Ever wonder what’s really in your fast food meal? Here’s the ingredients list for a Happy Meal that contains nuggets, fries and a Hi-C beverage:
White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, chicken flavor (autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, rosemary), sodium phosphates, seasoning (canola oil, mono- and diglycerides, natural extractives of rosemary). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, whey, corn starch. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated corn oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent). Water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sucrose, citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), potassium benzoate (to protect taste), modified food starch, natural flavors (vegetable source), glycerol ester of wood rosin, yellow 6, brominated vegetable oil, red 40. Potatoes, vegetable oil (partially hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor (wheat and milk derivatives)*, citric acid (preservative), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent)), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated corn oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent).
Wow. Amidst the few recognizable food items and the really-bad-for-you hydrogentated oils, what is all that other stuff? Get the answer after the jump.
Those ingredients are food additives. Additives are chemical compounds that are used to enhance or preserve (enhance being a relative term) color, texture, flavor and shelf life of a manufactured food. Some additives are safe, at least as far as the FDA is concerned, in small quantities. However, there are many that just don’t belong in food despite what the FDA says.
In at least one case, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contradicts the FDA on the safety of an additive. BHA, BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE, and BHT, or BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE, are both used to prevent oils from going rancid, oils such as those used in frying. BHA is considered to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Testing of BHT is unclear whether or not it may be a carcinogen as well, and residues of this chemical have been found in human fat stores. Despite the Department of Health and Human Services findings, the FDA continues to allow BHA to be used. You can find both of these substances in the sausage patties of a fast food breakfast sandwich.
TBHQ, or TERT-BUTYLHYDROQUINONE is used as an antioxidant for unsaturated vegetable oils and animal fats. It can be used in combination with BHA. It is added to a wide range of foods, with highest limit permitted for frozen fish. It is used to enhance storage life. For industrial use, TBHQ is used as a stabilizer and is added to varnishes, lacquers, resins, and oil field additives.
In high doses, TBHQ led to stomach tumors and damage to DNA for lab animals. Prolonged exposure to TBHQ may cause cancer. While this is for high doses and lab rats, I have trouble with the idea that something you can only handle with protective clothing, per the Material Safety Data Sheet, is going in my food. You can find TBHQ in a wide variety of fast food menu items, especially anything fried or cooked in oil.
YELLOW 6 is the third most common food coloring. Industry-sponsored tests showed that this dye caused tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney in the lab animals. The dye is often contaminated by carcinogens. The FDA reviewed this information and concluded that there is no risk to humans.
PROPYL GALLATE has not been thoroughly tested. Initial studies suggest a linkage with cancer. It is used as a preservative in meats like sausage, vegetable oil, fried potatoes, chicken soup base and even chewing gum.
Here are a few more “ingredients” in your fast food, and other manufactured food products:
Sodium- and tetrasodium pyrophosphate, a “slightly toxic” food additive used as a thickening agent. You can find this in coffee creamer and other foods like marshmallows and some chicken nuggets. Define “slightly toxic?” Is it just slightly bad for you? Or just not even remotely good for you?
Polydimethylsiloxane is used as an “anti-foaming” agent in fried foods. It is thought to be relatively safe. It is also used in the manufacture of items like Silly Putty, silicone grease, breast implants. It can be used to treat head lice.
Sodium hexametaphosphate is used as an additive to promote stability. It is also used in the manufacture of water softening agents and detergents.
Would you like to learn more about food additives? The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a helpful list of the most concerning food additives. Once you’ve read the list, you can find those same ingredients in these fast food menus; menu, menu, menu (click nutrition guide, then ingredient statement).
[This post was written by Beth Bader.]