In the hectic fast-paced living that most people deal with every day, it is easy to choose the quickest, simplest way to get our meals. With so many people struggling to live the paycheck-to-paycheck life, too, it's common to go with the cheapest option, even if you know it's unhealthy.
Knowing what's in your food, though, can help you make smarter choices from your options. We all want to assume that the food we buy is relatively safe to eat without toxic side effects, but chances are, you didn't realize that what you were eating may contain dangerous chemicals.
Sure, they may make your meals taste great, but some of these chemicals swap out healthy ingredients for improved taste. Food can taste good and still be good for you if you know what to look for and what to stay away from.
Here are 8 dangerous chemicals and ingredients you are probably consuming every day without knowing they are in your food or drinks.
8 Chemicals to Avoid in Your Meals
- Organophosphate pesticides (PRF) – If you can't pronounce it, you should probably stay away from it, but that doesn't stop nearly half of all farmers from using PRF as a pesticide on their crops.
This pesticide is actually a kind of neurotoxic chemical that was used in the 1930s as a warfare agent. Today, it has made its way as a common method of pesticide that gets into the crops that we eat.
Studies have shown that children who are exposed to PDFs at a high rate are more prone to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. To avoid foods with PDF, try to eat organically when possible.
- Mercury – Many people today think that natural means healthy, but that is not always the case. Case in point: mercury. Mercury is an element that occurs naturally, but exposure to too much mercury, especially to fetuses, can cause memory issues, attention problems, and cognitive learning deficiencies.
Fish, especially tuna and shellfish, are often exposed to high levels of mercury and when you eat those same fish, you are increasing your mercury intake. You can reduce your mercury exposure by avoiding these types of foods and checking for mercury content in household cleaners.
- Phthalates – Although these are not found in foods directly, they are used to soften plastics and bind chemicals together. They're commonly found in shampoos and conditioners, many body products like nail polish and body washes, shower curtains, food packaging, and plastic bottles.
The importance of drinking enough water has become well-known in the past decade. There has been a high – and smart – increase in people realizing they need to up their water intake to maintain a healthy lifestyle, lose weight, and feel better in general. While this is great for your overall health, drinking bottled water, or any bottled drinks, increases your exposure to phthalates.
To reduce your exposure to these dangerous chemicals, look into water treatments or water filters for your own household water. You can find smart ways to drink water safely at sites like The Fine Water. Find body products that are phthalate free, and look for food that is not packaged in plastic.
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) – BHA is FDA-approved and it is used with the intent to help prevent food from spoiling. However, it has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor, affecting your hormones. Hormone disorders can cause multiple health effects. BHA has also been linked as a potential cause of cancer.
BHA is found in many foods, food packaging, and cosmetics. It also is known by multiple other names, so you can't just try to avoid butylated hydroxyanisole; you have to learn the other aliases it goes by, which can be difficult. The safest way to avoid BHAs is to limit your processed food intake.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – You have probably heard of MSGs already, and not in a good way, but how do you stay away from them? They seem to be everywhere.
MSG is used as a flavor enhancer, and it does its job well, adding great, explosive taste to otherwise bland foods. But this unnatural processed chemical can affect your brain chemistry. Avoiding processed foods with MSGs in them is your best bet.
- Sodium Nitrates and Sodium Nitrites – These two different preservatives are usually found in processed meats. They are strongly linked to colon cancer and metabolic syndrome (the precursor to diabetes). Stay away from processed meats. Instead, try fresh and organic when possible.
- Benzene – Benzene is a chemical used to make sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate, preservatives used to keep mold from growing in soda. Benzenes are also carcinogens that can cause thyroid damage.
When plastic bottles containing soda are heated up – left in a hot car, for example – or combined with vitamin C, the levels of benzene hit the danger zone. The best way to avoid benzenes is to avoid soda altogether.
- High fructose corn syrup – This ingredient is a derivative of cornstarch. Cornstarch itself is a chain of simple sugars called glucose, and when those molecules are broken down into simple glucose molecules, you get corn syrup. This means that corn syrup is 100% glucose or sugar.
Too much sugar causes major health issues in your body, like diabetes. Although it may make your food taste great and improve the flavor of your drinks, the long-term health effects make this a very dangerous ingredient in your meals. Avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient.
Stay Healthy – Avoid Dangerous Chemicals
Juggling the balancing act of providing healthy meals to you and your family on a time crunch and a budget is not an easy thing to do. However, knowing which main chemicals and ingredients to avoid can help you to say no to certain products and move on to something a little bit healthier.
Stick with natural, organic ingredients, use your own filtered water, and stay away from foods that contain ingredients you can't pronounce, and you are already on your way to a healthier lifestyle.