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Newly discovered fast-food ingredient is making our stomachs turn

Justina Huddleston is an editor and the head writer for TDmonthly Magazine. She has been a freelance writer for several years, though her real passion is cooking. You can see the recipes she creates on her vegan food blog, A Life of Litt...

We just found out something sinister is hiding in our burgers and fries

There's a secret ingredient in fast food that makes it more dangerous than I realized. This may be the end of my not-so-secret McDonald's hash browns obsession.

A recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives found that people had elevated levels of phthalates in their urine after eating fast food.

More: We miscalculate fast-food calories

Phthalates are an industrial plasticizer used to make plastic products more durable. The EPA classifies phthalates as probable human carcinogens, meaning that they probably cause cancer.

Previously, phthalates had been detected in fast-food packaging, but now it seems that the food itself carries potentially harmful levels of this chemical. As if worrying about the sodium levels in our burgers weren't enough!

Fast food, it turns out, is especially susceptible to absorbing phthalates because of the processing it goes through. Researchers named product packaging, machinery and gloves worn by food handlers as probable sources of the phthalate contamination.

More: Fast-food restaurant worker caught wiping hamburger bun on floor

Phthalates have been detected previously in processed meats and dairy, so it seems like the safest way to avoid them is to cut back on processed foods in general, including fast food.

I feel like it's becoming more and more apparent that, even aside from nutritional reasons, there's a strong case to be made for eating less processed foods. Whether you're dealing with wood pulp used as filler or weird industrial chemicals, it seems like processed food is a lose-lose.

More: Fast-food kids' meals have too much salt, according to study

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