Which harmful chemicals can be found in American diet but are banned elsewhere?

rich foodby Mira Calton and Jayson Calton, contributors 
Our new book RICH FOOD, POOR FOOD highlight 150 ingredients that we believe smart consumers should leave out of their cart. We refer to them as POOR FOOD ingredients that are health-depleting because they have been shown to be potentially dangerous. The worst offenders we have named the Banned Bad Boys. While other governments have read the research and returned guilty verdicts as the safety of these ingredients, the United States still allows for their use. Beware of these bad boys that others have banned!

Banned Ingredient #1: Counterfeit (Artificial) Colors
(Aka Red 40, Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #5, Yellow #6)

We eat with our eyes as much as we eat with our mouths . . . maybe more. Recent studies have shown that when food manufacturers left foods in their natural, (often beige-like) colors instead of coloring them, individuals thought they tasted bland and ate less, even when the recipes had not been altered.

Until the twentieth century, food coloring was obtained from natural sources. People gathered spices, like saffron and turmeric, to add rich hues to their otherwise bland colored foods. While this method may have been somewhat limiting in shades, at least it was safe. Today, most artificial colors are made from coal tar. Not familiar with this fine product? Coal tar is also used in sealcoating products to preserve and protect the shine of industrial floors. It also appears in head lice shampoos to kill off the small bugs. From your morning yogurt to your child’s cupcake sprinkles, most every food manufactured contains coal tar in the form of artificial colors. Here is why they are banned:

      Blue #1 and #2 Banned in Norway, Finland, and France, studies have shown them to cause brain cancer and inhibit nerve-cell development.

      Yellow #5 and yellow #6 Banned in Norway and Austria, it contains the cancer-causing compounds benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl. Six of the eleven studies on yellow #5 showed that it caused genotoxicity, a deterioration of the cell’s genetic material with potential to mutate healthy DNA.

      Red 40 may contain the carcinogenic contaminant p-Cresidine and is thought to cause tumors of the immune system. In the UK, it is not recommended for children, and it is currently banned in many European nations.

FOUND IN: cake, candy, mac ‘n cheese, medicines, sport drinks, soda, pet food and cheese.

Banned ingredient #2 – Olestra
(Aka Olean)
It took Procter & Gamble Co. a quarter century and half a billion dollars to develop its Olestra fat substitute, but it didn’t take long for many countries, including the UK and Canada, to ban it. This fat substitute causes a dramatic depletion of fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids. This makes Olestra an actual Everyday Micronutrient Depleter (EMD), robbing us of the vital micronutrients that our foods should be delivering. However, this bad boy takes it to the next level by actually causing severe gastrointestinal disturbances. While adding Olestra to the ingredients may make your chips “light”, it may also cause embarrassing bathroom fright.
Found in: Ruffles Light, Lay’s WOW, and Pringles Fat Free potato chips.

Banned ingredient #3 – Brominated Vegetable Oil
(Aka BVO)

BVO acts as an emulsifier in soda and sports beverages preventing the flavoring from separating and floating to the surface. BVO is an Everyday Micronutrient Depleter (EMD) due to its competition with iodine for receptor sites in the body, causing what is called a “brominated thyroid.” Elevated bromide levels have been implicated in every thyroid disease, from simple hypothyroidism to autoimmune diseases to thyroid cancer. However, simply stripping your body of an essential micronutrient that so many people are already deficient in isn’t BVO’s only sin.

This bad boy is composed mainly of bromine, a poisonous chemical whose vapors are considered both corrosive and toxic. BVO is banned in more than 100 countries. In the U.S. its use is regulated by the FDA to the extent that it is “PERMITTED IN FOOD OR IN CONTACT WITH FOOD ON AN INTERIM BASIS PENDING ADDITIONAL STUDY.”(its been 42 years – that’s some interim!) It doesn’t sound like our government is too sure of its safety either. This may be because BVO has been linked to major organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss.

Found in: Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Crush, Sun Drop, Squirt and Fresca.

Banned ingredient #4: Potassium Bromate
(Aka Brominated Flour)

Do you notice anything familiar about the name potassium bromate? That’s right! It is made of the same toxic chemical bromine as brominated vegetable oil. This hazardous flour-bulking EMD strengthens dough, decreasing the time needed for baking and thereby reducing costs. This product is harmful because it may cause kidney or nervous system disorders and gastrointestinal discomfort. Additionally, it may be carcinogenic.

The good news is that American bread manufacturers tell us that it disappears from the product during baking, and deem that potassium bromate is safe as there is only negligible residue. However, the pastry chefs in Paris disagree. In fact, government regulatory bodies in Europe, Canada, China, and many other countries have banned the use of this additive. In California, if potassium bromate has been added, a product must carry a warning label. While the FDA has not banned the use of bromated flour, they do urge bakers to voluntarily leave it out.

Found in: Baja Burrito Wraps, Jason Bread Crumbs, Mastroianni Bros Rolls, and New York brand flatbreads and bagel chips.

Banned ingredient #5: Azodicarbonamide

This chemical, whose name just rolls right off the tongue, is banned in Australia, the UK, and in most European countries. In Singapore you can get up to fifteen years in prison and penalized nearly half a million dollars in fines for using it as an ingredient. But here, in the good old U S of A, we use this chemical that is primarily used in foamed plastics (think yoga matts and sneaker soles) to bleach flour. In other countries they have to wait a whole week for flour to naturally whiten. Not here! Instead, we add this asthma-causing allergen to numerous grocery store ingredient lists. Examine the labels closely on breads and baked goods before putting them in your cart.

Found in: Stroehmann’s Breads, Betty Crocker Suddenly Salads, Country Hearth Breads, Hungry Man Dinners, and Entenmann’s Baked Goods.

Banned ingredient #6: The Butylated Brothers
(Aka BHA and BHT)
Manufactured from petroleum (yummy!) these waxy solids act as preservatives to prevent food from becoming rancid and developing objectionable odors. The U.S. National Institute of Health reports that BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in rats. The state of California lists this ingredient as a carcinogen. Banned in England, many other European countries, and Japan, BHA and BHT can be found in butter, meats, breakfast cereals, chewing gum, dehydrated potatoes, and beer sold in the United States.
Found in: Post, Kellogg’s and Quaker Cereals, Chex Mix, Diamond nuts; and Wrigley’s, Trident, Bazooka, and Bubble Yum gums.
NOTE:  In a 2006 study, the essential oils from natural rosemary and sage performed better at preventing oxidative decay and loss in meat than a combination of BHA and BHT. Perhaps manufacturers should be adding in organic herbs and spices instead of carcinogens to improve the shelf life of their products.

Remember, these are only 6 of the 150 Poor Food ingredients that RICH FOOD, POOR FOOD steers you clear of in the grocery store.  As a consumer if you stop purchasing foods that contain these banned ingredients you are sending a clear message to manufacturers that they need to make changes, to increase food quality, before you spend you hard earned money on their products. Vote by spending that all mighty dollar only on products whose manufacturers are giving you safe, healthy ingredients.

Mira Calton, CN and Jayson Calton, PhD are the founders of Calton Nutrition, and have just published their new book, Rich Food, Poor Food, The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System

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