Undercover Additives: What’s Hiding in Your Foods?


We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” But, do you really know what is in the foods you’re eating? With more than 10,000 additives in the foods we consume as a nation (many of which are banned in other parts of the world), it’s hard to know which additives are safe and which you should avoid.

We’re listing some of the most common additives you should ditch to help equip you and your family on your journey to becoming ToxicFree®.

Nitrates and Nitrites
Commonly Found In: cured meats, drinking water

You Should Know: Environmental Protection Agency refers to nitrates and nitrites as “chemicals used in fertilizers, in rodenticides (to kill rodents), and as food preservatives.” Although Nitrates are a normal part of the diet and can be naturally found in fruits and vegetables, sodium nitrate and potassium nitrite are added to cured meat to preserve its color, prevent fats from going rancid, and stop bacteria from growing.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to environmental nitrates and nitrites during pregnancy may increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as anemia, premature labor or preeclampsia. Excessive nitrate or nitrite exposure can result in acute acquired methemoglobinemia, a serious health condition.

To rid your diet of nitrates and nitrites, eat as many fresh-cooked meats as possible and read the labels of foods to make sure they do not contain these chemicals.

Artificial Dyes
Commonly Found In: candy, cereal, soda, ice cream, pudding, cakes, cookies, snacks and many other processed foods

You Should Know: On the ToxicFree® Blog, Healthy Home co-founder Brittany Glynn talks about the dangers of artificial dyes including FD&C Red #40 and Yellow #5 and #6. According to a study by The Center for Science in The Public Interest, common food dyes pose risks such as hyperactivity in children and allergies.

Many of the foods that contain these dyes are intentionally marketed toward kids, which can put our children at a greater risk for developing the harmful side effects associated with artificial dye. Avoiding “junk food” is a good way to remove artificial dyes from your family’s diet. Recently, Kraft made an announcement about removing artificial dyes from some of their mac and cheese products.

Potassium Bromate
Commonly Found In: bread, crackers, chips

You Should Know: Potassium bromate is illegal in the European Union, Canada, Brazil, China and elsewhere because it is a known carcinogen in rats.  Even though it has been banned all over the world, it is still widely used in the U.S. in breads, chips and other baked snacks to help dough rise while baking. Though it’s found in some foods, potassium bromate isn’t a necessary chemical. Make sure to check labels to find foods that don’t contain this chemical.

Commonly Found In: lard, butter, cereal, instant mashed potatoes, beer, potato chips, baked goods, dessert mixes, chewing gum and other foods

You Should Know: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is used as a food preservative as well as in food packaging, animal feed, cosmetics, rubber and petroleum products, and some medicines. It is also used as an antioxidant to preserve foods and keep them “fresh” longer.

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), the chemical cousin to BHA, has the same use. The two compounds are commonly used in conjunction.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest lists BHA as a chemical to avoid and states it is “unsafe in amounts consumed or is very poorly tested and not worth any risk,” and BHT as a chemical you should consume with caution because it “may pose a risk and needs to be better tested. Try to avoid.”

It may seem almost impossible to escape the over 10,000 additives that are in our foods, but you can do your part to remove the most dangerous chemicals. To find ways to avoid ingesting these additives, visit the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores Database to help you and your family navigate these undercover additives.

Image and content courtesy of Healthy Home Company’s ToxicFree Blog

Perla Middleton
Founding Member
Healthy Home Company