Also be on the lookout for the following additives, which always contain MSG: textured protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed protein, plant protein, oat flour and vegetable protein, sodium and calcium caseinate, andyeast extract. It is also sometimes hidden within ‘natural flavors’, and is naturally present in soymilk.
Styrene: A chemical used in the manufacturing process of plastics, rubber products, latex paints, polyesters, and styrofoam food containers, styrene is approved by the FDA as a food additive. However, in 2011, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), America’s leading body of authority on cancer-causing chemicals, listed styrene on its annual report of chemicals linked to cancer, stating that the material is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Styrene is considered a Hazardous Air Pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and also recognized as a likely carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, due to the high cost of recycling styrofoam, a great percentage of it ends up in landfills. Sixty five percent of all styrene in the United States is used in the production of styrofoam products such as plates and cups, which pose a serious and ongoing threat to the environment.
It is more important to read the ingredients on a nutritional label than the calories. We need calories, fats and cholesterol from healthy sources to survive. What we don’t need is added chemicals to our already questionable food supply. Unfortunately, while it may be impossible to stay away from all carcinogens and harmful substances, educating yourself on the ones you can avoid is crucial to your long-term health.
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