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Top 15 Gross Ingredients in Foods

Many would be shocked to learn about the source of some of the ingredients in the foods they eat, or the chemicals that may be added.

The more people are reading food labels, the more they are realizing that there are some pretty gross ingredients in the foods that they are eating. Here are examples of 15 gross ingredients that you might not be aware of in your food.

  • Flame Retardant in Soda: Brominated vegetable oil is a product that was originally developed to prevent plastic from catching on fire. Today, this ingredient is found in certain sports drinks, sodas and juices. It helps to keep artificial flavours from separating from natural ingredients. This is not only a gross ingredient, but it has been associated with skin lesions, memory loss and even nerve disorders.
  • Beef Cleansed with Ammonia: Because most meat factories on farms are filled with tons of bacteria, and hundreds or even thousands of cows are kept together, keeping meats free from contamination is a challenge. One way that processing plants try to keep bacteria away is by using an ammonia gas bath to make the meat safer. In order for meats to be labeled as organic, they must be free from this ammonia bath process. Critics claim that even this process does not eliminate all of the bacteria.
  • Cloned Cow’s Stomach: Certain types of cheese contain rennet, which is an enzyme that is derived from the mucosal lining of a calf’s fourth stomach. The increasing cost of obtaining the calf stomachs has led to the development of a genetically modified calf stomach, or basically a cloned version, to increase the ability to produce rennet inexpensively. This is a process used in many types of cheese that are sold in the United States. It is unclear whether or not there are long term health effects related to eating genetically modified foods, and these types of ingredients are not listed clearly on food labels. Because rennet is an enzyme, it is not specifically listed in the ingredient list, nor is it possible to tell what type is included in the cheese.
  • Salad Dressings and Paint Chemicals: Many salad dressings contain titanium dioxide, which is a compound often found in paint and sunscreen and could contain lead, which is highly toxic. It is found in many salad dressings, coffee creamers and even icing. This compound is used to make foods whiter, and give them a more attractive appearance.
  • Crushed Bugs: One variety of red food colouring, carmine, is derived by crushing the abdomen of a female African beetle called Dactylopius coccus. Most red candies and juices contain this additive. Look for ingredients such as carmine, crimson lake, cochineal or natural red #4 when you are reading food labels. It is not clear whether this is harmful, but most would agree it is gross.
  • Milk with Sex Hormones: Forty years ago, cows produced only about half of the milk that they do today. Much of the increase is related to the addition of sex hormones and growth hormones, such as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). This is a genetically engineered, synthetic ingredient that helps cows produce more milk. Research has shown that there may be a link between rBST and breast, prostate and colon cancers. This ingredient has been banned in several countries, and many dairy farmers in the United States are now stopping the use of this possibly harmful ingredient. To avoid rBST completely, opt for organic milk, which will also help you avoid antibiotics and pesticides, too.
  • Shrimp and Cleaning Chemicals: Shrimp farms are highly contaminated, and are often filled with mouse and rat hair, or insects. Chemicals are used to clean the farms and the shrimp, and you could be eating some of those chemicals. Shrimp that comes from other countries is more likely to contain the cleaning chemicals, so buying domestic shrimp may help you avoid this problem. Since only about 2% of the shrimp that is imported gets inspected, your chances are best when buying domestic versions.
  • Mushrooms with Maggots: You might be grossed out to learn that the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 19 maggots or 74 mites in a tiny 3-½ ounce can of mushrooms. Few would argue that this is pretty gross. On another note, canned goods are often in containers lined with BPA, which is connected to heart attacks, hormonal problems, cancer and obesity.
  • Flesh Eating Bacteria: Many of the meats that you can find in the supermarket are contaminated with bacteria, including the potentially deadly MRSA bacteria. There have been some studies suggesting that up to half of the meat found in grocery stores may contain this deadly bug. Choosing meat and eggs from organic farms can limit your exposure to this.
  • Herbicides in Corn and Soy Products: Because glycophosphate is commonly used to kill weeds in corn and soy crops, it is now actually being detected in streams, the air and even rainwater. It stays within the plant, which means that we eventually eat it. It is found in an abundance of non-organic foods, anything with corn or soy derivatives, in particular. The chemical is considered harmful and may be connected to obesity, infertility, birth defects, and metabolic problems. Choose organic foods when possible, or at least choose non-processed foods. Even foods labeled as “all natural” may contain plenty of pesticides or genetically engineered ingredients.
  • Beaver Anal Gland Juice: This ingredient, called castoreum, is found extensively in artificial flavours, especially vanilla or raspberry flavours. Unfortunately, you won’t find this ingredient listed as anything other than “natural flavouring.” Who would want to eat this?
  • Shampoo on Produce: Chemicals known as phthalates are often found in shampoos and pesticides, as well as vinyl shower curtains and nail polish. They are now being found in produce at the supermarket. The increasing use of human sewage sludge as fertilizer has led to the increase of this chemical being found on foods. Even in small amounts, these chemicals are harmful and may cause a number of problems, ranging from behaviour problems to allergies, asthma, eczema and more. 
  • Feathers and Human Hair in Bread:  A non-essential amino acid called L-cysteine is often made from dissolving human hair or duck feathers. This ingredient is used to condition bread dough for better texture. Sounds nasty. Plus, eating anything derived from humans or animals goes against the beliefs of certain religions as well as vegans.
  • Artificial Food Colours: Many of the brightly coloured foods that you see on the supermarket shelves are coloured using dyes that come from petroleum products. Certain dyes, especially Yellow 6 and Red 40 have been connected with behavioural problems and ADHD. Because artificial colours are cheaper and give brighter results, they are commonly found in many foods.
  • Popcorn Bag Chemicals: The bags used for microwave popcorn contain a non-stick chemical that is in the category of perfluorinated chemicals and is thought to potentially damage the immune system, contribute to infertility and cause sperm damage. Other problems from being exposed to this chemical that is used to coat pots and pans and baking sheets include high cholesterol and ADHD.
  • Sadly, most packaged foods contain one or several harmful ingredients, or things that are pretty gross and most people would not want to eat. Choose carefully, and choose organic when you can to limit your exposure to these gross ingredients.


    Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /


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