Read Your Labels: A Pair of Preservatives to Beware Of
From our Read Your Labels Campaign, an installment in the series “Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid”, courtesy of Linda Bonvie
What if we told you that two closely-related preservatives, commonly-added to scores of processed foods (many of them for kids), are banned in Japan and most European countries; have been found to alter brain chemistry in mice when they are exposed prenatally; that one is listed as a carcinogen by the state of California, and that by adding these chemicals to its list of “eliminated” ingredients, the Feingold Diet success rate for treating kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) almost doubled!
Well, listen up, because this pair of preservatives, commonly added to our food for the sole purpose of extending its shelf life to increase manufacturers’ profits, are the next unnecessary, harmful ingredients we urge you avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign,
Number 8: BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoulene)
Sometimes we get so used to seeing certain ingredients listed on labels that it seems they must be OK. Such is the case with BHT and BHA, which are used in scores of products, such as cereals, snack foods, chewing gum, pies, cakes, processed meats and even beer. These industrial preservatives are also sprayed onto the lining of food packages.
BHA and BHT, which are actually made from coal tar or petroleum, have been the focus of behavioral and health concerns for decades, although the Food and Drug Administration continues to allow the use of these industrial anti-oxidants in food products (as well as medicines and cosmetics).
Over 30 years ago studies found that after pregnant mice were fed BHT and BHA, their offspring were born with altered brain chemistry. According to the researchers, “the affected mice weighed less, slept less and fought more than normal controls.” On top of that, BHA is considered a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization and listed as a carcinogen in California.
While there are many cereals available that don’t contain these or any other chemical preservatives for that matter (including organic varieties), one of the biggest producers of breakfast cereal, Kellogg’s, is also one of the bigger users of BHT, which we found in practically every Kellogg’s cereal we looked at – including its cornerstone product, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
A brand is only as good as its ingredients
Fortunately, many shoppers are no longer willing to accept the presence of such unsavory additives simply because the products that harbor them are put out by “trusted” brands.
“I don’t understand why they use these toxic preservatives when there are alternatives,” noted one, New Jersey resident Dan Brown, who banished his kids’ favorite cereal, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, from the house when he learned about the harmful effects of the BHT it contains.
Consumers seem to want what Mom’s Best is offering. The company is now number three in the ready-to-eat cereal market.
Brown, a stay-at-home dad and professional musician, who says his family goes through “a lot of cereal,” was so angry with what he read about BHT and BHA, that he wrote Kellogg’s, saying he had found another brand that was cheaper “without BHT and other additives and chemicals,” telling the company, “I am sorry that you feel that you have to poison me and my family to make a profit on your food; maybe you should rethink your business plan…”
One company that seems to have carefully considered its business plan is Mom’s Best Cereals. Based in Minneapolis, this four-generation family-owned business makes 10 cereals containing no high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or artificial flavors or preservatives such as BHA or BHT. Now ranked third in sales in the U.S. ready-to-eat cereal market, Mom’s Best has managed to win over consumers such as Brown, who have ditched the big-brand cereals such as Kellogg’s and General Mills for ones containing better ingredients.
“Once you learn what’s really in these products, you can’t go back, especially when you’re feeding it to your kids. For manufacturers to put harmful ingredients in food marketed to kids just blows my mind,” says Brown, whose advice to other parents is to “read the label, no matter how hard that can be when you’re shopping, especially shopping with kids. But you’ve got to do it.”
Stay tuned as we continue our countdown of the top ten ingredients to avoid including a soda additive that’s also used as a flame retardant, a known carcinogen that is still in baked goods in the U.S. because it helps food manufacturers make more money and a very common flavoring additive that kills brain cells.