What’s Really in Your Food?

nutrition--trans-fat-panel-451029-mAs I strive to eat healthier, I am paying more attention to food labels. So much of the food my family eats comes from a box, bag or package. These foods are filled with dyes, chemicals, added sugar and salt.

Yet, even if you read the labels you may not realize some of the strange and bizarre things that are really in your food. Here are some of the gross and just plain weird ingredients that might be hidden in the food you buy:

Cochineal extract
Much of the red dye (Natural Red #4) used in red and pink colored foods – also known as carmine – is made by boiling cochineal beetles in ammonia or sodium carbonate and then crushing them up. However, the synthetic versions of this dye (known as Red #2 and Red #40) are made from petroleum products. If you don’t like the idea of eating bugs, it may be best to avoid foods that contain red dye.

L-Cysteine
You may buy bread that lists L-Cysteine as an ingredient. This chemical is used to prolong the shelf life of products, such as commercial bread. Most of the L-Cysteine used in food comes from human hair that is gathered from barbershops and hair salons in China. It can also be derived from duck feathers and cow horns. If you find those options a little disgusting, you can buy bread from the local baker or make your own bread.

Rodent hair
Industrial facilities that produce food are often housed in large warehouse spaces. These areas may be home to a few rodents. The US FDA allows a certain amount of rodent hairs in various foods based on “unavoidable defects.” If you buy chocolate, cinnamon and peanut butter, you may expect to ingest a few rodent hairs.

Animal tissue
The ingredient gelatin is used in many gummy products, such as fruit chews and marshmallows. Gelatin is a derivative of pork, which doesn’t sound too bad. However, it’s made by boiling animal connective tissue. You may want to pass on foods that contain gelatin.

Beaver anal glands
Castoreum is a “natural” flavor enhancer used in some varieties of ice cream. Castoreum comes from the castor sacs of male and female beavers. The FDA has approved this food additive and deems the extract to be safe.

Fish bladders
Isinglass helps give beer its lovely clear golden color. Isinglass is a gelatin-like substance that is produced from the swim bladder of a fish. It also has adhesive properties and can be found in glue. Traces of arsenic are also found in beer and wine due to the process of filtering the alcohol.

Sawdust
Wood pulp is used as a cheap filler in shredded cheese, salad dressing and ice cream to thicken it without adding calories or fat. It also appears in high fiber, “healthy” snacks and breakfast cereals. Sawdust keeps shredded cheese from sticking together which is why you may have noticed that organic shredded cheese is more clumpy.

Propylene glycol
A common preservative found in our foods in propylene glycol. It may be added to biscuits, cakes, sweets and other baked goods. Propylene glycol is also used to make antifreeze. Antifreeze is found in cosmetics, skin care products, pharmaceuticals and electronic cigarettes.

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)
If you consume sports drinks to stay hydrated, you may be drinking brominated vegetable oil which is added to keep the ingredients from separating. BVO contains bromine and can also be found in flame retardants. While banned Europe and Japan, it is still used in the US.

Now that you’re afraid to eat anything you buy from the supermarket, what can you do to make healthier food choices?

Look for local food – If you can, shop at your local farmer’s market or participate in a food co-op.

Check for organic labels – Look for USDA Organic labels on foods. This is a legitimate claim that a product has been certified organic.

Read the labels – Check the ingredients on the label and if you can’t pronounce them, be wary of buying it.

Buy fresh ingredients – Shop for more unprocessed food ingredients and make your own meals rather than buying the prepackaged boxes and bags.

Plant a garden – Grow some of your own food and eat fresh from your own garden.

Food shopping can be confusing and foods that claim to be healthy may actually contain some strange ingredients. You can make healthier food choices. Take the time to read the labels and buy unprocessed food ingredients when you can.

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