The Western diet typically includes a lot of processed foods. And let’s face it, pre-packaged, store-bought foods can be a real minefield when you’re trying to eat healthy.
But it’s not just the nutritional value you need to worry about. Processed foods also contain food additives designed to make them last longer, look or feel more “attractive,” or to make them cheaper to produce.
The trouble is, some of those same ingredients can harm your health. Following are three of the worst food additives you should do your best to avoid starting today.
1. Potassium bromate:
You’ll find potassium bromate hiding in baked products such as breads and rolls. The chemical is added to flour and is used to strengthen dough and increase a food’s volume as it rises.
Potassium bromate is classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans, and is banned from being used in food products in the European Union, as well as a number of other countries including Canada, China and Brazil. 1
To reduce your exposure scan labels for any of the following names: potassium bromate, potassium salt, bromated flour, bromic acid or enriched flour. If you spot one of them pick another product instead.
2. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH):
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rBGH, is a genetically engineered growth hormone created by Monsanto. Designed to mimic a natural hormone that cows produce on their own, factory farms inject their dairy cows with rBGH to boost their milk production.
Banned in the European Union, Canada and several other countries, it has been used in the United States since 1993.2 rBGH is linked to an increase in painful udder infections which not only harms the quality of life for the cows, but could lead to an increase in blood and pus in their milk. And treating the cows for the repeated infections can contribute to antibiotic resistance and the spread of antibiotic resistant bugs.
We don’t yet know exactly what adverse effects rBGH milk could have on humans, but the milk can contain high levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which in excess has been linked to breast, colon and prostate cancers.3,2
Companies using rBGH don’t have to list it on labels so to avoid milk and dairy that was produced using the artificial hormone you need to choose dairy products that specifically state “No rBGH” or “No rBST” on the label.
3. Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydrozyttoluene:
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and its kissing chemical cousin butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are common preservatives used in processed foods to extend the amount of time they can sit on the shelf without the oils in them oxidizing and becoming rancid. Although the FDA has labeled both BHA and BHT as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use as food additives, there’s troubling animal research that makes minimizing your exposure to them a good idea.
The National Toxicology Program classifies BHA as an “anticipated human carcinogen.” 4 And the state of California has gone one step further, labeling it as a known carcinogen.5 Animal studies suggest BHA is a hormone disruptor, and the European Union has classified it as an endocrine disruptor.6,7
BHT has been shown to cause lung and liver tumors in lab animals.8 And in animal studies the chemical has been linked to liver, uterine, prostate, and thyroid changes, hinting that the preservative may cause endocrine disruptions as well.9
A wide variety of foods from potato chips to meats contain BHA and BHT. To limit your exposure look for them on food labels and choose brands that don’t use these questionable chemicals.
1. “International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – Summaries & Evaluations: POTASSIUM BROMATE (Group 2B)”
2. “American Cancer Society: Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone,” cancer.org, Accessed 2/28/2017
3. “Insulin-like growth factor – oestradiol crosstalk and mammary gland tumourigenesis,” Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013
4. “Report on Carcinogens, Fourteenth Edition: Butylated Hydroxyanisole, CAS No. 25013-16-5” ntp.niehs.nih.gov, Accessed: 2/28/2017
5. “Chemicals Considered or Listed Under Proposition 65: Butylated Hydroxyanisole,” OEHHA Science for a Healthy California, oehha.ca.gov, Accessed: 2/28/2017
6. “Effects of butylated hydroxyanisole on the development and functions of reproductive system in rats,” Toxicology. 2005 Mar 1;208(1):49-62
7. “Revised report to DG Environment: Study on enhancing the Endocrine Disruptor priority list with a focus on low production volume chemicals,” DHI Water & Environment, ec.europa.eu, Accessed 2/28/2017
8. “Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of butylated hydroxytoluene BHT (E 321) as a food additive,” EFSA Journal, Volume 10, Issue 3, March 2012, 2588
9. “Endocrine disrupting effects of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA – E320),” Clujul Med. 2013; 86(1): 16–20
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