Home Health Debates Hidden Chemicals in Your Food

Hidden Chemicals in Your Food

written by Guest Blogger July 27, 2012

Hold onto your seats, folks, because today’s guest post may just knock you to the floor! I knew there where toxins in our food but I’ve never seen them listed like guest blogger, Tom, does for us. Keep reading to get motivated to take the time to read food labels before you buy. 

Back in the day when everything people ate was naturally grown and prepared by them, chemicals and toxins in food wasn’t an issue. Now, other people grow, harvest, create or prepare and package our food, and we are exposed to literally thousands of chemicals and toxins.

Our bodies process and store these toxins, usually in our fat cells, and our health suffers. We become or stay fat, unhealthy and develop disease. So what can we do? First of all, we need to be aware of what exactly these chemicals and toxins are, where they come from and how we avoid them.

Second, we need to know not only the chemicals that are added to the food (and therefore have to be on the label), but those toxins that may be in the food, but not deliberately added (which means they don’t need to be on the label).


The term “additives” covers anything added to food to preserve it or enhance its flavor and/or appearance. They may be natural or synthetic. Additives can cause behavioral issues (hyperactivity), digestive problems, neurological conditions, obesity, headaches, cancer and heart disease.

Additives may be preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors and artificial sweeteners. They may also be used to regulate acidity, prevent caking, prevent foaming, provide bulk, retain color, emulsify, enhance flavor, provide glaze, act as a humectant, stabilize or thicken the food. All additives must be on the label.


Preservatives are added to food to inhibit spoilage, mold growth and rancidity. Preservatives may be natural, chemical or artificial. Preservatives can cause breathing difficulties, migraines, behavioral changes, heart damage and cancer. Common food preservatives include:

  • benzoic acid and its salts (benzoates)
  • sorbic acid and its salts (sorbates)
  • disodium EDTA
  • calcium propionate
  • sodium nitrate/nitrite
  • sulfites (sodium bisulfite, sulfur dioxide, potassium hydrogen sulfite, etc.)
  • antioxidants (BHA, BHT, TBHQ and propyl gallate)
  • humectants (propylene glycol)

Artificial colors

“Artificial colors” may mean dyes or lakes. Dyes are water soluble, but not oil soluble. Lakes are oil dispersible. Lakes tend to be more stable and have fewer side effects. Artificial colors in food have links to behavioral changes in children and adults with ADHD/ADD, cancer and allergic reactions.

In the USA, there are currently seven artificial colors approved for use in food:

  • FD&C Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue FCF or E133);
  • FD&C Blue No. 2 (Indigotine or E132);
  • FD&C Green No. 3 (Fast Green FCF or E143);
  • FD&C Red No. 40 (Allura Red AC or E129);
  • FD&C Red No. 3 (Erythrosine or E127);
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine or E102); and
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow FCF or E110).

There are also two dyes permitted in limited use in specific applications:

  • Orange B (used in sausage and hotdog casings) and
  • Citrus Red 2 (used to color orange peels).

Artificial flavor

Artificial flavor is, in many cases, added to a food to increase or improve the taste and/or smell of the item. They are also added to make foods produced by a certain brand consistent in taste (like how every batch of “not from concentrate” orange juice always tastes the same).

The methods which are used to produce artificial flavorants often involve solvents. Although many supporters say that artificial flavorants are safer than natural ones (due to more stable, quality-assured ingredients being used), there is no long-term proof that artificial flavors are safe. In fact, diacetyl, an artificial butter flavor used in microwave popcorn, has links to irritations of the skin, eyes and respiratory system.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, technically, also fall under the artificial flavor heading, but we’ll talk about them separately. Artificial sweeteners, otherwise called “sugar substitutes,” enhance the sweetness of food and beverages. They tend to be lower calorie than regular sugar. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to a possible increased insulin response and cancer.

In the US, there are five artificial sweeteners approved for use in food:

  • aspartame;
  • acesulfame potassium (also called Ace K or acesulfame K);
  • neotame;
  • sucralose; and
  • saccharin.

Chemicals or toxins not on the label

Unfortunately, chemicals that are directly added to food are not the only type of chemicals that end up in your food: we must also consider those toxins or chemicals that end up in your food indirectly or unintentionally. These chemicals do not go on the label.

Some of these chemicals may be applied to fruits or vegetables (or eaten by the animals you then consume), like pesticides and growth hormones (rBGH/rBST and zeranol), while others end up indirectly due to the environment in which the food is processed or packaged. Examples of these chemicals include volatile organic compounds, dioxins, asbestos, mold, chloroform and chlorine.

Still another way for chemicals to end up in your food is through contact with plastic packaging, which leaches harmful chemicals into your food and beverages. These chemicals include bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates and vinyl chloride.

Labeling Laws

According to the FDA, packaged foods like bread, canned and frozen foods, cereals, desserts, snacks and beverages must be labeled with all ingredients. Raw fruits and vegetables and fish do not have to be labeled.

Unfortunately, pesticides, colorants and preservatives used on fruit and vegetables do not have to be labelled. As an aside, genetically-modified foods do not require labeling, either.

How to avoid chemicals and toxins in your food

On food labels, the ingredients are listed according to how much of each thing is in the food, determined by weight. When you look at a label and see there are four or five different additives, that food should probably be avoided.

To avoid contact with chemicals, try to eat locally-grown, organic, naturally-raised foods as much as possible. Shop from farmers markets and get to know the farmer and ask how he raises the animals; are they penned and fed growth hormone, antibiotics and other drugs regularly? Do they get fed non-organic feed?

When you have to buy processed food, stick to ones that have fewer than five ingredients. Always read the label. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, avoid that food item.

About the Author

Tom writes for CleansingMatters.com, a respected detox and clean living website. Visit the website to get advice from health experts, access free cleansing diet programs and view further information about the Isogenics cleanse, a popular natural program that helps people restore natural balance and remove toxins and impurities.

Yowzers! How do you like that for an exhaustive list of poisons found in our food supply – that our governments approve!? Did Tom miss any? 

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