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The top 10 preservatives and additives to avoid

Alicia is a freelance writer who covers everything from pets to cocktails, with cocktails being her favorite. Her loves in life include cheap wine, overpriced lattes, and avoiding exercise at all costs, all while trying to stay slim. She...

What's lurking in your food?

According to the FDA, natural flavoring doesn't necessarily mean it comes from fresh-picked berries or recently plucked produce. Natural flavoring can constitute just about any substance derived from a natural source -- including animal excretions. Yum! You may quickly overlook these ingredients due to their impossible-to-pronounce names, but you should know that these chemicals also make an appearance in things you would never eat -- like jet fuel.
Chicken being injected with hormones

What's lurking in your food?

According to the FDA, natural flavoring doesn't necessarily mean it comes from fresh-picked berries or recently plucked produce. Natural flavoring can constitute just about any substance derived from a natural source — including animal excretions. Yum! You may quickly overlook these ingredients due to their impossible-to-pronounce names, but you should know that these chemicals also make an appearance in things you would never eat — like jet fuel.

1

Ammonium sulfate

Ammonium sulfate is a preservative often used in bread. If you've ever cleaned with an ammonia cleaner you know the smell alone can be vomit-inducing, so why are we eating it? In fact most cleaners suggest you don't breath it in, but mix it with some yeast and call it a roll and we're all for it. Supposedly it is completely safe in low levels. You may also see this ingredient in your garden fertilizer.

2

L-cysteine

breadL-cysteine brings back fond memories of an episode of Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution where he made the children blended ice cream treats complete with duck feathers among other things. We'll never look at cookie dough ice cream the same way again. L-cysteine is made from duck feathers or human hair and considered natural protein since it can be digested as an amino acid. It is used in several products from bread to, yep, you guessed it, cookie dough.

3

Titanium dioxide

milkTitanium dioxide kind of makes us think that if we consume enough, we'll probably become The Hulk. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on who you ask, we don't think that's the case. It is often used in sunscreen as it can absorb UV rays. You'll also find it in milk, salad dressings, frosting, and coffee creamer to name a few, leaving your internal organs completely protected against UV exposure.

4

Butylated hydroxyanisole

Butylated hydroxyanisole more commonly known as BHA, is a phenol-based food preservative that serves as an antioxidant for food. It prevents food from going rancid likely at the expense of your internal organs. Due to a recent study that found it causes cancer in laboratory animals, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has labeled BHA as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Besides your food, you'll find it in medicines, food packaging and animal feed.

5

Butylated hydroxytoluene

Butylated hydroxytoluene or BHT, is a food preservative similar to BHA that also prevents oils in food from becoming rancid. You'll also find it in cosmetics, jet fuel, rubber and embalming fluid. Next time you see it on the ingredients label, ask yourself if you'd be willing to take a chug of fuel or, say, embalming fluid. No? Then, you should probably buy something else.

6

Sodium nitrite

BaconSodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are commonly used to preserve meat products. It prevents bacteria growth and helps meat retain its red color. In addition, it adds a good flavor to salty meats like bacon. Before you order a BLT, you should know that it is also used in metal coatings, chemical reacting agents for photography and in textile dyes.

7

Sodium benzoate

hamburgerSodium benzoate is a preservative used in acidic liquids such as vinegar, juices or soft drinks. It is also found in food products such as margarine and fast food hamburgers. Sodium benzoate is also used in fireworks and makes a great rocket fuel. Happy 4th of July!

8

Potassium bromate

Potassium bromate is most often found in bread products as it improves the quality of flour. Even very small doses can be harmful, and it has been banned in Canada, Europe and even China but not the U.S. Your food label may not include the term but beware of anything that includes "enriched flour," which most likely contains this toxic substance. While the U.S. still allows this ingredient to be used, many companies including Orowheat and Pepperidge Farm and supermarkets like Whole Foods have banned the use of the additive in their products.

9

Castoreum


Castoreum is a natural flavor enhancer that is often used in fruit-flavored products to make them taste extra fruity. However the substance itself doesn't come from a fruit; it comes from a beaver. It is an excretion from their perineal glands. The dictionary makes it seem the most appetizing by defining it as a bitter strong-smelling creamy orange-brown substance. Strawberry milkshake anyone?

10

Artificial sweeteners


Sugar shakerArtificial sweeteners including sucralose, saccharin and sorbitol may be calorie free but that doesn't mean they don't have any impact on your body. The thing is, no one is really sure what their impact is, but these chemicals are likely doing more harm than good. In fact some have been shown to actually disrupt your metabolism making it more difficult to lose weight and easier to gain it. They can also cause headaches, dizziness and some studies link them to cancer. Skip the fake stuff and rely on small amounts of natural sugar or fresh fruit to feed your sweet tooth.

Note

The rates of cancer, childhood illness and auto-immune diseases are on the rise, and it just may be our food supply that is to blame. You can avoid these and other food preservatives by checking labels for ingredients you've never heard of. While one small serving may not cause any damage, these chemicals can remain in your body for years, meaning toxic levels could build up over time. The other so-called natural additives are just plain gross. Eating fresh, organic food never seemed better.

More on healthy eating

Top 10 health foods that aren't healthy at all
Is buying local produce really healthier or just hip?
Curtis Stone shares his top healthy eating tips

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