If you eat fast foods, refined and processed foods, you’re ingesting a whole lot of disgusting things you’d probably never touch if you knew they were in them – and, of course, the companies that make those foods certainly aren’t going to advertise that.
The lists of ingredients found on packaged foods read more like chemistry homework than something that you’d want you or your family to eat – and in many cases, it’s not only those that are listed, but marketers have discovered ways of keeping toxic additives and a host of disgusting, disease-promoting ingredients off the label altogether, making it harder than ever for consumers to know what they’re getting in the first place.
Some of you may wonder, “Doesn’t the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies ensure that you aren’t eating stuff that will kill you?” While that is true to a point, they often don’t seem to consider ingredients that seem just plain wrong, or those that can slowly do damage over time, in their calculations.
1. Cochineal beetles
A few years ago, Starbucks announced that it would stop using a red food dye made from crushed bugs, but the popular coffee maker is far from the only user of this nasty additive. Anytime that you see a list of ingredients that includes carmine, natural red 4 or cochineal extra, you can be sure that it contains powdered beetles.
The beetles come primarily from Peru and the Canary Islands, where they’re sun-dried, crushed, and then dipped in an acidic alcohol solution to produce carminic acid, the pigment that eventually becomes carmine or cochineal extract, depending on processing. About 70,000 of the little creatures are needed to produce a pound of dye, according to Live Science.
While the idea that any food or beverage manufacturer would try to feed insects to the population seems pretty bizarre, the alternatives may actually be worse. Synthetic red dyes like Red No. 40 come with far greater health risks, and are derived from either petroleum byproducts or coal. Compared with those, the bugs almost sound appetizing. In addition to food, cochineal is used as a dye in cosmetic products like lipstick.
2. Beaver anal secretions
Listed as castoreum or “natural flavoring,” this ingredient is a liquid found in castor sac scent glands near a beaver’s anus. While this may be the grossest sounding ingredient of them all, the liquid is often used as a substitute for vanilla flavoring.
While castoreum is certainly natural, that doesn’t mean that you’d necessarily want to consume it, especially in this situation.
Just because natural flavors come from something natural, does not necessarily make them healthy either. For example, strawberry flavor does not always come from strawberries or blackberry flavor from blackberries. Cystine is a natural conditioner used in dough that is made from duck feathers and human hair. Maltodextrin, made from genetically-modified corn and the main ingredient in some “all-natural” sweeteners such as stevia, and those are considered natural too.
When it comes to the natural flavoring made from the anal secretions of beavers, castoreum is the substance found in the castor sacs of the male and female beaver. It’s an “aromatic” liquid that’s blended with urine and used for territorial marking. An overwhelming majority of raspberry flavored foods are made from these secretions, including yogurt, ice cream candy and even tea – the FDA claims that they’re totally safe. While that may be, it’s not really something we’d want to put into our bodies.
3. Human hair
How do you feel when you find a hair in your food – or even worse, find it in your mouth when eating something and realize that it’s definitely not yours. Well, it might make you gag just a bit to find out that human hair is frequently used intentionally as an ingredient in foods – as a flavor enhancer of all things. L-Cysteine is a compound made from human hair and duck feathers, and it’s fairly common in commercial breads, bagels and cakes.
4. Toxic flame retardant
Who would willingly drink a flame retardant? Well, if you drink soda like Mountain Dew (as well as some Powerade beverages and other juices, sodas and sports drinks), you may be doing just that. Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, is something that was originally used to prevent plastics from catching fire. Today, it’s used to keep artificial flavoring chemicals from separating from the rest of the liquids.
Researchers have linked BVO to bromide poisoning symptoms, including nerve disorders, psychiatric conditions, skin lesions and memory loss.
5. Fish bladders
A round of beers might sound like a great way to celebrate with vegetarian and vegan friends alike, but if those non-animal eating friends knew what kind of beer they were drinking, they’d probably pour it right down the sink. Isinglass is a gelatin-like substance made from the bladder of a fish. It’s added to cask beers and Guinness, to help remove any “haziness” from the final product by removing any residue yeast or solid particles in the beer. That means you’re probably getting at least a trace of fish bladder in every pint.
6. Paint chemical
You’d never think about taking a drink from that paint can as you’re redecorating your home’s interior, but if you eat processed salad dressings or put coffee creamer in your cup of java, that’s just what you’re doing, albeit on a smaller scale. Titanium dioxide is a component of the metallic element titanium, a mined substance that is sometimes contaminated with toxic lead.
The food industry adds it to hundreds of products to make dingy, overly processed items look whiter. Food industry insider Bruce Bradley, who shares the traps, tricks and ploys of big food manufacturers, explains on his blog, BruceBradley.com: “White has long been the symbolic color of ‘clean.’ Funny, when you use real food, you don’t need any of these crazy additives–I think I prefer the real deal.”
Titanium dioxide is commonly used in paints and sunscreens, and big food corporations add it to lots of things we eat, like processed salad dressing, coffee creamers, and icing.
7. Mites and maggots
Reaching for that tin of mushrooms rather than going for the fresh alternative? You can expect to get up to 19 maggots and 74 mites in each one. You know, because the FDA always sets such high standards when it comes to food.
If you didn’t know already, maggots aren’t exactly appetizing – they’re fly larvae, tiny rice-shaped creatures that live off rotting foods. And, yes, the Food and Drug Administration legally allows a maximum of 74 mites and 19 maggots in a 3.5-ounce can of mushrooms.
8. Wood pulp
Wood pulp certainly doesn’t sound as bad as beaver anal secretions or maggots, but it’s really not something you should be eating. Cellulose, which is made primarily from wood pulp and cotton, is used to manufacture paper, and is also added to some foods like shredded cheese, in order to keep those little strands from sticking together. It’s also found in ice cream. Experts say that it’s a “very innocuous material” that humans cannot digest.
9. Cloned cow’s stomach
Rennet is something that’s well-known to be used by cheesemakers traditionally. It’s derived from the mucosa of a veal calf’s fourth stomach to create the popular dairy product. Food industry insider Bradley has remarked that with the cost and the limited availability of calf stomachs, this has led to the development of a number of alternatives, including vegetable rennet, microbial rennet, and, the food industry’s rennet of choice – a genetically modified version derived from a cloned calf gene. And, it’s used to make the “vast majority of cheese sold in the U.S.”
Of course, as of yet, GMO ingredients still aren’t required to be listed on food labels, which makes it difficult for consumers to avoid it. Bradley explains, “With all these rennet varieties often listed simply as ‘enzymes’ on an ingredient panel, it can be very hard to know exactly what kind you’re eating when you buy cheese.”
Borax is a commonly used home cleaning agent – and, you’ll see it listed as E285 on ingredient labels. It’s used as a food preservative in caviar. While, E285 is banned from most foods in the U.S., imported caviar that’s been preserved with E285 can still be purchased here.
11. Silicone breast implant filler
You probably already know that McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets aren’t exactly the healthiest food you can eat, but did you know that they’re really not anything close to what you’d call actually chicken? They’re actually made up of only about 50% chicken. Dimethylpolysiloxane, a chemical used in silicone that’s found in breast implant filler as well as Silly Putty, is used in the frying oil to prevent it spitting and bubbling.
12. Flesh-eating bacteria
Meat you purchase from the grocery store contains a host of disgusting things you’d never purposely put into your mouth. They’re commonly infused with heavy metals, veterinary medicines, and staph bacteria – and that includes the potentially lethal and hard to eradicate MRSA strain.
A recent study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases discovered that half of grocery store meat tested contained staph bacteria. Researchers identified the overuse of antibiotics in industrial agriculture as a major cause for the dramatic increase of superbugs in grocery store foods. What’s even more disturbing is that MRSA kills nearly 19,000 people every year in the United States, which is more deaths than from aids in America. Your best bet for avoiding it is to only purchase grass-fed meats (and eggs) from organic farmers.
13. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
BHT is actually an antioxidant – and, antioxidants are important for our health, right? Well, not all of them. Some are definitely better than others, and BHT is certainly an “other.” This is a compound that is known to help keep foods fresh longer than they normally would, especially breakfast cereals. It’s also a chemical used as an additive in jet fuel. But, hey, you know it does manage to keep those corn flakes staying crunchy for weeks.
14. Silicone dioxide
Silicone dioxide is basically sand. You know, that stuff that gets all up into your bathing suit, in your hair, and in your car, when you go to the beach. It’s great at absorbing just about anything, particularly humidity that causes food to clump together. And, it’s for that reason that sand is often found in soups, coffee creamer, and salts. It’s considered a “flow agent,” and while swallowing sand while you’re at the beach probably never hurt you, it generally won’t hurt you when you eat it during a meal either, it’s just not very appetizing.
15. Sheep secretions
Do you chew a lot of gum? If so, you’re chewing up a goopy, oily secretion found in sheep’s wool known as lanolin. These greasy secretions are used as softeners in foods and masked with the vague food label “gum base.” Lanolin is not only used as an emollient in chewing gum, but in cosmetics, sunscreen and baby products.
16. A toilet bowl cleaning agent
Enjoy munching on potato chips? Just remember the next time you take a bite that sodium bisulfite, which is used to extend the shelf-life of those chips, as well as to bleach out discoloration, is something used in most toilet bowl cleaning agents. It’s also added to fruit to help it keep its bright color, and used to prevent bacterial growth in wine. You might also consume it when eating processed potatoes and bottled lemon juice. While it’s generally safe for most people, those who suffer from severe asthma may want to stay away as it’s been associated with asthma attacks.
Other symptoms linked to sodium bisulfite include nausea, diarrhea, and hives, although those particular side effects have not been scientifically proven as of yet.
Propylene glycol is a chemical that’s frequently found in antifreeze. It’s also used in processed salad dressings as a thickening agent in the U.S. While you’re out of luck if you live in America and use those salad dressings, if you live in the European Union, you don’t have to worry about it as it’s not considered a legal food grade product, or direct food additive.