Unfortunately, the U.S. is not a leader when it comes to health. That can be seen not only in our policies and laws but also in the high rate of obesity and diabetes. In this article I’d like to shed some light on ingredients that are outlawed in many other countries but NOT in the U.S (so you and your family can avoid them).
You know all those brightly colored food items like gummy bears, frosting, breakfast cereal, soda, and fruity candies? Well the food dyes in those foods that make these products so colorful and bright like Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, and Red Dye 40 are ingredients of concern.
Studies show that these food dyes are linked to health concerns like hyperactivity, behavioral changes, asthma, and even tumor growth. What’s problematic is that it appears certain children may be particularly sensitive to food dyes, yet most of the colorful products dyed with artificial colors are marketed specifically to kids.
In Europe, many products are made with natural colors instead of artificial food dyes. And if artificial dyes are used, there has to be a warning on the food label that explains the possible adverse effects. In the U.S., however, artificial dyes are still widely used and don’t have to come with any such warnings.
Anything colorful like candies, cereals, frosting, cookies, sports drinks, and sodas.
Don’t be fooled by thinking that only the obvious culprits have food dyes in them. Even products like ketchup, mac and cheese, and certain breads can contain food coloring. The only way to know for sure that a product is free from dyes is to read the labels. Opt for products naturally colored with things like beet juice, berries, turmeric, and other plant-based pigments. Choosing organic also ensures that these artificial dyes are not in the foods or drinks you consume.
Manufacturers of processed foods like instant mashed potatoes, cereal, chips, and dry goods use chemicals to keep their food fresher for longer. Two of these preservatives – butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – are severely restricted in Europe but are considered “safe” by the FDA. They are widely used in the American food industry.
It is hard to understand why these preservatives are not more tightly regulated. BHA disrupts normal hormone function in the body.(K) And according to a report by National Toxicology Program (put out by the U.S. Government’s Department of Health and Human Services), BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” The research on BHT is less conclusive, but there is some data to suggest it could be a carcinogen.
Cereals, chips, preserved meats, instant foods like mashed potatoes, gum, beer, and more.
Look for BHA and BHT on food labels and leave any products on the shelf that list them as an ingredient.
In the U.S., dairy farmers often use drugs to treat their cows to help increase milk production. One example is growth hormones. Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH) is made synthetically in a lab and then given to a dairy cow to promote the production of milk.[1,2]
Synthetic growth hormones were approved by the FDA in the early 1990’s in the U.S., but in many areas of the world like Europe, Canada, and others, they are not permitted due to their potential health risks.[1,2]
There is some concern that milk made from cows treated with rbGH contains elevated levels of something called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is a hormone that promotes cell growth and that may be involved in tumors and some cancers. Cows treated with rbGH also tend to have more health concerns themselves and may be given more antibiotics as treatment – which poses another potential health concern for humans.[1,2]
Dairy products made from conventionally-raised cows.
If you want to drink milk and eat dairy products that are clean of harmful additives, go organic and ideally also grass fed. Studies show that growth hormone residues are 20 times higher in conventional milk compared to organic milk. Choosing organic can also help to lower your exposure to pesticides and antibiotics as well.
Most of us know that soft drinks aren’t healthy options – but we usually attribute that to the high sugar content. Along with sweeteners, sodas can also contain something called brominated vegetable oil, or BVO. BVO is patented as a flame retardant, but it is also used in citrus-flavored soft drinks for the purpose of preventing the citrus flavor from separating out.[5,6]
BVO has a long history of controversial use because it contains the ingredient bromine. Bromine can build up in the body and has a long list of hazardous health effects like irritation of the skin and membrane linings as well as neurological symptoms like memory loss, headache, fatigue, and coordination problems[5,6]
BVO is banned in Europe but is still legal in the U.S. It was originally considered by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe,” a designation which they revoked in 1970. Unfortunately, BVO was not banned after that time and the FDA still allowed its continued use in limited amounts.[5,6]
Up until very recently, BVO could be found in common brands like Mountain Dew (who only recently withdrew this ingredient from their products). But BVO can still be found in products from other lesser-known names.
Soft drinks and citrus-flavored beverages.
Always check ingredient lists for BVO before drinking any sodas. Even better, cut sugar-sweetened beverages out of your diet completely – whether or not they contain this harmful additive.
Both of these synthetic ingredients are considered “dough conditioners,” meaning that they help to strengthen and improve dough quality and help it to rise. Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is also a whitening agent and industrial chemical which, in addition to food, is also found in things like yoga mats and shoes.[7,8]
Potassium bromate and ADA both pose a hazard to human health by exposing the body to potential carcinogens.[7,9] ADA is also associated with asthma and allergic reactions.
As of 2014, The Environmental Working Group found ADA in almost 500 different food items made by 130 brands. Potassium bromate was found in at least 86 baked goods and other food products as of 2015.[7,8]
The FDA still allows these two ingredients to be used in small quantities in bread products in the U.S., but both are banned in Europe. Luckily, even though they are still used in the U.S., their use has gone down significantly in recent years; many manufacturers, food chains, and grocers have chosen to remove them from their products.[7,8]
Breads, rolls, pizza, pastries, crackers, buns, and other pre-made bread products.
To avoid them, choose unprocessed, natural sources of bread and flour products if you choose to consume these types of foods. Read ingredient lists and keep watch for these additives. Potassium bromate is sometimes listed as “bromated flour.” Choosing Organic is once again a great option to ensure you avoid these ingredients.
Olestra (sometimes called Olean) is a food additive used in low-fat diet products as a fat substitute. At first, Olestra seemed like a miracle for dieters, allowing them to eat foods like chips without guilt. But soon, it became clear that this additive came with a long list of harmful side effects like abdominal cramping and diarrhea. It also was found to inhibit the absorption of important nutrients like vitamins.
By the late 1990’s Olestra began to lose popularity, and it has been largely phased out of products since then. It even made fame on TIME’s list of “The 50 Worst Inventions” in 2010.
That being said, you can still find Olestra in some American foods. It is completely banned in Europe and Canada.
Processed foods like chips and other snacks, usually those marketed to be diet products.
Check food labels if you want to steer clear of this ingredient.
Ractopamine is the name of a drug used in farming to help farm animals produce more meat, especially lean meat. It is most well-known for its use in raising pigs, but it is also used in other animals as well such as cattle and turkey.
As with many other additives in this list, there has been much controversy over the use of ractopamine in food production. The European Food Safety Authority declared in 2009 that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that meat raised with ractopamine is safe for humans. It is banned or restricted in about 160 different countries, yet the FDA approved ractopamine back in 1999 and it is still being used widely today.
Conventionally-raised pork, turkey, and beef.
Some farmers will label their products “produced without ractopamine.” You can also rest assured you are getting ractopamine-free meat if you buy natural and organic. Whole Foods and Chipotle both reportedly only source meets that have not been raised with ractopamine.
It’s not just American foods that contain ingredients that other countries choose to ban due to safety concerns. Cosmetics and other personal care products can also be loaded with various ingredients that are outlawed in Europe. If you want to take your health to the next level, you may also want to pay attention to what you put on your body, not just in it.
In conclusion, the importance of reading the labels on everything you consume and/or put on your body cannot be understated. In addition, choosing Organic is very important not only to avoid consuming things that have been sprayed with pesticide, but also to avoid some of these potentially harmful ingredients mentioned above.
The really upsetting part is that many of these ingredients are in foods that are marketed to and heavily consumed by kids. I personally believe that many mood swings and depression in kids are heavily contributed by what kids are eating and drinking. That’s why as much as possible I buy Organic snacks and foods for my kids (and for myself).