Do you read the labels on food packages? If not, it’s time to start. Like changing your sheets (somewhat) regularly, this is one of those things mom told you to do that you actually should, because a lot of products sitting on supermarket shelves are really sketchy.
Case in point: certain ingredients that are illegal in parts of Europe, but still allowed -- and widely used -- in the United States. Whether they’re banned by the European Union or select European states (like the United Kingdom), the following additives are considered by some countries too dangerous to consume. Here’s what you need to know about what might be in your American food.
Where you may be eating it: Milk and yogurt
Why it’s used: Injected into cows to boost milk production
Why it's banned: These growth hormones are banned in the EU, Canada, and Japan, and for good reason. rBGH can cause a bunch of nasty medical conditions in cows, which leads to increased antibiotic use, which means more antibiotics in milk. It’s also known for upping the presence of IGF, a hormone that’s linked to breast, colon and prostate cancer. Fun stuff!
Where you may be eating it: Pork, beef, and turkey
Why it’s used: Increases lean muscle at the end of an animal’s life
Why it’s banned: Tests show that this additive can affect the cardiovascular system in both humans and animals. The European Food Safety Authority’s 2009 review of the additive references a study in which one man dropped out because of “an increase in heart rate and sensation of heart pounding.” Ractopamine’s also connected to a quarter of a million cases of adverse reaction in pigs, ranging from hyperactivity to death.
Potassium bromate (bromated flour)
Where you may be eating it: Hamburger and hot dog buns, and other packaged baked goods
Why it’s used: Makes bread fluffier and whiter
Why it’s banned: Since the ’80s, plenty of studies have been done on potassium bromate as a potential human carcinogen. In rats and mice, it’s believed to cause thyroid and kidney cancer. That’s why it’s banned not just in the EU, but also in China, Canada, and Brazil. Not here though. America!
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)
Where you may be drinking it: Sports beverages and sodas
Why it’s used: Keeps flavor from floating to the surface
Why it’s banned: There’s limited research on BVO, but scientists fear that, when consumed in large amounts, it can build up in fatty tissue and cause nerve disorders. Seriously, this stuff is a flame retardant. That just can’t be good for your insides.
Where you may be eating it: Fat-free chips
Why it’s used: Substitutes fat
Why it’s banned: Olestra isn’t allowed in the U.K. and Canada because it reduces fat-soluble vitamins in the body. It’s also linked to diarrhea, cramps and other equally unattractive gastrointestinal problems -- like anal leakage, which is as gross as it sounds.
Wow you may be eating it: Frozen dinners, pasta mix and packaged baked goods
Why it’s used: Bleaches flour rapidly
Why it’s banned: This additive is also used to make plastic for sneakers and yoga mats, so you see exactly where this is going. Azodicarbonamide is linked to asthma and respiratory illnesses, and since it’s ALSO used to treat plastic, the EU banned it from being used in containers that will come into contact with food. What’s scary is, according to research by the Environmental Working Group, it’s used in over 500 common supermarket products.
Coloring agents (Red #40, Yellow #6, Yellow #5, and Blue #1)
Where you may be eating/drinking them: Cake mix, candy, soda and sports beverages
Why they're used: Changes food color
Why they're banned: Synthetic colors are illegal in the U.K. because of links to hyperactivity and inattention in children -- oh you know, and they’re derived from petroleum. Research also shows some dyes are used in much larger amounts than consumers are aware of. In the EU, coloring agents are legal with special labels (the U.S. doesn’t do that).
BHA and BHT
Where you may be eating/drinking them: Gum, cereal, vegetable oil, butter and beer
Why they're used: Makes food last longer
Why they're banned: Not only can you find these two preservatives in edibles, but also rubber products and packaging materials. Now that’s just gross. It’s banned in the U.K. and throughout Europe, thanks to research that shows it could be linked to cancer.