7 Worst Ingredients In Food ☠️ [AVOID]

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7 Worst Ingredients In Food
7 Worst Ingredients In Food ☠️ Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Product photos: Pixabay (PD)

Here are 7 of the WORST ingredients that are often found in processed foods, together with a detailed explanation of the reasons why you might want to avoid them!

This is a highly complex topic and even with this review (22 scientific references) I feel as though I barely scratched the surface…. however the overall conclusion is simple: Eat real food – and check ingredient labels carefully!

1. Artificial (And Some Natural) Food Coloring

These synthetic dyes are used to enhance the appearance of food but have been linked to behavioral issues in children and may have carcinogenic properties.

If I were to ask you whether you would like some 4,5,6,7-tetrachloro-2′,4′,5′,7′-tetraiodofluorescein disodium salt on your dinner, I expect you would probably say “Thanks, but I’ll stick with the regular table salt.”

However if I said “This food was colored with Rose Bengal, are you ok with that?” you would probably say “oh, that sounds nice”.

But those two are one and the same.

Rose Bengal, also known as Food Red No.105, is a red food coloring still used in Japan. [1] And it’s just one example. Welcome to the extremely complex and ever-shifting world of artificial food colors. This topic is an absolute rabbit hole – with a huge number of different potential food color chemicals – some being legal in different countries and banned in others.

The whole point of food is to nourish your body. Artificially making it bright colors is something that at the very best is completely non-nutritional. It has zero nutritional benefits. It’s not done in order to make your health improve in any way whatsoever. It’s done in order to sell more products. Bottom line. Food coloring is essentially a form of marketing – especially aimed at kids – and it’s intended effect is simple: To make them stick more of that sugar laden, chemical laden “stuff” you bought at the food store in their mouth.

Artificial food coloring is not food.

Numerous artificial food colors are now banned; principally because they were found to be harmful to children, causing behavioral problems. However, numerous other artificial colors are still permitted. The current list can be found here. [2]

So your natural conclusion would be just to avoid artificial colors and go for “natural colors”. I have bad news for you: There are significant problems here too. It ought to be no surprise when you learn that food manufacturers’ approach to food doesn’t really seem to change that much. They do what they can get away with, until something is banned, and then they move on to whatever else they can use. This process has in fact been going on for hundreds of years.

For example: Artificial color “Red 3” was banned several years ago because it was found to be carcinogenic.

What did they use instead…?

A “natural red” food color – Cochineal, also known as Carmine or Carminic acid (E120). Sounds great! Until you learn that it is derived from….. crushed insects.

This is not an internet myth. Cochineal really is made from crushed cochineal beetles.

It used to just say “color added” – they were not required to tell you what you are actually eating – until it was established that this “food ingredient”, if you can even call it that, is so harmful that the Center for Science in the Public Interest called for all insect-derived dyes to be removed from food. [3] Cochineal was reported to be responsible for hundreds of emergency room admissions [3], due to being an acute allergen to some people [4].

Due to these events, it is now required that cochineal is identified in food, yet it is still legal and is found in numerous red foods. If you are a vegetarian you probably ate it without even knowing, unless you are super cautious about ingredients! And even if you are not a vegetarian – do you really want to eat crushed bugs? They are pretty gross, take a look at the pics of cochineal insects at https://healthjade.net/cochineal/ if you are curious.

The worst thing about this, really, is that none of this is done in order to improve the food in ways that are what food is supposed to be: nutritious. It is done in order to give the food added visual appeal, purely for commercial reasons. Perhaps the food, being processed so heavily, would look so bland without these added colors that nobody would want to eat it..?

Another potential issue with natural colors is that of carry-over ingredients. Solvents including (but not limited to) hexane and acetone are used in the extraction of colors from natural materials. Traces of these chemicals can sometimes remain in the final product, however these do not need to be listed on the labeling. [2] So – can you believe it? – your “natural” food color may contain traces of neurotoxic [5] artificial solvents derived from crude oil… and you won’t even know.

2. Artificial Flavors

Artificial flavors are intricate combinations of chemicals designed to alter and enhance the taste and aroma of food. The absence of transparency in disclosing these ingredients poses a concern regarding the public’s right to information, particularly for individuals with rare food allergies or those following specific dietary restrictions.

Health Impacts of Artificial Flavorings

1. Comparative Analysis of Natural and Artificial Flavorings: A study by Sandy Mosia et al. compared natural strawberry flavors with artificial flavors created in a laboratory. The study found that artificial flavors had higher Specific Gravity (SG) and Refractive Index (RI), indicating more viscosity. Consumers showed a preference for natural over artificial flavors. This study suggests that artificial flavors, due to their complex chemical composition, might pose different sensory and possibly health impacts compared to natural flavors. [6]

2. Toxicological and Teratogenic Effects of Food Additives: Saseendran Sambu et al. conducted a review focusing on the harmful impacts of synthetic chemicals used as food additives. The review highlighted that certain additives, including artificial flavorings, are linked to health issues like asthma, ADHD, heart problems, cancer, obesity, and hormonal interference. The study emphasized the risks associated with long-term consumption of these additives, particularly in children and pregnant women, and advocated for the use of natural food additives derived from plants. [7]. Neslihan Öztürk and Hamid Ceylan reviewed the harmful effects of food additives, including artificial flavorings. They reported that additives such as artificial sweeteners, food dyes, sodium nitrite, and monosodium glutamate could cause health problems like heart issues, diabetes, obesity, and insulin resistance. This review underscores the need for careful monitoring and risk assessment of food additives to safeguard public health. [8]

3. Effect of Food Additives on Hormonal Imbalance in Children: A review by C. Agarwal and Gurseen Rakhra discussed the impact of food additives, including artificial flavorings, on hormonal imbalance in children. The study linked additives to allergies, asthma, cancer, metabolic changes, and behavioral abnormalities. It highlighted concerns about artificial food colors, Bisphenol A and S, nitrates, nitrites, phthalates, and bisphenols, which may disrupt the endocrine system, affecting growth, development, and metabolic functioning in children. [9]

Conclusion: The reviewed scientific literature indicates that artificial flavorings in food, along with other additives, can have significant health impacts. These include sensory differences, potential toxicity, hormonal imbalances, and risks of chronic diseases. The studies emphasize the need for more natural alternatives and stricter regulation and monitoring of artificial flavorings in the food industry.

3. Preservatives

The development of food processing has raised significant public concern about the safety of artificial additives in ultra-processed foods.

Specific Problematic Preservatives in 2023:

1. Sodium Benzoate: This preservative, commonly found in acidic foods and beverages, has raised health concerns due to its potential to form benzene, a known carcinogen, when combined with vitamin C. Studies have also linked sodium benzoate to hyperactivity in children and other adverse health effects. [10]

2. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): (see separate section)

3. Nitrites and Nitrates: Often used in processed meats to preserve color and prevent bacterial growth, nitrites and nitrates can form nitrosamines, compounds known for their carcinogenic properties. The consumption of foods containing these preservatives has been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.

4. Propyl Gallate: This preservative, used to prevent oxidation in products like edible fats, meat products, and soup mixes, has been scrutinized for its potential estrogenic effects and the possibility of promoting the growth of human breast cancer cells.

5. Sulfites: Commonly used in dried fruits, wines, and certain condiments, sulfites can cause allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals. The FDA has prohibited the use of sulfites in fresh fruits and vegetables due to these health concerns.

Bio-Preservation as an Alternative: Both consumers and industry experts often view chemical preservatives negatively. While acknowledging their role in reducing global food waste, there is a preference for products without chemical preservatives. This has led to the emergence of bio-preservation techniques, which use natural compounds like food-grade microorganisms, plant extracts, and animal-derived compounds to enhance food safety. Bio-preservation involves using microbes or their metabolic byproducts to extend the shelf life of foods while maintaining safety standards. This method is gaining traction due to its ability to use natural compounds like bacteriocins, bacteriophages, anti-fungal agents, flavonoids, essential oils, lysozyme, chitosan, and lactoferrin. These bio-preservatives can be used alone or in combination with other preservatives to improve food safety. [11]

4. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a widely used food additive, primarily as a flavor enhancer. Its use in various cuisines has been a topic of significant scientific controversy, particularly concerning its health implications

Health Impacts of MSG Consumption:

1. Symptoms of MSG Intolerance: A study by Melia Munasiah (2020) highlights that individuals who cannot tolerate more than 3g/day of MSG may experience adverse effects. These include a burning sensation in the back of the neck, spreading to the arms and chest, numbness, facial stiffness, chest pain, nausea, and drowsiness. However, the study concludes that there is no scientific evidence indicating long-term nerve cell damage due to MSG in food. [12]

2. MSG and Human Health Risks: Zahraa Hameed Al-Agili’s critical review (2020) discusses the potential health risks associated with frequent MSG use. The review addresses its impact on immune system cells, metabolic disorders leading to obesity and metabolic syndrome, and potential effects on kidney and liver health. This study emphasizes the famous saying of Paracelsus regarding dose and toxicity, suggesting that the health risks of MSG are dose-dependent. [13]

3. Chronic Exposure to MSG: A comprehensive review by A. Zanfirescu et al. (2019) investigates the alleged adverse effects of chronic MSG exposure. The review covers a range of potential risks, including cardiotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, neurotoxicity, metabolic disarray, and behavioral changes. However, it notes methodological flaws in preclinical studies and calls for further clinical and epidemiological studies with appropriate design to assess dietary MSG risk exposure accurately. [14]

5. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Sugar in any form can result in tooth decay, because it is food for the bacteria that cause the decay. However sugars in natural form, such as dried apricots, fresh bananas or apples are also sources of beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium and natural fiber. Added sugars, including sugar, fructose and HFCS contribute “empty calories” without any of these nutrients. They are directly responsible for obesity, spike blood sugar and contribute to various other diseases including diabetes.

HFCS is derived from corn (maize) and makes up around 40% of caloric sweeteners used in food and drinks. HFCS is typically a GMO crop and grown with pesticides – however on researching this I found a study that did not find pesticide residues in HFCS. [15]

One of the potential problems with HFCS is that unlike with regular sucrose, the fructose and glucose are not bonded together. It’s a common misconception (or perhaps a deliberate twist of logic) that HFCS is “essentially the same as regular sugar”. Researchers at UCLA found that cancer cells in the lab appeared to be able to identify readily the difference between fructose and glucose and metabolize them in separate ways, metabolizing fructose in order to increase cell proliferation. [16] This finding is of major significance and the researchers stated that refined fructose intake, in particular HFCS consumption, should be reduced across the board.

So we have obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and a possible cancer connection. That ought to be enough to persuade you. Look out also for foods containing crystalline fructose, fructose or agave syrup. In short, skip anything containing fructose apart from whole fruit.

6. BHA & BHT

Would you like some Butylated Hydroxytoluene in your dinner? Doesn’t sound good, does it? BHA & BHT are synthetic antioxidants used to extend shelf life in foods. They have been linked to cancer risk in animal studies and are suspected to be endocrine disruptors.

Health Impacts of BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole):

1. Toxicological Concerns: BHA, widely used for its antioxidant properties in food, has been found to cause thyroid system damage, metabolic and growth disorders, neurotoxicity, and carcinogenic effects. These adverse health impacts are attributed to mechanisms like endocrine disruption, genotoxicity, disturbances in energy metabolism, production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), altered signaling pathways, and imbalances in calcium homeostasis. [17]

2. Metabolites and Health Risks: BHA can produce various metabolites under different conditions, with tert-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) being a major product. The presence of BHA in various environmental matrices and human tissues raises concerns about its widespread use and the associated health risks. The review emphasizes the need for safe, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly alternatives to BHA. [17]

Health Impacts of BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene):

1. Daily Intake Estimates: A study conducted in Brazil estimated the theoretical maximum daily intakes (TMDI) of BHT, along with BHA and TBHQ. The study found that the calculated intakes of these additives for the average consumer were below the Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADIs). The TMDI for BHT ranged from 0.05 to 0.10 mg/kg of body weight. Analytical determinations in selected food categories showed that BHT concentrations were below the maximum permitted levels. [18]

2. Food Surveillance in Japan: An official inspection in Japan estimated the concentrations of BHT in foods. The detection rate of BHT was 2.3%, and the mean concentration was 1.0% of the legally permitted levels. The estimated daily intake of BHT was 0.051 mg/person, which is 0.3% of the ADI. Chewing gum contributed most to the daily intake of BHT (61.6%). [19]

Conclusion: The reviewed scientific literature indicates that both BHA and BHT, commonly used as food additives for their antioxidant properties, have raised significant health concerns. BHA has been linked to various toxic effects, including thyroid damage and carcinogenicity. BHT, while found in lower concentrations in food products, still contributes to the daily intake of additives. The need for safer alternatives and continuous monitoring of these additives is emphasized.

7. Artificial Sweeteners

The controversy over these continues to rage and – amazingly – we have to watch what we say, because the “information police” are cracking down on dissenters in this area. So let’s just do this: Here’s a link to a 2021 study. [20] Then read the response by a food industry insider [21], and finally the response by the scientists to this attack on their work. [22]

This will give you an idea of the shenanigans at work – and then bear in mind that this is the tip of the iceberg of a full scale industrial information battle. We have no vested interests in this debate, we just share free health information that we think is valuable. And the bottom line in our view is this: If an ingredient is so controversial that scientists have to defend their work… why risk it? There is plenty of real food out there that has been consumed for thousands of years! This is the food our bodies were “evolutionarily designed” to eat. Whereas if something has been invented in the last decade, we have absolutely no way to know for sure what its long term effects are.

Just eat real food. And keep spreading the truth.


[1] The Japan Food chemical Research Foundation, List of Designated Additives. https://www.ffcr.or.jp/en/tenka/list-of-designated-additives/list-of-designated-additives.html

[2] Food coloring – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_coloring#Current_regulation

[3] Are Artificial Colors Harmful? Michael Greger M.D. FACLM. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/are-artificial-colors-harmful/

[4] Health Jade: Cochineal https://healthjade.net/cochineal/

[5] Hexane – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexane

[6] “A Comparative Analysis of Natural and Artificial Flavorings through Analytical Methods and Flavor Additive Regulations” – [Sandy Mosia et al.] https://dx.doi.org/10.46254/na07.20220062

[7] “Toxicological and Teratogenic Effect of Various Food Additives: An Updated Review” – [Saseendran Sambu et al.] https://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2022/6829409

[8] “Frequently Used Additives in the Food Industry and Their Toxicological Effects on Human Health” – [Neslihan Öztürk, Hamid Ceylan] https://dx.doi.org/10.59287/icras.700

[9] “Effect Of Food Additives On Hormonal Imbalance In Children And Its Impact On Health – A Review” – [C. Agarwal, Gurseen Rakhra] https://ijcrt.org/papers/IJCRT2205172.pdf

[10] “Impact of food additives in ultra-processed food on human health” – [Xinyue Liang, 2023] https://dx.doi.org/10.54254/2753-8818/6/20230321

[11] “Application of bio-preservation to enhance food safety: A review” – [Nethma Samadhi Ranathunga, K. Wijayasekara, E. Abeyrathne, 2023] https://dx.doi.org/10.11002/kjfp.2023.30.2.179

[12] “Impact of Giving Monosodium Glutamate on Health” – [Melia Munasiah, 2020] https://dx.doi.org/10.37287/jppp.v2i4.190

[13] “The Effect of Food Additives (Monosodium Glutamate – MSG) On Human Health – A Critical Review” – [Zahraa Hameed Al-Agili, 2020] https://dx.doi.org/10.51345/.V31I1.235.G162

[14] “A review of the alleged health hazards of monosodium glutamate.” – [A. Zanfirescu et al., 2019] https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1541-4337.12448

[15] Are agrochemicals present in High Fructose Corn Syrup fed to honey bees (Apis mellifera L.)? (Journal of Apicultural Research, 2015) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3896/IBRA.

[16] https://www.uclahealth.org/news/pancreatic-cancers-use-fructose-common-in-western-diet-to-fuel-growth-study-finds

[17] “A review of the occurrence, metabolites and health risks of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)” – [Xiao-Jing Zhang, Meijun Diao, Yin-Feng Zhang, 2023] https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.12676

[18] “Estimates of the theoretical maximum daily intake of phenolic antioxidants BHA, BHT and TBHQ in Brazil” – [Gisele C. Maziero, 2001] https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02652030120645

[19] “Evaluation of the Contents of BHA, BHT, Propylene Glycol, and Sodium Saccharin in Foods and Estimation of Daily Intake Based on the Results of Official Inspection in Japan in Fiscal Year 1994” – [H. Ishiwata, M. Nishijima, Y. Fukasawa, Yoshio N. Ito, Takashi Yamada, 1998] https://dx.doi.org/10.3358/SHOKUEISHI.39.89

[20] Aspartame and cancer – new evidence for causation. Environmental health, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33845854/

[21] Response to the publication [20] by Landrigan PJ, Straif K. Aspartame and cancer – new evidence causation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8456655/

[22] Authors’ response to [21] (2021) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8456653/

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