Nine toxic food ingredients that are making us sick

Jay Petrillo's picture

If we were told that our weekly grocery list contains various poisons, we certainly would take pause. Here are nine toxic chemical additives that we are all ingesting, likely every day.

“We trust something in a grocery store and assume it's good. We don't learn about the most precious thing in life – the food we put in our body. Educate yourself."

This recommendation, by Chef Paul Prudhomme, is both timely and vital in today’s overly-processed world of phony foods. Boxed, canned, bagged or bottled, be your own consumer watchdog when it comes to these nine foods with toxic additives.

1. Macaroni and Cheese

Toxic ingredients: Coloring agents Yellow #5 and Yellow #6

How does store-bought mac and cheese, a kid’s favorite, maintain that neon-orange color? Powdered mac and cheeses contain hazardous dyes. As with many foods, the natural color of ingredients is not as attractive to consumers as the bold and lively colors are. But in an effort to bulk up the vibrancy, noxious additives are used and we think nothing of it.

Yellow numbers 5 and 6 dyes are also found in chemical floor sealers and are used to kill lice eggs in certain shampoos. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says these dyes pose a “rainbow of risks,” and outlines such potential effects as cancer, hyperactivity in children and allergies.

2. Sports Drinks

Toxic ingredients: Coloring agents Blue #1 and Blue #2

Similar to coloring dyes yellow 5 and 6, these unnatural hues are made from coal tar. Darker dyes used to color drinks and candies, such as Blue #2, were found to cause brain tumors in mice.

As packaged and processed foods have increased, the consumption of food dyes has also amplified. According to, the eating of dyes has increased a whopping 500 percent in the past 50 years alone.

3. Fat-Free Chips

Toxic ingredient: Olestra (aka Olean)

Potato chips are the so-called bane of healthy eaters. We all love them though, and the chip industry’s answer to concerns over high-saturated fats was to replace the fat with the food additive Olestra. Time magazine includes the additive as one of the 50 worst inventions. Olestra negates the body's natural ability to absorb essential vitamins. What’s worse, side effects include cramps, gas and loose bowels.

4. Citrus Flavored Soda

Toxic ingredient: Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)

Since the early 1930s, BVO has been used to stabilize certain citrus flavored sodas and to keep the flavors from dissolving in the drink. BVO is a type of vegetable oil that includes the element bromine, the same ingredient used in flame retardant furniture and plastics. Excessive soda drinkers are at risk for Bromism, which, according to the, is "bromide poisoning characterized by headache, drowsiness, confusion, occasionally violent delirium, muscular weakness, cardiac depression, acne form eruption, foul breath, anorexia and gastric distress."

5. Flatbreads and Wraps

Toxic ingredient: Potassium bromate (aka brominated flour)

Brominated flour is used to bulk up breads that have been leaned out in processing. Potassium bromate speeds up the bread-making process and cuts costs for manufacturers – a plus on the processing side but on the consumer side of things, the additive is harmful. commented on brominated flour in a March 2012 report. “In 2007 Chinese authorities pulled a batch of imported snack chips from store shelves because they believed the chips contained potassium bromate, a food additive banned in China,” the report said. “The chips' country of origin? The United States. Potassium bromate is also illegal in the European Union, Canada, Brazil and elsewhere because it causes cancer in rats and mice. In the United States, however, it has remained legal.”

6. Boxed Pasta Mixes

Toxic ingredient: Azodicarbonamide

Again, many European countries have taken the lead and banned this hard-to-pronounce food additive. If you have ever made homemade bread, you know that the shelf life is quite short. The bread manufacturer industry uses azodicarbonamide to create the stay-soft-forever bread we are accustomed to. The additive acts as a bleaching agent and improves the dough’s elasticity.

According to, “Europe and Australia ban the use of azodicarbonamide because it is a ‘respiratory sensitizer’ that can cause asthmatic and other allergic reactions. In Singapore, the use of azodicarbonamide in food products can lead to a lengthy jail sentence.”

A wheat grain will whiten naturally if left longer on the stalk, but in an effort to fast-track the process, it is harvested early and then bleached out with the toxic chemical.

7. Cereal Snack Mixes

Toxic ingredients: BHA and BHT

Chemically, Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and the related compound butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used in certain snack foods to preserve fats. Both of these additives were found to be cancer-causing in animals and are thought to be “reasonably anticipated human carcinogens” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

8. Non-Organic Yogurt

Toxic ingredients: rBGH and rBST

Greek and organic yogurts are all the rage, and the news on non-organic yogurts makes the natural yogurts an even more attractive option. Most dairy products come from cows that have been given growth hormones rBGH and rBST to boost their milk production capacity.

The two hormones are prohibited in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and in all 27 countries of the European Union. Both hormones have been linked to breast, colon, and prostate cancers.

9. Non-Organic chicken

Toxic ingredient: Arsenic

We all want our poultry looking pink and plump – which to us, makes the meat appear healthier. In actuality, arsenic – the same chemical that poisons drinking water – is used in chicken feed to bulk up the birds, but it is a cancer-causing toxin.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons