The Horrible Ingredients Hiding in Processed Foods

You wouldn’t knowingly eat a spoonful of lab-generated chemicals, but when you don’t pay attention to the ingredients in your food, you are literally doing just that. Common food items in the U.S. contain chemicals that are banned in other countries. In 2013, an estimated 80% of all packaged foods sold in your grocery store contained ingredients that were illegal in other countries. These added ingredients are used by food manufacturing companies to enhance flavor, cut costs, and keep you wanting more, which is great for business, but not so great for your body.

Next time you go grocery shopping, plan to spend a little extra time mulling over the ingredient list of your favorite bag of potato chips, everyday condiments, lunchmeat, or cereal to see if these six dangerous ingredients may be playing a silent but harmful role in your health.

1. Partially hydrogenated oil

food in a grocery cart

Hydrogenated oils are bad for your cholesterol. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If it isn’t already, this ingredient should quickly become your grocery store nemesis. Partially hydrogenated oils boost bad cholesterol, are difficult for your body to process, and are known agents of heart disease, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, and cellular deterioration. Even with these serious side effects, food manufactures love adding it to their products because it reduces costs, increases a product’s shelf life, and stabilizes the flavor. Partially hydrogenated oils are so harmful that the Food and Drug Administration has removed them from their list of ingredients “generally recognized as safe” and have given food manufacturers three years to remove the ingredient from their products. While this is a step in the right direction, it still means that until mid-2018 many foods will still contain this harmful ingredient.

2. Artificial sweeteners

gummy candies contain processed ingredients

Don’t overload on the artificially sweetened candy. |

If you’re trying to watch your calorie intake or cut out sweets, you’ll quickly discover the seemingly amazing world of artificial sweeteners. At first glance, they may seem like the perfect substitute for sugar — they’re void of calories but still provide you with that sweet fix. If you do your research, you’ll quickly see that these processed sweeteners are linked to an increased risk of type-2 diabetes and actually make you want to eat more. Sugar substitutes like Splenda, Sweet’n Low, and Equal are 700 times sweeter than natural sugar, load your body full of chemicals, and leave you wanting more.

3. High-fructose corn syrup

Sugar being poured into bowl

You will find high fructose corn syrup in all sorts of fast food items. |

High-fructose corn syrup is a mainstay of processed foods and sweetened drinks (think everything from soda to so-called “healthy” fruit juices). Food manufactures love it because it’s cheaper and sweeter than regular sugar, but unless you enjoy purposely poisoning your body, this ingredient should be avoided. High-fructose corn syrup contains chemical toxins and contaminants. Some of the chemicals, like chlor alkali, contain mercury, while other chemicals are so obscure that few people actually know how they impact the body.

4. MSG

Chinese food can contain processed ingredients

Stay away from MSG if you are wary of additives. |

Monosodium glutamate is a tricky ingredient to avoid as it hides behind dozens of alternate names on common product ingredient lists. It may be listed as natural flavoring, yeast extract, caseinate, textured protein, and hydrolyzed pea protein, among others. Many scientists and clinicians are convinced that MSG plays a critical role in neurological disorders like migraines, seizures, infections, specific types of obesity, and some neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS, but there’s also evidence to suggest the ingredient is totally safe. You’ll find it in canned soups, salad dressings, diet beverages, and fast food. Be wary if additives like this worry you.

5. BHA and BHT


The names alone are terrifying. |

Just in case their names don’t already scream, “don’t eat me,” butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are oxidants that form potentially cancer-causing reactive compounds in your body. The additives have been associated with liver and kidney damage, hair loss, cancer, and growth retardation. What’s scary is that BHA and BHT are common in everyday household foods that are convenient because of their long shelf life. Look for these oxidants in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils.

6. Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite

Bacon on a white plate

Avoid nitrates when possible. |

Similar in name, these two additives are used as colorants and to preserve the shelf life of processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and lunchmeat. While these may make up some of your favorite foods, be wary. When these chemicals mix with your stomach acid they form cancer-causing cells that have been associated with oral, stomach, brain, and bladder cancers.