We all know that processed foods are not a part of a healthy, nutritional diet. However, they tend to be the tastiest, probably due to the high sugar or salt contents and the trans fats. But these aren’t the only unhealthy things hiding in your girl scout cookies – processed foods almost universally contain chemicals, some natural and some not, that are toxic to the human body, which is yet another reason to choose carrots and fresh-made hummus over that bag of potato chips.
20. Refined Oils
Vegetable and seed oils don’t come from oily foods, which means they need to be processed and purified before they become that bottle you pick up in the grocery store. Toxic chemicals like hexane are used in the purification process. Some vegetable oils also contain bromate, which is poisonous to humans on a cellular level, potentially causing organ damage and birth defects.
19. Industrial Trans Fats
Artificial trans fats are made of hydrogen-supplemented unsaturated fats. In animal studies, these processed fats have been shown to be harmful to the cardiovascular system, and also act as an inflammatory.
18. Sodium Nitrate & Nitrite
This is an additive most often found in deli meats and other processed deli foods, meant to stop/slow the growth of bacteria. It’s also a water contaminant. In some studies, sodium nitrate/nitrite has been linked to gastric cancer.
Pesticides are used in industrial farming because they maximize crop harvest by minimizing blight and bug infestation. They are toxic to the human body on a DNA level, with direct links to ailments like birth defects and cancers.
16. Food Colorings
Various food coloring additives have been linked to major medical conditions such as brain tumors, cancers, asthma, liver damage, bladder tumors, and more.
15. Artificial Sweeteners
Chemicals like saccharin, sucralose, and high fructose corn syrup have been linked to issues like diabetes, heart problems, insulin resistance, liver disease, and other issues. Saccharin has also been shown to cause bladder cancer in rat studies.
14. Sodium Benzoate
This artificial compound is a preservative in salad dressings and sodas and can damage your DNA. It’s also a known carcinogen (read: causes cancer).
13. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
These hydrocarbons are released when you burn organic materials, such as combining gasoline and coal. PAHs are known environmental pollutants, and they’re toxic to humans. They’re a danger in grilling foods, and they’re also found in a lot of processed foods. PAHs are linked to kidney, colon, prostate, and breast cancers.
12. Bisphenol A
Often found in the lining of food and drink containers like plastic soda bottles and the inner-coating of canned foods, BPA is linked to insulin resistance and diabetes, and deregulates your body’s hormonal system by mimicking estrogen.
11. Butylated Hydroxyanisole & Hydroxytoluene
Referred to in shorthand as BHA and BHT, these preservatives are banned in the UK because they’re known carcinogens. They’re also linked to hormone disruption in men.
10. Heterocyclic Amines
HCAs are similar to PAHs, in that, they’re created when food is grilled or cooked over a fire. Heterocyclic amines increase your risk of cancer.
This is a chemical that’s released into the air via some tobacco vapes as well as when you microwave butter-flavored popcorn. Diacetyle causes a condition known as “Popcorn Lung,” which is a result of permanent damage and scarring of the airways.
8. Propyll Galate
Propyll galate is added to fatty processed foods as a preservative, usually in tandem with BHAs and BHTs, and is linked to cancer in humans. The FDA considers it safe, but in other countries, its use is limited or banned.
7. Magnesium Sulfate
This is a flavor-enhancer and food-stabilizer used in canned vegetables, flours, powdered sugars, cheeses, and tofu. It’s been shown to cause cancer in animal studies.
6. Camauba Wax
Used in gums and as glazing in processed pastries, carnauba wax is carcinogenic and can cause cancers and tumors.
Parabens are an extremely common preservative that stops mold and yeast growth in shelved foods. They cause hormone disruption and are also linked to breast cancer.
4. Monosodium Glutamate
Commonly known as MSG, this additive enhances flavors, and is often found in salty processed foods. For some people, it causes headaches. In animals, it has been shown to cause neuropathy, seizures, and heart damage.
3. Propylene Glycol
Propylene glycol is an additive that thickens milks, creams and salad dressings. The FDA considers it safe, but it’s literally antifreeze, and causes permanent neural, organ, and brain damage.
2. Potassium Bromate
Used in processed breads to volumize the appearance of a loaf. It’s linked to cancer in humans.
1. Enriched Flours
Refined flours are used in countless processed foods, including a lot of packaged snacks. Enriched and refined flours can lead to a host of health issues like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. It can also lead to permanent brain damage and increase your risk of developing dementia.
Simple Solutions for Avoiding Toxic Food Chemicals
This article might seem alarming, but it’s just meant to shed light on some of the things that are hiding in your foods. A few of them are even natural, which often indicates to people that it’s “safe.” But nothing that’s processed is completely safe, natural or not.
In the US’s food culture, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all of these things from your diet. And you don’t need to. Just be mindful, and limit your intake of processed foods and drinks, instead opting for organic produce, free-range meats, and foods free of additives and preservatives. Visiting your local farmer’s market is often the easiest way to do an all-natural, farm-to-table grocery shopping trip.