I always tell my daughters they can make a difference in the world, even at their tender ages of 10 and 7. To them, I probably sound like the teacher from Peanuts—they're more interested in soccer and American Girl right now—but I hope the lesson eventually sinks in.
My latest example of a kid heroics for them: 15-year-old Sarah Kavanagh from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who gathered more than 200,000 signatures in her online petition asking Gatorade to remove a controversial flame-retardant chemical. Last week, Gatorade announced that they would be removing the ingredient, brominated vegetable oil (BVO), within the next couple of months. That's great news—especially for me personally, because I love the stuff! Actually, so do my daughters.
While Gatorade spokeswoman Molly Carter said the decision wasn’t in response to Sarah’s petition, the teen is claiming victory. Either way, we all win.
Truth is, chemicals that are used as weed killer, flame retardant, and sunscreen are startlingly common in your supermarket. But you won’t find “carcinogens,” “paint chemicals,” or “beaver anal gland juice” on the back panel. They’ll be hidden under names like “Butylated HydroxyAnisole” or “natural flavoring.” Break through the science experiment to find out what you’re really eating.
Here are the 11 scariest ingredients in your food:
WHAT IT IS: A
calorie-free artificial sweetener 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is often
used with other artificial sweeteners to mask a bitter aftertaste.
FOUND IN: More than 5,000 food products worldwide, including diet soft drinks and no-sugar-added ice cream. Click here to discover The Strange Reason Diet Soda Makes You Fat.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Although the FDA has approved it for use in most foods, many health and industry insiders claim that the decision was based on flawed tests. Animal studies have linked the chemical to lung and breast tumors and thyroid problems.
IT IS: A near-zero-calorie artificial
sweetener made by combining two amino acids with methanol. Most commonly used
in diet soda, aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar.
FOUND IN: More than 6,000 grocery items including diet sodas, yogurts, and the table-top sweeteners NutraSweet and Equal. (Did you know that most flavored yogurt is a step above ice cream? Find out the 25 New Healthy Foods That Aren’t.)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Over the past 30 years, the FDA has received thousands of consumer complaints due mostly to neurological symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, memory loss, and, in rare cases, epileptic seizures. Many studies have shown aspartame to be completely harmless, while others indicate that the additive might be responsible for a range of cancers.
STRANGE BUT TRUE: If beating asthma with sweet potatoes sounds too good to be true, wait till you read these 14 crazy-sounding (but completely true) health tips!
WHAT IT IS: A
component of the metallic element titanium commonly used in paints and
sunscreens. The food industry adds it to hundreds of products to make overly
processed items appear whiter.
FOUND IN: Processed salad dressing, coffee creamers, and icing.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Titanium is a mined substance that's sometimes contaminated with toxic lead. Plus, most white dressings (like creamy ranch) aren’t great for you anyway. Both your health and your waistline will fare better if you go with an olive oil- or vinegar-based salad topper instead.
WHAT IT IS: The
active ingredient in the popular week killer Roundup. It’s used on corn and soy
crops genetically engineered to withstand a heavy dousing of the chemical.
FOUND IN: Most nonorganic packaged foods containing corn- and soy-derived ingredients. Because it’s a systemic herbicide, it’s taken up by the plant—meaning you eat it.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Glyphosphate exposure is linked to obesity, learning disabilities, and infertility.
BONUS TIP: For simple steps to live a longer and healthier life, check out Dr. Oz's 25 Greatest Health Tips Ever.
IT IS: A petroleum-derived antioxidant used
to preserve fats and oils.
FOUND IN: Beer, crackers, cereals, butter, and foods with added fats.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Studies have shown BHA to cause cancer in the forestomachs of rats, mice, and hamsters. The Department of Health and Human Services classifies the preservative as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
IT IS: A semi-soft fat created by
chemically blending fully hydrogenated and non-hydrogenated oils. It was
developed in response to the public demand for an alternative to trans fats.
FOUND IN: Pastries, pies, margarine, frozen dinners, and canned soups.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Testing on these fats has not been extensive, but the early evidence doesn't look promising. A study by Malaysian researchers showed a 4-week diet of 12 percent interesterified fats increased the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol. Furthermore, this study showed an increase in blood glucose levels and a decrease in insulin response.
THEY ARE: Food dyes that are orange-red and
cherry red, respectively. Red #40 is the most widely used food dye in America.
FOUND IN: Fruit cocktail, candy, chocolate cake, cereal, beverages, pastries, maraschino cherries, and fruit snacks. (Confused by now about what you can eat? We scoured the supermarket for the 125 Best Packaged Foods in America.)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The FDA has proposed a ban on Red #3 in the past, but so far the agency has been unsuccessful in implementing it. After the dye was inextricably linked to thyroid tumors in rat studies, the FDA managed to have the liquid form of the dye removed from external drugs and cosmetics.
THEY ARE: The second and third most common
food colorings, respectively.
FOUND IN: Cereal, pudding, bread mix, beverages, chips, cookies, and condiments.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Several studies have linked both dyes to learning and concentration disorders in children, and there are piles of animal studies demonstrating potential risks such as kidney and intestinal tumors. One study found that mice fed high doses of sunset yellow had trouble swimming straight and righting themselves in water. The FDA does not view these as serious risks to humans.
WHAT IT IS: Beaver
anal gland juice. Really. Beavers combine it with their urine to mark their
FOUND IN: Vanilla or raspberry flavoring in processed foods, labeled only as “natural flavoring.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: It’s beaver anal gland juice.
You won't believe what else you've been putting in your body. Click here to find out the 14 Foods You Should Never Eat.
COOL STUFF AT MENSHEALTH.COM
Additional research by Leah Zerbe and Amy Rushlow