Reading and Decoding Food Labels & Toxic Ingredients

Understanding the most harmful chemicals found in food will help you determine which food is healthy and which food is junk. Learn how to read ingredient labels and avoid harmful ingredients.

This is a complicated topic because of the thousands of chemicals in food that can be harmful to our health. NCBI estimates that more than 2,500 chemicals are added to food to alter flavor, color, stability, cost, or texture. An estimated 12,000 chemicals are also used in a way that may unintentionally get into the food supply (NCBI). These could include pesticides, arsenic and metals, as well as food-packaging materials, mycotoxins, mold growth, and many other substances.

Harmful Food Ingredients Are Prohibited in Other Countries but Allowed in America

An image of french fries to talk about foods that have more toxic ingredients in America than they do in other countries.

Did you know that fast food restaurants and food chains add chemicals to American food and leave these chemicals out of European food?

The seven ingredients in Betty Crocker’s products from the United States are different to the UK. They include corn syrup, modified cornstarch, partially hydrogenated soybean/cotton oil, propylene gel, Red 40, cellulose, and artificial flavour. Mcdonald’s French Fries in the USA contain six additional ingredients that are not found in Mcdonald’s fries in the UK. You can read more about that here.

Yes, we have extra ingredients that are banned in other countries in the United States.

These are some of the most popular ingredients that have been banned in other countries but allowed in America.

BHA and BHT are food preservatives. BHA and BHT are often found in butter and other breakfast foods, such as bread, cakes, muffins, eggs, bread, beer, chocolate, cookies, cakes, batters, potatoes chips, nuts, and chewing tobacco. BHA and BHT may cause diseases by disrupting hormone function. They are known to be carcinogens or endocrine disruptors.

Soft Drinks and Many Other Foods: Foods You’ll Find in Soft Drinks

Synthetic Food Dye (Red 40 and Yellow 5 etc. Synthetic Food Dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, etc.) – Food dyes are most commonly found in baked goods, candy, and sports drinks. You can also find them in yogurt, pickles, and ice cream. They can be found in many foods. They are often used to make food look better. They are usually made from petroleum, which can be used to make gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and other fuels. Yummy! They can be linked to cancer, ADHD, and tumors.

Brominated Vegetable Oil, (BVO): Originally used as a flame retardant. It is now found in sports drinks and soda. Bromine can cause memory loss. Bromine competes with Iodine for receptor site in the body. This can increase risk of iodine deficiencies, autoimmune diseases, and certain cancers (Robbins 2019, 2019).

Propylparaben is a chemical that can be found in soft drinks and sauces as well as jams, pastas, beers, sauces, desserts, cookies, cakes, breads, baked goods, frozen dairy products, flavored syrups and pies. Parabens are endocrine disruptor chemicals and can be linked to breast cancer. They can also cause reproductive and developmental problems. You can see the results of research on (a government website).

An image of a bagel to discuss ingredients it may contain that are banned in other countries, but are not banned in America.

Are you aware of what’s in your bread products

Most commonly found in bread and flour products

Azodicarbonamide – Many flour products contain this ingredient, including bagels, tortillas and pastries, bread, hamburger/hot dogs buns, pastries, bagels, pizza, pastries, and pastries. ADA can lead to asthma and other allergies.

Dough Conditioners (potassium Bromate) – This ingredient is used to make bread dough. This ingredient is found in many bread products, including bagels, tortillas and pastries, as well as hamburger/hot dog buns, pastries and bread. This ingredient is prohibited in more than 5 countries. Potassium bromate is a CARCINOGEN in humans, as it has been proven to cause thyroid and kidney cancers in animals ( Asthma can also be caused by dough conditioners.

These are mostly found in dairy

An image of a glass of milk to discuss ingredients it can contain which are banned in other countries, but not banned in america.

Carrageenan is a common ingredient in dairy products, such as all types of milk, ice creams, creamers, cottage cheese, and other dairy products. Carrageenan can cause inflammation, bloating IBS, IBD and colon cancer as well as food allergies and glucose intolerance.

Synthetic Hormones: These artificial growth hormones, rbST and rBGH, are injected into cows in order to increase their milk production. They can cause infection in cows and require antibiotics. Through milk, you are also exposed to antibiotics. There are also possible risks of developing cancer.

Mostly found in crops

GMOs – FDA scientists have repeatedly warned that GM food can cause unpredictable side effects. These include toxins, a new disease, and nutritional problems. (Institute for Responsible Technology). You can read more about GMO’s here.

Fungicides, Insecticides and Herbicides are all found on crops. The United States allows pesticides that have been banned in other countries to be used. They can have endocrine-disrupting and reproductive toxicity effects as well as cancer. Pesticide poisoning is responsible for approximately 1 million deaths each year worldwide (NCBI). These are usually people who have to deal with pesticides, such as farmers or production workers. This shows that they can be very harmful to our health. If you have the means to buy organic fruit and vegetables, it is worthwhile. This is covered in my blog, When Is Organic Really Worth It?. I also mention the Dirty Dozen.


An image of chicken wings to talk about poultry that is chlorine washed.

Chicken that has been washed in chlorine – This is chicken that has been treated with chlorine. This is not what I like. At one time, my body was contaminated with too much chlorine. Southampton University research found that salmonella and listeria bacteria, which are known to cause disease,’remain active’ even after being washed with chlorine (Soil Association).

Olestra is a common ingredient found in potato chips and french fries. Olestra can cause digestive problems such as leaky bowels and cramping. Vitamin deficiencies can also be caused by Olestra.

There are many things you need to consider when looking at labels. These things won’t be as common if you make better decisions about the products that you choose.

What can we do to avoid toxic chemicals in food?

More Whole Foods, Organic Foods

As I have mentioned before, it is important to eat more whole foods. Whole foods include foods with just one ingredient, such as chicken, steaks, pork, potatoes, rice and vegetables. Fresh foods are better than packaged. Organic foods are also a good choice. Organic vs Natural explains that organic foods are generally healthier. To be certified organic, they must meet strict requirements. There are exceptions to the rule. Prepackaged foods can be organic but have high levels of sugar or other unhealthy ingredients.

An image of some fish on a bed of lettuce with other vegetables to discuss what whole foods are and why it is beneficial to eat them.

Organic, whole foods are the best. If you have an organic aisle in your local grocery store, make sure to check it out. There are so many delicious options available, you might be surprised at the variety! There are many great alternatives to the high fructose corn syrup cookies and chips that I used to eat, as well as delicious substitutes for them. I no longer miss these chemical-laden foods.

Who wants to eat organic and whole foods? That’s what makes it so much fun! It’s important to pay attention to labels on food!

Read and decode food labels

It’s difficult to list all the things you should avoid. There are so many! Many foods have many names. Sugar, for instance, has 50 names.

These are the main things you should pay attention to when reading labels, in addition to the ones listed above.

It is the #1 rule! You are likely to be exposed less to chemicals if there are fewer ingredients in your food. For most foods, aim for 7 ingredients or less (not science. It’s just an indication of how much). More than 15 ingredients is considered excessive. It is best to return the ingredient to the shelf as soon as it sounds like a science experiment with many difficult to pronounce names.

Avoid low fat and fat free foods. Full fat is richer in nutrients, fills you up faster, and has a lower risk of becoming obese. Full fat is better for you but it is important to watch how much you eat.

Avoid name-brand foods

An image of sugar cubes to discuss how to avoid artificial sweeteners and consuming less sugar.

Artificial sweeteners and sugars

Artificial sweeteners have been shown to increase appetite, carbohydrate cravings and fat storage. (Hari, 2013, Hari). In my blog Sugar Pains, I have already mentioned sugar. Sugar – A Biggest Enemy! Every food I buy, including milk, frozen foods, and condiments, has a sugar content.

You can avoid artificial sugars by checking the amount of sugar listed under the nutritional facts. Next, look for sugar in ingredients. It is possible that artificial sugars are being used if you don’t see the exact word “sugar”. High fructose corn syrup is the most common type of artificial sugar. Labels that state “sugar-free” often include artificial sweeteners. The nutrition label will often indicate if the sugar has been added or natural. This is important to remember. Natural sugars are usually fruit. Natural sugars are good, provided you don’t consume too much. Excessive fruit could be a glass of orange juice or apple juice. Consuming more sugar than eating an orange or apple will result in you consuming much more sugar. You can read more about reducing sugar intake in my blog: Guidelines and Steps to Reduce Sugar Consumption.


3. Vegetable oils (Oils extracted form plants such as safflower and cottonseed, soybean and sunflower, sesame and canola) are difficult to avoid because they are often found in chips and other packaged foods. It is often used in restaurants. It is worth your time to try to avoid it. It can be avoided completely by using coconut oil in recipes. Coconut oil is a good substitute for baked goods. You can substitute extra-virgin olive or ghee for butter, grass-fed butter, avocado oil, and ghee. These oils are all used in my cooking. They can cause autoimmune diseases, heart disease and cognitive problems. Learn more about the dangers.

An image of corn to discuss how it often has GMOs which are very dangerous to our health.

4. GMO’s (SOYBEAN/SOY and CORN) I have a blog about this: What Does Non GMO Mean? You can check out the blog, Are GMOs Safe? Soy and corn are two of the most common food items that contain GMOs. Vegetable oils should also be avoided. Soy and corn, regardless of whether they are organic or GMO free, are not good for your health. It is better to avoid them altogether. Organic corn is better than regular corn. These foods are easier to avoid due to the “non-GMO” labels or organic certifications. It is important to know that corn and soy can be found in many foods.

Margarine (Contains BHA and BTA) MSG. (Linked to fertility problems, obesity, metabolic diseases) Nitrates can also be harmful. Read more on my blog How To Choose Healthier Meats.

There are many other toxic substances. Here is a list: 50 Jawdroppingly Toxic Ingredients in Food & Artificial Additives to Avoid

Let us conclude.

As I said, this list isn’t complete. It should help you to read labels and know what you are buying.

These products can have a significant impact on your health. These products can lead to multiple chronic health problems. It is why it is so important to eat real food.


Shea, Trisha. foodnerd/Four Incredibly Harmful Impacts Artificial Dyeings Have on Our Health (2020, December 9,). Retrieved from:

Institute for Responsible Technology/Studies showing damage. Retrieved from:

Robbins, Ocean (2019 August 30). Food Revolution Network/11 America Should Ban All Foods. Retrieved from:

NCBI/Food Additives and Contaminants, Carcinogens and Mutagens. Retrieved from:

Hari, Vani (2013 February 11, 2013). 100 DAYS of REAL FOOD/Food Babe Investigates How Food Companies Exploit Americans With Ingredients Banned In Other Countries. Retrieved from:

Soil Association/What’s chlorinated chicken? Retrieved from:

Aktar, Md. Wasim. Sengupta,Dwaipayan Chowdhury, Ashim. (2009, March 2 2). NCBI/Impacts of pesticides in agriculture: Their benefits and hazards. Retrieved from: Substance Fact sheet. Retrieved from:

The Wellness Solution: Reading and decoding food labels & toxic ingredients

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About the Author: Marty