Did you know that certain foods and food additives allowed in your diet, as well as your children’s, have been prohibited in other countries? Countries have their own unique rules about what's safe to put in our food, and some governments are more proactive about it than others. While no system is perfect, let's think for a moment: if something might harm our bodies, why is it still added to our food? In this article, I'll walk you through five American food additives that are banned in other countries. I'll also talk about what they are, why they are cause for concern, and how you can make better choices when you're grocery shopping.
1. Titanium Dioxide
Eyes turned to titanium dioxide in 2022 when the European Commission banned titanium dioxide as a food additive in the European Union. This was after The European Food Safety Authority found there is a possibility titanium dioxide in food can cause DNA or chromosomal damage. So what is titanium dioxide? Titanium dioxide is a food additive that boosts and brightens colors. Because of this, it’s used in many candies and packaged foods for more bright and vibrant colors. Interestingly, titanium dioxide makes the color white appear even brighter, which is why it’s added to gums, toothpaste, and sunscreen.
So, what’s the concern? Titanium dioxide nanoparticles may pose a risk of genotoxicity, which means it can damage the genetic material (DNA) in our cells. Think of DNA as the "instruction manual" for our bodies; when it gets damaged, it can lead to problems like mutations or cancer. While no studies have definitively confirmed that titanium dioxide is a significant health risk, it’s also not proven to be completely safe.
Titanium dioxide is found in Skittles, Hostess Cupcakes, Trolli Gummies, gums, many kinds of toothpaste, and even Little Debbie products. The best way to avoid titanium dioxide is to read ingredient labels and avoid foods that contain it.
2. Food Dyes
In my most recent podcast with Dr. Josh Redd, we discussed how food can contribute to brain inflammation. He shared that the amount of food dyes in our foods has increased by 500% in the last 50 years. Dr. Redd explained “Food dyes bind to food proteins, making it harder for your body to break them down to be properly digested. As a result, they look like foreign invaders to the immune system so your body builds and mounts [an] inflammatory response.”
Food dyes are not entirely banned across the EU, but countries including Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Austria have their own bans on various food dyes. The U.S. currently has no bans on food dyes, but the quantity of food dye in products is regulated.
We find food dyes not only in brightly colored candies and frostings but also in less expected places like ice creams, bread, pickles, popcorn, and popcorn flavorings. (This is a huge reason I made my own popcorn salts!)
The reality is, there is no reason to have food dyes in our food. The potential health risks are just not worth it. We can use real food ingredients to add color to food if we truly feel it’s necessary. In my house, I love using dragon fruit powder for a pretty pink color. Color Kitchen Foods also makes real food-based dyes and frosting mixes! These are a great option if you want to have fun colors for cakes and baked goods.
3. BHT and BHA
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) are synthetic, antioxidant chemicals that are commonly used in the food industry as preservatives. Their primary purpose is to prevent fats and oils in processed foods from spoiling.
BHT and BHA are found in many different products including
cereals, sausage, hot dogs, meat patties, chewing gum, potato chips, beer, butter, vegetable oils, and even cosmetics.
BHT and BHA have been banned in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and throughout Europe for their negative side effects. Recent studies indicate that BHT and BHA have been shown to promote tumor growth. Additionally, there have been connections to potential blood clotting issues and reports of these chemicals acting as endocrine disruptors.
The best way to avoid BHT and BHA is by reducing your intake of processed foods. One thing to keep in mind is while BHT can be added directly to food, it is often used in the packaging. Because of this, you won’t always see BHT listed on the food label.
4. Farm Raised Salmon
Salmon is an excellent source of protein and omega 3’s, but it is important to prioritize eating wild-caught salmon whenever possible. Farm-raised salmon has been banned in several countries, and even some U.S. states, due to potential environmental and health risks:
- Farmed salmon have been found to have 10x more Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) than wild-caught salmon. PCBs are organic pollutants linked to various health issues including cancer, developmental problems, reproductive issues, and immune system dysfunction.
- Farmed salmon are consistently given antibiotics to prevent infections, which has contributed to antibiotic resistance in salmon and other seafood.
Farmed salmon do not develop the same color as salmon found in the wild. To compensate for this, synthetic pigments are added to their feed, giving them the distinctive orangish pink hue.
While there isn’t definitive evidence on how these specific synthetic colors affect our bodies, I prefer to avoid them due to uncertainty.
To minimize these risks, consider opting for wild-caught salmon or seeking out farmed salmon from reputable sources that adhere to strict quality and safety standards. Stay informed on labeling practices and regulations can help you make the best choice for you and your family.
You have probably heard me talk about glyphosate on my Instagram page, but I thought I would explain a bit more here! Glyphosate, the primary ingredient in RoundUp, is widely used as a herbicide and weedkiller.
It’s banned in Germany and Vietnam and has usage restrictions in other countries and multiple U.S. counties. Glyphosate has been associated with several health concerns, including multiple types of cancer, as well as liver and kidney damage. It has also been linked to potential reproductive and developmental issues. For instance, studies indicate a significant increase in the risk of bladder cancer among individuals frequently exposed to glyphosate. Additionally, there is a growing body of research shedding light on glyphosate killing good bacteria in our gut. The destruction of these bacteria is linked to a myriad of health issues, including mental health problems.
How does glyphosate exposure occur? Glyphosate is frequently applied to genetically modified (GMO) crops
These modifications enable crops to withstand direct spraying of weed killers. While this was initially seen as a way to save time and money on weed control, it's now becoming clear that this practice has significant consequences. Glyphosate isn't just used during crop growth to prevent weeds; it's also used as a desiccant to dry out crops before harvest, which prevents mold during storage. Commonly sprayed crops near harvest include wheat, oats, lentils, and beans. Additionally, glyphosate can be found in other everyday foods such as potatoes, almonds, and animal feed, ultimately causing glyphosate to enter the food chain through meat and dairy products.
It is important to remember that glyphosate will not be listed in the ingredient list as it is used in the growing process. The easiest way to avoid glyphosate is to choose organic. Organic crops cannot be sprayed with glyphosate and organic processed foods cannot include ingredients sprayed with glyphosate. You can also look for a glyphosate residue-free label as well. I have a lot of resources on my Instagram that help explain this more.
While it is frustrating that these banned foods are in our diets, and it may seem daunting to make changes in your diet, remember that improvement is possible!
Start with one step at a time:
- Remove one ingredient at a time. For me, I started with removing dyes.
- Become more comfortable reading food labels
- Have a plan when you go to the grocery store
- Keep learning! I have a bunch of easy swaps you can find on my Instagram page @justingredients
- Explore my line of health and wellness products made with only real ingredients.
Remember there is power in the cumulative effect of small choices! Consistent small choices will make the biggest difference on your health journey!