Unless you follow a very strict natural diet, chances are, you ingest dozens of food preservatives every day. While the FDA must approve a food additive before it is available to consumers, that does not mean it is beneficial or even harmless to consume. Here’s some of the worst ones that should be avoided as much as possible:
1. Brominated Vegetable Oil
Find it in: Flame Retardants and Citrus Soda Pop
Food Products it’s in: Mountain Dew, Squirt, Fanta Orange, Fresca Original Citrus, Gatorade Thirst Quencher Orange, and other citrus-flavored soft drinks and sports drinks
What it is: This ingredient, made from soybeans or corn, is used as a flame retardant by chemical companies, but its purpose in soft drinks is to stabilize the citrus oils from floating to the surface, giving the drink a cloudy appearance.
How it can make you sick: Brominated vegetable oil is banned for use in food in Europe and Japan. The problem is that it builds up in the body and can cause neurological and reproductive problems and skin lesions. Cases of bromine intoxication in humans have caused headaches, fatigue, memory loss, ulcers, and a loss of muscle coordination. These patients ingested much greater than average amounts of soda, but with the popularity of soft drinks like Mountain Dew among many teenagers and video gamers, illnesses are a plausible risk.
2. Sodium Nitrite and Nitrate
Find it in: Fertilizer, Rocket Propellant and Lunch Meats
Food Products it’s in: Processed meats like bacon, ham, hot dogs, deli meats, pepperoni, salami, jerky, smoked fish, and corned beef
What it is: Sodium nitrite is a mineral salt powder that prevents botulism and meats from turning grey.
How it can make you sick: Cooking these meats at high temperatures and ingesting them could lead to nitrosamines forming, which is a carcinogen. They have been controversially linked to leukemia, colon, bladder, and pancreatic cancer. Nitrates may trigger migraines in certain people. Pregnant woman should especially avoid sodium nitrates as they can result in oxygen deprivation of fetuses.
3. BHA, BHT, and TBHQ
Find it in: Embalming Fluid and Potato Chips
Food Products it’s in: Chewing gum, cereals, vegetable oil, some meats, fatty and oily foods like potato chips, butter, nuts, and snack foods
What it is: Butylated hydroxyanisole and hydroxytoluene, two synthetically created chemicals, keep oils from quickly becoming rancid. They are used in many products, including animal feed, cosmetics, rubber products, food packaging, and petroleum products.
How it can make you sick: These substances are classified by the Department of Health and Human Services as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Conflicting studies show the additives to either increase or decrease cancer rates in animals, but they have not been adequately reviewed and so are still “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA. The creator of the Feingold diet, which eliminates most artificial food additives, claimed BHT also increased levels of hyperactivity in children.
4. Propyl Gallate
Find it in: Pesticides, Lipstick and Chewing Gum
Food Products it’s in: Vegetable oil, mayonnaise, dried milk, dried meat, fresh sausage, chewing gum, chicken soup base, sports and energy drinks
What it is: Propyl gallate, a white odorless powder, often works in tandem with BHA and BHT to prevent fats and oils in food and non-edible products from spoiling.
How it can make you sick: Studies suggest the additive may be a carcinogen. In a study by the National Toxicology Program, rats fed propyl gallate had lower body weights than average, tumors, and malignant lymphoma. Those with asthma, liver or kidney problems, or an allergy to aspirin should especially avoid it.
5. Sodium Benzoate, Benzoic Acid
Find it in: Explosive Fireworks and Pickles
Products it’s in: Carbonated drinks, fruit juices and purees, salad dressings, pickles, condiments
What it is: It’s a salt used to preserve acidic foods.
How it can make you sick: When sodium benzoate combines with vitamin C in foods, it can create benzene, a carcinogen that causes leukemia and other cancers. The risk is low, but it’s there. Soft drink makers recently reformulated their fruit-flavored drinks to prevent this reaction after a lawsuit was filed against them. Those with food allergies may also experience a negative reaction, asthma or hives after ingesting, and it may increase hyperactivity in children.
6. Sulfites (Sodium Bisulfite, Sulfur Dioxide)
Find it in: Volcanoes and Dried Fruit
Products it’s in: Wine, dried fruit, canned olives and peppers, dehydrated potatoes, cornstarch, shrimp and lobster, baked goods, condiments, molasses
What it is: Sulfites inhibit microbial growth and prevent discoloration, keeping raisins brown and wine sterilized. It is also used as a bleaching agent. Sulfites destroy vitamin B1, so are prohibited in foods that are important sources of the vitamin. Sulfur dioxide is in the atmosphere as an air pollutant from volcanic gasses and coal-burning power plants.
How it can make you sick: The FDA estimates that more than a million people are allergic to sulfites, chiefly asthmatics, and that they can cause mild to severe reactions such as difficulty breathing, headaches, and anaphylactic shock.