We spent much of 2017 decoding the ingredients found in the many things Americans put in (and on) themselves — from Doritos Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips to Astroglide Strawberry-Flavored Personal Lubricant. In doing so, we stumbled across a distressing number of ingredients that sounded like the food-grade equivalent of anthrax. Below, we’ve listed 10 of the deadliest ingredients we came across this year — and which products we found them in.
Be forewarned: It just gets more frightening the further down the list you get.
Consuming tons of vegetable oils — which is easy to do, considering roughly 45 percent of the average American’s calories come from refined oils, according to Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food — can result in fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines. Men, especially, may have reason to worry about their vegetable oil intake, according to one theory put forth by physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan: “Vegetable oils accelerate the aging process within a man’s gonads [the medical term for testicles],” she told us. “This causes mutation within the sperm and can cause autism in the children of these men.”
Can Be Found In: Doritos Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips; McDonald’s Big Macs; Jimmy Dean Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuits; and Dodger Dogs
Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
If you thought vegetable oils were bad, hydrogenated vegetable oils are even worse: When you add hydrogen to food via hydrogenation — which many manufactures do to increase the food’s shelf life — you get trans fats. Unfortunately, trans fats raise cholesterol, harden arteries and inhibit the formation of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which helps determine the dilation of your arteries and regulates blood flow.
Can Be Found In: Jimmy Dean Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuits and Kraft Turkey Stuffing Mix
Enriched Bleached Flour
Enriched flour isn’t actually “enriched” at all. In addition to containing more calories than whole wheat flour, the bleaching process enriched flour undergoes produces an unfortunate byproduct: A chemical called alloxan, which has been found to induce diabetes in lab-animal test subjects by destroying the pancreas. The only reason it’s called “enriched flour” is because many of the natural ingredients are either lost or destroyed during the bleaching process, so the flour is then enriched with B vitamins, iron and sometimes calcium.
Can Be Found In: Jimmy Dean Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuits; McDonald’s Big Macs; Dodger Dogs; and Kraft Turkey Stuffing Mix
Mono and Diglycerides
Mono (aka, monoglycerides) and diglycerides are oftentimes packed with trans fats that aren’t listed on the nutrition facts label, which is incredibly problematic. That’s because trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and consuming more than you think you are (because they weren’t listed on the label) could do serious damage to your body.
Can Be Found In: Dodger Dogs; Starbucks Mocha Frappuccinos; and McDonald’s Big Macs
Several studies suggest that aspartame (a low-calorie sweetener) may actually promote weight gain despite being marketed as doing the very opposite: A 2008 study found that drinking artificially sweetened beverages was associated with an almost doubled risk of being overweight or obese. Additionally, Shanahan told us that some people are so sensitive to the aspartic acid in aspartame that it causes them to experience headaches, dizziness and even confusion.
Can Be Found In: Diet Coke and Orbit White Spearmint Gum
Potassium benzoate (a chemical preservative) may have negative effects on our natural aging process, according to Shanahan: “Potassium Benzoate can interfere with mitochondrial function.” When mitochondria lose their ability to fully convert oxygen to energy, small amounts of this oxygen escape and create free radicals, which have been linked to chronic health problems like cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, cataracts and cancer.
Can Be Found In: Diet Coke
In its natural mineral form, some talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancer in and around the lungs when inhaled. A few other major studies also found a link between talc and ovarian cancer — many women in particular use products containing talc (like baby powder) as a part of feminine hygiene.
Can Be Found In: Gold Bond Body Powder
Polysorbate 80 (which is an emulsifier) directly promotes inflammatory bowel disease and a cluster of obesity-related diseases known as metabolic syndrome, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Nature.
Can Be Found In: McDonald’s Big Mac
Caramel coloring has a highly controversial byproduct called 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI): A 2007 study found that mice fed a diet of 4-MEI developed cancerous lung tumors as a result. More recent studies argue that levels of 4-MEI are indeed high enough in soda and consumed in sufficient quantities by Americans to increase their risk of developing cancer.
Can Be Found In: McDonald’s Big Macs; Diet Coke; and Kraft Turkey Stuffing Mix
“Potassium chloride is used to induce cardiac arrest during executions by lethal injections,” according to nutritionist David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. “That should speak volumes as to whether this ingredient belongs in our food supply.” And while, admittedly, you’d have to consume a ton of the stuff to experience negative effects, this ingredient is quite literally a killer.
Can Be Found In: Kraft Turkey Stuffing Mix