Unfortunately, there are some food toxins hiding in plain site that may be sabotaging even your best efforts!
1. Acrylamide –
What it is: This food toxin is particularly sneaky because it exists naturally in foods that are otherwise good for you. Any foods that are high in carbohydrates, like potatoes, can develop acrylamide. It’s all about how – and how long – you cook them. Longer cooking times and/or higher cooking temperatures can cause this food toxin.
What it does: Exposure to extremely high amounts of acrylamide can cause neurological symptoms, like clumsiness, muscle weakness, and numbness. And it’s caused cancer in animals in lab testing. Because of this, acrylamide has been declared “probably carcinogenic in humans.” In other words, researchers expect that it does indeed cause cancer in people, they just haven’t studied it enough yet to know for certain.
What you should do: The good news is that a baked potato now and then probably isn’t going to expose you to high enough levels of acrylamide to cause serious health concerns. However, you still should avoid starchy fried foods, because they have to be cooked for so long at such a high temperature.
2. BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) –
What they are: BHA is, surprisingly, a naturally occurring antioxidant, while BHT is a chemical that reacts similarly in foods. Since they are similar compounds, they are often added to foods together. If you consider them cousins, or opposite sides of the same coin, it doesn’t really matter because they are both food toxins that are even more unhealthy when found together. They’re used to keep food shelf stable by protecting it from oxidative stress – BHA is an antioxidant, remember!
What they do: In spite of BHA being an antioxidant and BHT being a very similar chemical, in animal studies, they have been linked to higher rates of cancer. So much so that the National Institute of Health has registered them as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
What you should do: More good news here – it’s relatively easy to avoid BHA and BHT. You just have to know to do so! Read your labels. And really, they’re mostly found in foods you should be avoiding anyway, like chips, instant mashed potatoes, vegetable oil…you get the idea. It’s just another reason to cut back on foods with artificial preservatives, anyway.
3. Nitrates and Nitrites –
What they are: When you hear about nitrates and nitrites, you probably think about cured meats. Bacon, salami, hot dogs. And you hardly ever eat those any longer, so you probably don’t worry about these food toxins much. Unfortunately, they’re hidden even deeper than that. The primary source of nitrates for most people are, believe it or not, vegetables! Your vegetables pick nitrates up from the soil and water and pass them along to you. Once you ingest them, they turn into nitrites.
What they do: The nitrites are “probable human carcinogens” because of how they react with different naturally occurring chemicals in your body. That’s the combination that can create serious health problems.
What you should do: Obviously, you still need plenty of vegetables. That’s why it’s even more important that you avoid cured meats – so you limit your overall exposure to nitrates.
4. Pesticides –
What they are: You probably know what pesticides are but, just in case, they are the poisons used to keep produce parasite-free during the growing season. And you probably think you aren’t getting many of these food toxins at all. Except that in 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tested 6953 samples of produce and discovered that almost ¾ of them carried pesticide contamination. Nearly three-quarters! And the pesticides stayed on the produce even after it was washed and even peeled.
What they do: Now, before you panic, know this – no single piece of fruit or leaf of lettuce is going to have enough pesticide on it to cause any damage by itself. But no, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Because pesticides build up over time and reach critical mass. When that happens, you end up with cancer and other health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease and immune system disorders.
What you should do: Be sure to wash everything, thoroughly. This means no more grazing from the grocery store. When you get home, wash all fruits and vegetables under running water for one minute, at least. And whenever possible, buy organic.
5. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) –
What they are: PAHs are a collection of over 100 different chemicals that are created when products are burned at high temperatures. For the purposes of this article, they are created when meat – especially the fat – gets charred, broiled, or burned. They can also be found in grains, vegetables, and fruit that were grown in PAH-contaminated soil.
What they do: Because animal testing has linked PAHs to cancer, they have been classified as probably carcinogenic to humans. And chronic exposure is known to cause lung, gastrointestinal, and kidney health problems in humans, as well.
What you should do: Cook meat in an oven or on the stove first. Then finish it off on the grill or under the broiler, using lower heat than you used to.
6. Potassium Bromate –
What it is: Potassium bromate, or bromated flour, is an additive that helps speed the rate at which bread dough becomes sticky enough to bake into bread. Which would be fine, if it wasn’t also a food toxin that’s been banned in the EU, Canada, and even China.
What it does: Animal tests have linked potassium bromate to kidney and thyroid cancers. The state of California requires all products containing bromated flour to carry a warning label. And the International Cancer Agency has found it to be a “possible human carcinogen.”
What you should do: This one is frustrating because everything that bromated flour does would happen completely naturally if the bread dough was just left alone a little bit longer. So speak with your pocket book, and don’t buy products with bromated flour or potassium bromate on the label.
7. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) –
What it is: rBGH is a synthetic growth hormone given to cows to boost milk production – and it’s another food toxin that’s banned in the EU and Canada, among other nations.
What it does: Aside from the concerns about exposing yourself to hormones unnecessarily, rBGH has also been connected to higher rates of cancer. The problem is that rBGH appears to be tied to higher levels of another hormone called IGF-1 – and high levels of that hormone have been linked to cancer. So high levels of rBGH create higher levels of IGF-1, which is linked to cancer. Did you follow that?
What you can do: Luckily, the use of rBGH is far less widespread than it once was, thanks to consumer push-back. Still, check your labels, buy organic when you can, and make sure your milk is labeled “no added hormones.”
8. Sodium and Potassium Aluminum Sulfate –
What they are: While aluminum occurs naturally, the body doesn’t actually need it at all. However, it makes for a good preservative, so processed food companies started adding to their products.
What they do: Both of these food toxins have been linked to brain damage, muscle weakness, bone pain, osteoporosis, dementia…The list goes on and on. And it’s all because of the aluminum in the preservatives.
What you should do: First, avoid any product with either of these on the label. Then, reevaluate your cookware. Many nonstick pots and pans are coated with aluminum. Don’t let it leach into your food off your skillet!
Some of these food toxins you’ll be able to avoid with just a little diligence, now that you know about them.
Others, not so much. But you can mitigate the effects of all of them by being aware and making smart choices.
When it comes to the toxins in your food, a little education goes a long way.