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Poison in Your Shopping Cart: How to Make Safer Food Choices

Did you know that there might be poison lurking in your shopping cart?

It sounds alarming, but the truth is, harmful toxins can often find their way into our food. But fear not, because in this article, we will equip you with practical tips and advice on how to make safer food choices and reduce your exposure to these toxins.

From understanding the risks to reading labels, choosing organic options, and exploring alternative food sources, we will guide you through the aisles of the grocery store to help you navigate through the maze of potential hazards.

So, if you’re ready to take control of what goes into your body and build a healthier future, keep reading to discover the secrets to safer food choices.

 

 

Understanding the Risks of Harmful Toxins in Food

To truly make safer food choices, it’s essential to comprehend the risks associated with harmful toxins present in our food. These toxins can come from various sources such as pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals, and contaminants in water and soil. While the thought of poison in our shopping carts may be unsettling, arming ourselves with knowledge allows us to take proactive steps towards reducing our exposure to these hazardous substances.

food additivesNitrates and nitrites

Nitrates and nitrites are preservatives utilized in cured meats. Manufacturers use nitrates and nitrites to enhance the color and extend the shelf life of:

  • Cured sandwich meats
  • Bacon
  • Salami
  • Sausages

However, when these additives are included in processed foods, they can lead to the formation of nitrosamines in the body, which increases the risk of developing cancer.

These compounds can convert into nitrites, and their consumption has been associated with:

  • Increased risk of stomach cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Brain and thyroid cancers.

Moreover, these chemicals can also contaminate drinking water due to the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and the presence of livestock and human waste. This poses a significant danger to infants, as drinking contaminated water can result in a rare but serious condition called methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome.” Additionally, research from the National Cancer Institute indicates that nitrate in tap water increases the risk of cancer.

Here’s how you can keep added nitrates and nitrites out of your body:

1. Minimize your consumption of processed foods and cured meat products like hot dogs, sausages, and cold cuts.
2. Check labels carefully and avoid products that contain sodium or potassium nitrates and nitrites. Some canned beans and vegetables with bacon, as well as packaged seafood, may also contain these added chemicals.
3. Opt for organic food whenever possible. Synthetic nitrates and nitrites are not permitted as preservatives in organic packaged foods and meats.
4. Determine if your water is contaminated with nitrates or nitrites. If you use well water, reach out to your local health department to find out if this is a concern in your area. It’s also possible to have your water tested by a laboratory.
5. Include a diet that is rich in antioxidants. Vitamin C and certain other vitamins can help reduce the conversion of nitrates and nitrites into nitrosamines.

 

Potassium bromate

Potassium bromate is a potential human carcinogen that is added to flour used in packaged baked goods. It has been prohibited in several countries, including Brazil, Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. Despite health concerns, potassium bromate remains legally permissible for use in the United States, and the FDA has not conducted a review of its safety since at least 1973.

Numerous packaged baked goods utilize flour that may contain potassium bromate, an additive associated with cancer. This chemical is added to flour to enhance dough strength and promote increased rising, making it appealing to many U.S. companies.

In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified potassium bromate as a possible human carcinogen, corroborating findings from multiple studies. Laboratory tests have shown that animals exposed to potassium bromate exhibited increased occurrences of both benign and malignant tumors in the thyroid and peritoneum (the membrane lining the abdominal cavity). Further research revealed that ingestion of potassium bromate led to significant increases in cancer affecting the animals’ thyroid, kidneys, and other organs.

Despite substantial evidence indicating the potential harm to human health, potassium bromate remains legally permissible for use in food sold in the U.S. The food industry has argued that potassium bromate is not a concern in baked goods since it is theoretically converted into potassium bromide during the baking process, a similar but non-carcinogenic chemical. However, tests conducted in the U.K. found detectable levels of potassium bromate even after baking, with measurable amounts found in six unwrapped breads and seven out of 22 packaged breads tested.

 

Propyl paraben

Propyl paraben is a preservative commonly employed in pastries and certain tortillas. However, it has been found to have detrimental effects on both development and reproduction.

In 2002, researchers at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health made a discovery that propyl paraben reduced sperm counts in young rats at concentrations considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human consumption in food.

Other studies have also confirmed the effects of propyl paraben on the endocrine system. It functions as a synthetic estrogenic compound and can disrupt hormone signaling and gene expression.. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a recent study suggesting that exposure to propyl paraben might be linked to reduced fertility..

Proper endocrine signaling is particularly crucial during critical developmental stages, such as pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence. Chemicals that interfere with hormone signaling can have adverse effects on development, reproduction, and the neurological and immune systems.

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Read: From Cigarettes to Chips: The Disturbing Link Between Big Tobacco and Our Processed Food Cravings

FOODS THAT CONTAIN PROPYL PARABEN:

  • Amport Foods Chocolate & Nut Trail Mix
  • Archer Farms Gourmet Dessert Cookies
  • Arizona Snack Company Canyon Runner II Trail
  • Arizona Snack Company Sweet Energy Trail
  • Cafe Valley Apple Spice Mini Muffins Apple Spice / Banana Nut Mini Muffins / Blueberry Mini Muffins / Cake Pumpkin Cream Cheese / Chocolate Chips Mini Muffins / Corn Mini Muffins /  Lemon Poppyseed Mini Muffins / Orange Cranberry Mini Muffins / Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins
  • Essential Everyday Classic Trail Mix
  • Island Snacks Fancy Chocolate Mix
  • La Banderita White Corn Tortillas /  Yellow Corn Tortillas
  • Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels
  • Newton’s Naturals Get The Munchies Trail Mix
  • Oh Yeah! Candies Chocolate Caramel
  • Ole Mexican Foods Corn Tortillas
  • Patissa Pumpkin Pie Cream Puffs
  • Premium Orchard Rainbow Trail Mix
  • Private Selection Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
  • Quality Club Deluxe Moxxi Mix
  • Roundy’s Cranberry Trail Mix / Pak O Snax
  • Sara Lee Cinnamon Rolls / Honey Glazed Buns
  • Setton Farms Hiker’s Trail Mix
  • Superior Chocolate Nut Trail Mix /  Mini Chocolate Eclairs
  • Sweet P’s Bake Shop Black & White Cookies
  • Tropical Corn Tortillas, Traditional Style
  • Turano Brat & Sausage Rolls
  • Weight Watchers Carrot Crème Cake / Chocolate Crème Cake / Golden Sponge Cake / Lemon Creme Cake /  Red Velvet Creme Cake
  • Weis Cross’n Country / Milk Chocolate Candies

 

food additivesBHA

Butylated hydroxyanisole, commonly referred to as BHA, is a preservative employed in cured meats and various other food products. Several sources have indicated that BHA has the potential to be a human carcinogen, meaning it may contribute to the development of cancer.

When you go shopping for cereal, you may think that everything is safe to eat. But, that isn’t always true. Some popular brands, like Apple Jacks and Cap’n Crunch, contain additives that may be bad for your health. Additives are put in processed foods like cereal, snacks, and many other things to make them look good, stay fresh longer, and have extra flavor. In the US, more than 10,000 additives are allowed in food.

Two of the most common ones are called BHA and BHT. They are added to prolong shelf life. BHA is found in pepperoni and sausage. These additives have been shown to cause hormonal disruptions and even cancer in humans. The National Toxicology Program says BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”, and it has been listed as a known carcinogen by California’s Proposition 65. The European Union says it lowers testosterone levels and the International Agency for Research on Cancer calls it a possible human carcinogen. Studies in rats have shown BHA can have a negative effect on male sperm quality and female uterine weight. Even though there are studies showing how bad these additives can be, the Food and Drug Administration still classifies them as safe to use.

Read: Blacklisted: The Truth about Butylated Compounds (BHA & BHT)

 

BHT

Butylated hydroxytoluene, known as BHT, is a preservative utilized in cereals and various other food items. It is considered a chemical relative of BHA and has been identified as a potential human carcinogen, meaning it may have the ability to contribute to the development of cancer.

BHT has the potential to disrupt endocrine function and induce thyroid changes, as well as affect animal development, as stated by the European Food Safety Authority. Studies conducted on rats that were fed BHT revealed the development of liver and lung tumors.

Despite research indicating the potential risks to human health, BHT, similar to BHA, is considered a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) additive by the FDA. This classification contrasts with the evidence suggesting its potential harm.

 

TBHQ

Tert-butylhydroquinone, abbreviated as TBHQ, is a preservative commonly found in processed foods such as Pop-Tarts. There is evidence suggesting that TBHQ might have detrimental effects on the immune system.

A commonly used food preservative found in popular processed foods, including Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its, and over 1,250 other products, may have detrimental effects on the immune system. TBHQ has been found to impair the immune system in both animal tests and high-throughput in vitro toxicology testing, which does not involve animal subjects. This finding is particularly concerning in the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

TBHQ is widely used as a preservative in processed foods and has been in use for several decades. It serves no purpose other than extending the shelf life of products. TBHQ affected immune cell proteins at doses similar to those known to cause harm in traditional studies.

 

food additives

Titanium dioxide

Titanium dioxide is a color additive primarily employed in candy production. However, there is evidence indicating that titanium dioxide has the potential to cause damage to DNA.

Read: Are You Consuming Paint Thinner? The Toxic Ingredient in Popular Foods and Products

Titanium dioxide, an additive found in candies like Skittles, Starburst, and numerous other sweet treats targeting children, has been flagged as potentially unsafe for human consumption by European food safety regulators. Surprisingly, the U.S. has not conducted a reassessment of the potential risks associated with this additive in over five decades.

Titanium dioxide is commonly used in popular candies and processed foods to provide a smooth texture or act as a white colorant. It enhances the brightness of other colors, making the food more visually appealing, but it lacks any nutritional value.

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Concerns regarding the potential toxicity of titanium dioxide have been raised by scientists for quite some time. Despite these concerns, its use in the U.S. continues due to regulatory loopholes within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), allowing problematic ingredients to go unnoticed and unreviewed. The FDA’s last examination of the additive’s risks dates back to 1966, while recent research suggests possible health hazards associated with titanium dioxide, warranting a fresh evaluation by the regulatory agency.

READ: List of Affordable Additive Free Snacks

BVO

Brominated vegetable oil, abbreviated as BVO, is utilized as a stabilizer for citrus flavors in sodas and fruity beverages. However, it has been associated with potential neurological harm.

Many people are familiar with the sweeteners and carbonation in soda, but there’s an ingredient in some soft drinks that can potentially harm the nervous system: brominated vegetable oil (BVO). Interestingly, BVO is banned in Europe but allowed in the United States, reflecting inadequate regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Historically, BVO could be found in various fruit-based drinks from major brands like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, including Mountain Dew and Gatorade. It is primarily used in citrus-flavored beverages to prevent the flavors from separating by adding weight to the mixture through the bonding of vegetable oil with bromine.

Brominated compounds, including BVO, have been associated with numerous health risks, particularly to the nervous system. BVO can accumulate in the body, and research has indicated a link between consuming large quantities of BVO-containing sodas over an extended period and issues such as headaches, skin and mucous membrane irritation, fatigue, muscle coordination problems, and memory loss.

The risks associated with BVO have been recognized for decades. Studies conducted in the 1980s showed reproductive harm in rats that consumed BVO, and earlier research demonstrated adverse effects on the heart and liver of rats fed diets containing brominated oils. There have even been reported cases of individuals developing skin nodules after consuming excessive amounts of BVO-containing beverages.

The FDA initially classified BVO as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) in 1958, allowing its use without undergoing safety review based on new scientific findings. Although the GRAS designation was withdrawn in 1970, the FDA permitted the use of BVO as a stabilizer in fruit-flavored drinks at the request of an industry group. Since then, the FDA has allowed BVO as a food additive at concentrations up to 15 parts per million on an interim basis, a designation that has persisted for over 30 years, highlighting the limitations of the regulatory process.

Current regulations allow food additive manufacturers to determine on their own which ingredients are GRAS, without even requiring them to inform the FDA. Consequently, it is up to American consumers to ensure they avoid beverages containing BVO since it is banned in Europe and Japan.

food additives

PFAs

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of harmful “forever chemicals” used most commomly in food packaging, but they are still abundant in our foods. These chemicals can seep into the food we consume and have been linked to cancer, immune system issues, reproductive problems, and other health concerns.

The recent discovery that PFAS are present in compostable bowls used by some fast food chains should urge the FDA to ban these chemicals from our food supply. PFAS are persistent compounds that accumulate in our bodies and have been associated with cancer and reproductive harm.

Over the years, the FDA has allowed the use of 69 different PFAS compounds from 19 chemical companies in food packaging. Experts from the Environmental Defense Fund have identified 62 PFAS chemicals in the production of bottles, bags, and various food packages. Studies have shown that these chemicals, including PFAS, can migrate from the packaging to the food itself.

The FDA recently detected high levels of PFAS in certain food items like chocolate cake, as well as in meat, seafood, and dairy products. In a related study, they found PFAS chemicals like GenX and increased levels of other PFAS compounds in leafy greens grown near a PFAS manufacturing facility.

Food has long been a significant source of PFAS exposure for Americans. Therefore, efforts to eliminate PFAS from food packaging are crucial in reducing overall exposure.

While discontinuing the use of PFAS in food packaging is an important step, it alone cannot eliminate all PFAS from our food. Another way these chemicals find their way into crops intended for human and animal consumption is through the use of PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge as fertilizer on agricultural fields. Almost half of the 7 million tons of sewage sludge produced in the U.S. each year is applied to land, including farmland. PFAS in the sludge can be absorbed by plants or ingested by farm animals, which then enter the food chain. Additionally, PFAS can migrate into fruits, vegetables, and grains irrigated with water contaminated by PFAS.

Read: From Teflon to Tap Water: Unraveling the Presence of PFA Forever Chemicals in Everyday Life

 

Artificial colors

Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3

Synthetic food dyes are commonly present in various food and beverage products. These dyes have the potential to impact development and contribute to behavioral difficulties, particularly in children, making these synthetic chemicals particularly concerning during critical stages of brain development.
Read: 
Is Your Diet Bringing You Closer To Health Risks? Unpacking the Dangers of Red-40 in the Grocery Aisles

Despite the findings from various research studies concerning these dyes, these additives still remain prominent in most foods that are marketed specifically towards children, with their vivid colors and exciting appearance. Think of breakfast cereals, ice cream cones, icing, candy and sugary drinks. The effects of these chemical additives vary among children, as some may be more sensitive than others.

Red No. 40 and Yellow No. 5

The increase in the prevalence of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) among American children in the last twenty years has raised concerns regarding the impact of these additives on behavior. The potential connection between children’s behavior and the consumption of food additives has been a topic of interest since the 1970s when the link was first proposed by pediatrician Benjamin Feingold.

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Human studies have shown a correlation between these additives and symptoms like inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and restlessness in susceptible children, according to a report by California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). Food products often contain a combination of different additives, with Red No. 40 being the most commonly consumed, followed by Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6, according to the assessment conducted by the state agency.

The study highlighted that highly sensitive children could be affected by exposure to just one milligram of Yellow No. 5. To provide context, a single serving of Lemon Lime Gatorade contains three times this amount, while SunnyD citrus punch has more than 20 times as much. Brightly colored cereals can contain over 30 mg of food additives per serving, and an iced cupcake can have up to 50 mg. Children’s over-the-counter medicine and vitamins also contribute to their exposure.

OEHHA’s report concluded that human studies demonstrate a correlation between dyes and symptoms like inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and restlessness in susceptible children.

Food products frequently contain a mixture of food dyes, with Red No. 40, followed by Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6, being the most commonly consumed dyes according to the state agency’s assessment.

The increase in the use of food dyes in the United States is particularly concerning, especially considering that many of these foods and sugary drinks are disproportionately marketed to Black and Hispanic children. In contrast, the European Union has mandated that food products containing six dyes of concern, including Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, and Red No. 40, carry a warning label stating “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

 

food additives

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have the potential to affect the hormones responsible for regulating metabolism, which could have negative implications for weight control. While many people opt for low-calorie artificial sweeteners in efforts to prevent unwanted weight gain from sugar, recent research suggests that these sweeteners may also pose health risks, especially for individuals dealing with metabolic issues. Unfortunately, studies have not found a link between artificial sweeteners and lower obesity rates. In fact, some research suggests that these sweeteners might contribute to weight gain and metabolic disruptions. 

In the United States, the three most common artificial sweeteners are sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and aspartame. One significant concern is that consumers may not be aware of the amount of artificial sweeteners present in products, even though they are listed on the labels. This lack of information can be problematic, particularly for parents who intentionally choose artificially sweetened products to reduce their children’s sugar intake. Furthermore, there is evidence suggesting that consuming artificial sweeteners during pregnancy may increase the risk of infants gaining excess weight at one year of age.

Several factors might explain why nonnutritive sweeteners are not as effective for weight management and disease prevention as initially believed. These include their impact on metabolic hormones through taste receptors throughout the body, a mismatch between sweetness and expected calorie content leading to disruption in energy metabolism, and a diminished brain reward response compared to caloric sugars.

Artificial sweeteners can be significantly sweeter than sugar, ranging from 180 to 20,000 times sweeter, making them a preferred choice to traditional sugar. However, long-term exposure to sweet rewards may create an addictive-like response, fueling a desire for more over time. Notably, the FDA approves six artificial sweeteners for use in the United States, including acesulfame potassium, advantame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose. Nevertheless, concerns have been raised regarding the long-term safety of sweetener consumption, including potential links to cancer, unrelated to metabolic and weight-related concerns, as pointed out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Read: Food Sensitivities That May be Causing Weight Gain

 

Pesticides 

Pesticide residues are one of the most common types of harmful toxins found in food. These chemicals are used to protect crops from pests and diseases, but they can end up on our plates.

Research has linked pesticide exposure to various health issues, including hormone disruption, neurological disorders, and even certain types of cancer. By understanding the potential risks associated with pesticide residues, we can make informed choices about the foods we consume.

Read: Glyphosate: The Chemical Banned for Use in Pesticides, Yet Still Present in Our Foods?

 

Antibiotics

Another significant concern is the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Antibiotics are commonly administered to livestock to promote growth and prevent diseases in crowded farming conditions.

However, the overuse of antibiotics in animals can lead to antibiotic resistance, potentially diminishing the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs in treating human infections. By being aware of this risk, we can opt for meat and dairy products that come from animals raised without the routine use of antibiotics, reducing our contribution to the problem.

 

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, can also find their way into our food through contaminated water or soil. These metals can accumulate in various food sources and pose significant health risks.

Long-term exposure to heavy metals has been linked to cognitive impairments, developmental problems in children, and even organ damage.

By recognizing the potential sources of heavy metal contamination, we can make wiser choices when selecting our food and opt for products that undergo thorough testing to ensure their safety.

Read: Detox Heavy Metals: The Ultimate Guide | Everything You Need to Know

 

BPA’s

Lastly, it’s important to note that harmful toxins can be present in the packaging materials used for our food. Substances like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates can leach from plastic containers and cans into the food they hold. Research has associated these chemicals with hormonal disruptions, reproductive issues, and certain cancers. Understanding these risks empowers us to seek out alternatives, such as glass or stainless steel containers, and to choose products that are explicitly labeled as BPA-free.

Read: The Shocking Truth About Endocrine Disruptors: How They are Hijacking Your Hormones

 

Further Reading:

 

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