10 TOXINS found in Food.
As food technology progresses, we are getting increasingly efficient at prolonging shelf lives, enhancing taste, creating flavours, adding aromas while at the same time reducing the end cost of the product. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of better food products, we have created food that is dangerous to our health. Toxins make their way to our food through poor packaging, unhealthy food processing practices, poor storage conditions, bad environmental conditions or through the food itself. Food toxins pose a severe threat to our health. Each day, several food additives get banned due to their toxicity. This article focuses on the 10 toxins found in food.
Aflatoxins are carcinogenic substances that can cause liver cancer. Fungi called Aspergillus flavus & Aspergillus parasiticus produces aflatoxins. Crops like peanut, cottonseed, corn, rice, figs, dry fruits, and nuts may contain aflatoxins. Aflatoxins can end up in the food chain through the harvest itself or dairy and meat when animals consume the contaminated feed. In addition, there have been reports of farmers getting high doses of aflatoxin when accidentally inhaling dust generated while handling contaminated crops or feed. To avoid Aflatoxin intoxication, only buy products of reputed brands that carry out stringent quality tests and do not consume expired products. Read more on aflatoxin from the National Cancer Institute: Cancer-causing substance – Aflatoxin.
#2 Bisphenol A (BPA):
Bisphenol A or BPA is a known carcinogen linked to heart diseases. Sealants of soda cans, ketchup bottles, puree packs and other packaged foods use BPA. BPA occasionally encounters the food inside and contaminates the same. To avoid BPA intoxication, only use BPA-free packaged food. Here is more on Bisphenol A from National Center for Biotechnology Information: A review of the carcinogenic potential of Bisphenol A.
#3 Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) & Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs):
Heterocyclic Amines or HCAs & Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons or PAHs are known carcinogens. Research has found them to be mutagenic, causing changes in the DNA. Cooking meat using remarkably high-temperature methods like directly cooking on an open flame or cooking in a hot frying pan forms HCAs and PAHs. These chemicals can also get created during the smoking of meat. To prevent ingesting HCAs and PAHs, cook meat at lower temperatures and avoid smoking meat. Here is more on HCAs and PAHs from the National Cancer Institute: Chemicals in meat cooked at high temperatures and cancer risk.
Mercury, a food toxin, is a known neurotoxin that affects the fetal brain and nervous system. It is also a probable carcinogen. Plants that grow in mercury-contaminated water end up absorbing the mercury. Smaller fishes consume these contaminated plants. Larger fishes consume the contaminated smaller fishes and over time become contaminated themselves. At the end of the food chain, humans consume the larger mercury-contaminated fishes and suffer from mercury poisoning. To avoid getting poisoned by mercury, buy certified mercury-free seafood.
Diacetyl is a food toxin released from food flavouring, such as artificial butter flavouring. Long term exposure to diacetyl causes inflammation of the air pathways. Excessive exposure to diacetyl eventually leads to bronchiolitis obliterans or popcorn lung. To avoid exposure to diacetyl, avoid inhaling direct fumes while opening food packages, choose to cook on an open stove and buy products without artificial flavouring.
Lead, a food toxin, is a known carcinogen and causes lung, stomach & bladder cancers. Lead poisoning can occur through excess lead in food or water. For example, food fried in ceramic utensils often leach the lead-heavy glaze and end up causing lead poisoning. Soldering in cans may leak inside and mix with food or liquid, causing high lead levels. Lead may also leak into the water from the pipes or tanks that carry or store water and cause lead poisoning. You may check for lead in food or water using a home lead test kit to avoid lead poisoning.
Arsenic, a food toxin, is a known carcinogen and can cause lung, bladder, and skin cancers. It is added to drinks like wine, fruit juice and beer to prevent clouding. Arsenic may also come from food sources like rice, seafood, poultry etc. and drinking water. It is challenging to avoid arsenic exposure if it gets into our food and water. The only way is to test food and water for potentially dangerous levels of arsenic. Here is a little bit more from the World Health Organization on Arsenic.
Coumarin, a food toxin and carcinogen, is found in several types of cinnamons. It can cause liver damage. However, it may not be possible to detect if your cinnamon contains coumarin unless we lab-test it. To avoid getting intoxicated by coumarin, always buy a less toxic variant called the Ceylon cinnamon. It is also called true cinnamon and a little rare to find & expensive than the regular cinnamon.
#9 Artificial Trans Fats:
Artificial trans fats are food toxins extensively used in packaged foods, bakery items, snacks, margarine etc. They are created by pushing hydrogen into unsaturated corn and soybean oils. This process makes them turn into solid fats. Studies have shown artificial trans fats to cause severe inflammation and heart diseases. Therefore, the US has banned them since January 2020. Animal-based foods also contain trans fats. However, these do not have adverse effects like artificial trans fats. To avoid artificial trans fat consumption, do not consume products containing hydrogenated vegetable fat and check food labels for artificial trans fat content. Here is more on the dangers of artificial trans fats.
#10 Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) & Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT):
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) & Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) are potential food toxins commonly used as food preservatives. They impair blood clotting and promote tumour growth in high doses. Although declared safe by the FDA, International Agency for Research On Cancer considers them are probable carcinogens. The US National Institutes of Health also considers BHA as a carcinogen. The state of California, US, has listed BHA as a carcinogen. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends avoiding BHT and puts it in its caution column. The UK, Japan, and several other European countries have banned BHA and BHT. To limit or prevent ingesting BHA & BHT, check food labels for the type of preservatives used. Avoid packaged foods that do not declare the type of preservative used. Read more on BHA and BHT here: The dirty dozen BHA & BHT.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the 10 toxins found in food.