Do you know what you’re eating?

by Amy Renee
Do you know what you’re eating?

I love what I eat. I crave whole, delicious, fresh foods and feel great too!

When people find out that I practice and advocate a plant-based lifestyle I often receive comments such as, “I need real food,” or “how can you live off that stuff.” I can only smile and accept the fact that their ignorance has led them to believe that my diet is odd when in fact they are the ones eating synthetic chemicals and altered foods that lead to a myriad of health conditions from simple allergies to fatal cancers.

Sound crazy? Too far fetched to be true? Consider this, many of the food additives we allow in our processed foods here in the U.S. are illegal in other countries such as Australia, Austria, Canada, China, New Zealand, Japan, the U.K., and most European countries. For example, brominated vegetable oil is banned in over 100 countries, but still used here in the U.S.

Ever since food additives started appearing in food products and processed foods became more prevalent, rates of chronic disease increased as well. The public needs to be more aware of how damaging a diet full of chemical additives can be to their health. Most people think they are protected by the government, but in reality that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The food industry often finds loopholes around labeling laws with powerful lobbying efforts in play to protect manufacturers at the consumers’ expense. For example, in light of recent evidence that trans fats lead to adverse health conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer, a law has been established that requires food manufacturers to include the amount of trans fats in their products. The loophole? If the serving size of the food product contains less then 0.5 grams of trans fats, the manufacturer isn’t required to put it on the label. This is why you should ALWAYS check the ingredients and look for the words “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated oils” because then you know that there are in fact trans fats in the product.

Here’s another way savvy food manufacturers use advertising to make their foods look healthier: Certain claims can be made on products for reasons that confuse naïve consumers. For example, if a can of peaches soaking in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contains no fat it can be labeled as “heart healthy” because it contains no fat. But it has HFCS!!!

Finally, if a label has “added benefits” – like say the manufacturer added fiber to a food product to make it “heart healthy,” this should be a red flag. Any food that has to have something added back to it in order for it to be considered healthy IS NOT A HEALTHY OPTION! You should be getting nutrients in their original, whole food form.

Don’t fall for marketing scams. Learn how to read and understand nutrition facts labels by reading my post here. The ingredients list is probably the most important part of the nutrition facts label as this is where the dangerous additives will be listed. Below is a long list of some of the most common additives used here in the U.S., but this is only a portion! I chose to include these because they are some of the most concerning. If you consume products that contain these substances every now and then – like at a friend’s party or a restaurant, I wouldn’t stress over it. I DO recommend however that you stop purchasing items that contain these chemicals for everyday consumption. Of course if you have certain food allergies or extreme sensitivities to additives such as MSG, you’ll probably want to inquire about them in the food you order at restaurants.

So look at the long list of chemicals below and you tell me what real food is. Is my plant-based lifestyle full of whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and delicious fruits and vegetables real food? Or are the chemicals added to processed junk foods below to make them look better and last for months and months what you consider “real” food? Hmmm. It’s not even a question to me. And I don’t think it should be to you either.


I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial – the one where the guy dressed up like a sun takes the “bird food” from the girl and gives her the greasy microwaved sandwich acting like it’s so much more filling and at only 260 calories it’s a healthy choice to keep her full and satisfied all morning long.

Umm…sorry, but CAN YOU SEE HOW LONG THE INGREDIENT LIST IS??? And just look at how many awful ingredients are in there. This sandwich is FAR from healthy!

So let’s take a look at a couple of things. First let’s look at the nutrition facts label. At first glance an innocent consumer might think this is healthy since there are only 260 calories per sandwich. But look at how much saturated fat: 6 grams – that’s 30% of the entire sandwich! And look at the total calories from fat: 110 calories are from fat, so basically 42% of the sandwich is fat, and it’s not the good kind of fat! Then look at the trans fat: 0 grams. Consider what I said about trans fats above – the manufacturer isn’t required to put this on the label since there is less than 0.5 grams per serving. Well, as you can see there is in fact trans fat in this breakfast sandwich. See the encircled partially hydrogenated oils. And if you’re eating a lot of processed, packaged foods in a day or even in a week, chances are you are consuming too much trans fats without even knowing it! That’s not even considering the other disease promoting ingredients listed such as the HFCS or the incredibly high amount of sodium in this tiny sandwich!


I hope this is eye opening for you.


Acrylamides – This is a substance produced when certain foods are heated to above 248°F (120°C). They are found in especially high amounts in foods that have been heated at extremely high temperatures such as fried foods like French fries or potato chips. They don’t have to be listed on ingredients labels because they are not actually in the ingredients, but become present during the cooking process. Exposure to acrylamides substantially increases the risk to several types of cancer in animal studies, and several case-control human studies found correlations between acrylamide exposure and cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, large bowel, kidney, breast, and ovary. Additionally, exposure to acrylamides in the work place has caused neurological damage in workers.

Artificial food dye – Every single food coloring is derived from tar. Yes, coal tar! And every single one is a known carcinogen, yet artificial food dyes are continually added to all kinds of processed foods from cake mixes to candy to cold cereal and more for the sole purpose of making the food product look a specific way. Not only do they promote the initiation and/or promotion of several types of cancer, they also contribute to other adverse health conditions including asthma, nerve cell damage, hyperactivity, hives, learning disabilities, and lower IQs in children. Artificial food dyes have also been linked to heart, liver, thyroid, stomach, and reproductive system problems.

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, AminoSweet) – This is used as an artificial sweetener in “diet,” “no-sugar-added,” and “sugar-free” processed food products such as yogurts, diet sodas, drink mixes, gelatin desserts, frozen desserts, jams and fruit spread, candy, chewing gum, and breakfast cereals. For decades research has shown that aspartame posed a risk for several types of cancer and neurological disorders, but proponents of the sweetener argue that humans would have to ingest large amounts to be affected. Several years of intake could equate to large amounts however.

Azodicarbonamide (ADC) – This chemical, also found in yoga mats and shoe rubber acts as a bleaching agent in bread products to condition the dough and improve the bread’s texture. ADC forms two suspicious chemicals when bread is baked. The first, semicarbazide (SEM) has been shown to cause lung and blood vessel cancers in animal studies. The other, urethane, is a known carcinogen. In addition to the concerns caused by these two chemicals, ADC has been known to stimulate asthma in humans.

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) – This is a substance added to food products that makes food dye stick to liquid. It is often used in citrus flavored sodas, sports and fruit drinks. Bromine, a chemical used in flame retardants, builds up in the body and causes adverse effects including disruptions in growth, neurological problems, schizophrenia, birth defects, hearing and memory loss, and major organ damage.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) & butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – These are petroleum derived substances used as preservatives and stabilizers in processed foods such as cereals, nut mixes, gum, meat, and dried potatoes. They are carcinogens and neurotoxins and can cause hives, hay fever, wheezing, fatigue, and asthma. They have also been shown to have adverse affects to the kidneys, thyroid, liver, stomach, and reproductive system. They are also hormone disruptors.

Caramel color – This substance is made by heating sugar with ammonium compounds, acids, or alkalis to form brown syrup. It is added to many processed foods and beverages such as colas, baked goods, pre-cooked meat products, beer, and sauces. The main purpose of adding caramel color to food products is to make the food appear a certain way, but when caramel color is produced using ammonia two carcinogens are formed in the process: 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole.

Carmine (a.k.a. crimson lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, Cochineal, and E120) – This is a pink-red dye considered “all natural” since it is produced from dried cochineal bugs. It is found in berry-flavored yogurts, smoothies, candies, ice creams, and other pink-red processed food products. This ingredient appears to be safe for most people who are not allergic; although some strict vegans become very angry when they find out they’ve been eating bugs!

Carrageenan – This substance is used as a thickener and stabilizer in processed foods such as cottage cheese, whipped cream, salad dressings, chocolate milk, ice creams, jelly, and sorbet. Carrageenan is derived from a certain type of seaweed. It is unclear whether the degraded form of carrageenan causes cancer. Some people may experience some mild to moderate gastrointestinal discomfort from this food additive.

Cellulose – This is added to processed foods to improve texture or to be used as a stabilizer. It is often added to low-carbohydrate foods to give texture to the food without adding carbohydrates. There are not any known long-term dangers of consuming cellulose, but since it is a non-digestible fiber (cellulose is basically sawdust), it often comes with gastrointestinal side effects such as mild cramping, flatulence, diarrhea, or constipation.

Corn syrup – Used as a sweetener and thickener in many types of candy, syrups, and other processed snack foods, corn syrup is basically cornstarch that has been treated with acids or enzymes to create a substance that consists mostly of dextrose.

Diacylglycerol – This is a substance that manufacturers add to foods with the claim that it will reduce triglyceride levels.

Enriched flours – Some processed foods will have the label “whole grains” on them, yet the first or second ingredient will be “enriched flours,” meaning all of the nutritional value has been stripped from it and synthetic vitamins and minerals are added back to the flour afterward. A food product only has to have a small part of whole grains contained in it to claim that it “contains whole grains.” Don’t fall for this scam. Look at the ingredients. If it contains any enriched ingredients it’s not a whole grain.

Genetically-modified (GMO) foods – This occurs when scientists that work for food manufacturers alter the genes of plants or animals in an attempt to make the organism get desired traits such as resistance to disease, grow larger, etc. Although the first attempts at genetically modifying food products was to increase production yield and reduce the time of cultivation in order to feed starving populations, the process of “messing with nature” has led to drastic outcomes from minor to severe including everything from skin rashes to cancer initiation and promotion. I highly encourage people try hard to avoid consuming GMO foods.

Hexane-extracted soy and rice proteins – Hexane is a volatile solvent that is used to extract oil from soybeans and other foods such as rice, olives and nuts. Hexane is considered an air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Environmental exposure to hexane has been linked to neurological disorders, but it is unclear whether or not consumption of food products processed with hexane results in adverse health effects. To avoid hexane processed foods look for “cold-pressed oils,” “non GMO soy foods,” and “USDA 100% organic foods” on the label.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – This substance starts out as cornstarch and is treated with acids or enzymes to break down most of the starch to form glucose subunits. Additional enzymes convert some of those glucose subunits into fructose. Manufacturers love to use this in place of real sugar in processed foods such as snack foods, soda and other sweetened beverages. HFCS has been implicated in the development of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in studies. Manufacturers like to claim HFCS is the same as regular sugar, but for several reasons it is not. Most corn is genetically modified, thus HFCS would be considered a GMO food. Since consumers have become aware of the adverse effects to health caused by HFCS consumption, manufacturers have started to replace “HFCS” or “corn syrup” with simply “fructose” due to the fact that they claim it is biochemically processed the same as sugar.

Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) – This is a process in which manufacturers convert polyunsaturated fats into saturated fats in order to increase the shelf life of the products they are used in. This process produces a very unhealthy type of fat called trans fat that the body does not recognize and has been known to contribute to several adverse health effects in humans including coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, liver dysfunction, colon cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. The adverse health effects of trans fats are so well known that consumers are becoming savvy as to what to look for in the ingredients list. For this reason some manufacturers have started to remove them from their products in order to reduce the risk of decreased sales.

Maltodextrin – This is used as a texturizer in processed food products. It consists of short chains of glucose molecules, usually from corn, potato, or rice, but sometimes from wheat starch which can be dangerous for people who are allergic to wheat.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – This is used in place of more expensive spices as a flavor enhancer in processed foods such as soups and soup starters, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees, dips, and in many restaurant foods (where it hasn’t been outlawed). Animal studies have shown that MSG causes brain nerve cell death. Several human studies found that many people are sensitive to MSG, experiencing symptoms ranging from mild to severe and including headache, nausea, weakness, burning sensation in the back of the neck and forearms, wheezing, heart rate palpitations, and difficulty breathing. Other food additives that include glutamate but are often not listed on ingredient labels as “monosodium glutamate” include torula yeast, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured soy protein, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and modified cornstarch.

Mycoprotein (Quorn brand foods) – This is a meat substitute made from processed mold (Fusarium venenatum), and for some individuals who are allergic can be deadly. It has been found that many people are sensitive to mycoprotein with symptoms including vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and potentially fatal anaphylaxis.

Olestra (olean) – Olestra, also known as olean is a fat replacement that is not absorbed by the body, thus manufacturers are able to reduce the amount of calories in their food products. Since this is a chemical the body doesn’t recognize, the lower calorie count comes with several gastrointestinal side effects including abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fecal urgency, flatulence, more frequent and looser bowel movements and even anal leakage. Not only that, but research studies have shown that eating olestra-containing foods reduce blood levels of fat-soluble nutrients such as carotenoids.

Polysorbate 60 (polyoxyethylene-[20]-sorbitan monostearate) – This food additive acts as an emulsifier, thickener, and stabilizer. Since it has an extremely long shelf life it often replaces dairy or other liquid products in processed foods such as cake mix, frozen desserts, salad dressings, doughnuts, foods with artificial chocolate coating, and non-dairy whipped topping. Although polysorbate 60 has been recognized as generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, it is often found to be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane which is a known carcinogen.

Potassium benzoate – used as a preservative in processed foods such as sodas and fruit juices. It is a derivative of petroleum or coal and is known to cause asthma, hives, and eczema in some people. Individuals who are sensitive to aspirin are especially susceptible. Benzene is formed when potassium benzoate is mixed with citric acid (ascorbic acid) such as in citrus flavored beverages and is a known carcinogen.

Potassium bromate – Used to decrease baking time by conditioning dough and also acts as a bleaching agent. Potassium bromate is a known carcinogen and mutagen and has caused kidney, stomach, and thyroid tumors in animal studies. It has also been shown to cause neurological disorders and kidney damage.

Propyl gallate – This is an antioxidant preservative that is added to vegetable oils, meat products, chicken soups, chewing gums, potato chips and other processed foods. It is often used together with BHA and BHT to extend the shelf life of fats and oils. Several animal studies show that propyl gallate causes several types of cancer and also interferes with the body’s endocrine system, causing adverse reproductive, neurological, developmental, and immunological effects.

Propylene glycol alginate (E405) – This additive is used as a thickening agent and/or emulsifier in processed foods such as yogurts, jellies and jams, ice cream, salad dressings, and chewing gum. Although it is considered safe and one of the most commonly used food additives on the market, it often causes side effects in individuals such as nausea and other gastrointestinal problems. When used topically, such as in cosmetics it has been known to cause skin rashes. There has been some concern that this substance could cause birth defects, kidney and liver damage, and seizures in children.

Saccharin – This is an artificial sweetener used in many “diet,” “no-sugar-added,” or “sugar-free” processed foods and beverages. Animal studies show that saccharin causes bladder, uterus, ovarian, skin, blood vessel, and other cancers. Proponents of saccharin argue that humans would have to ingest large amounts of the chemical in order to be affected. However, years and years of consuming diet soda and other “sugar-free” products and the like could possibly contribute to the development of cancer.

Sodium benzoate (benzoic acid) – This is used as a preservative in processed foods such as sodas, fruit juices, vinegar, and pharmaceuticals. When it is combined with citric acid (ascorbic acid) such as in citrus flavored sodas a carcinogen known as benzene is formed. Benzene has been shown to cause cell death, damage to mitochondria cells, DNA damage, ADHD, and leukemia.

Sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate – This is used as a preservative in processed and smoked meats and fish. It helps the food product retain its color (keeps hot dogs from turning gray for example). Adding this to food however can lead to the formation of nitrosamines which are known carcinogens, especially when the food product is fried such as with bacon. There are several studies that correlate processed meat consumption with a significant increase in risk for chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases (stroke, heart attack, hypertension, etc.), and type 2 diabetes.

Sucralose (Splenda) – This is used as an artificial sweetener added to many processed foods that are labeled “diet,” “sugar-free,” or “no-sugar-added.” Some studies have found that sucralose caused leukemia in mice, but others did not. Several studies found that sucralose caused disturbances in gut bacteria leading to gastrointestinal disturbances. More research needs to be completed, but individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) or who are sensitive to other additives may want to stay clear of sucralose to avoid gastrointestinal upset.

Synthetic growth hormones rBGH & rBST & a variety of steroid hormones (estradiol, progesterone, testosterone zeranol, trenbolone acetate, and melengesterol acetate) – Used as a way to increase profits by making young animals gain weight faster, reducing the amount of money spent on animal feed, and increasing milk production in dairy cows. The hormones given to animals are also found in the meat and milk ingested by consumers and cause early puberty in girls which is associated with increased risk for breast cancer. In individuals who already have cancer, hormones in animal foods has been linked to an increase tumor growth.

Yeast extract, torula yeast, autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured soy protein, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate – These food additives are basically a sneaky way that food manufacturers add monosodium glutamate (MSG) to food products without consumers knowing. Free glutamate is the active ingredient of MSG and in order for a manufacturer to be required to list MSG in the ingredients list of the food product there must be at least 78% of free glutamate. It’s cheaper for food manufacturers to use these additives in place of natural spices to enhance the flavor of the food products. Some products that include yeast extract (or one of other above additives) will still label their food as “no added MSG,” which may be technically true, but deceptive nonetheless. Several vegetarian products, especially meat-replacers such as veggie burgers often have one of these substances added to them. They may not be called “MSG,” but they still affect MSG-sensitive people in the same way (skin rashes, nausea, migraine headaches, heart palpitations, and even seizures), so it’s important to be aware of these ingredients.


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