10 Frightening Fast Food Additives

The subject of additives in the American food supply has been debated with increasing intensity for decades. As science takes a more prominent role in development of longer lasting more disease resistant products the concern over how safe the chemicals and processes used in this process raises. What constitutes safe? How do you clearly define natural? What are the potential side effects? What’s more with scientific names like trimethyl glycol and disodium guanylate most consumers have no idea what they’re putting into their bodies, effectively nullifying the ability to make educated decisions. The FDA claims the safety of food additives can never be proven. Earlier decisions are under constant review as new evidence is uncovered. Even more surprising however, is that a large portion of the ingredients in food are not even evaluated by the FDA. That responsibility is left up to the manufacturers themselves. At least 1,000 ingredients have been introduced over a 50 year span with absolutely no review by the FDA.

Propylene Glycol – AntiFreeze

Propylene Glycol is a solvent used in the paints and plastics industry. It is an odorless, flavorless liquid that is generally used in food preparation as a moisturizer and solving agent. In short Propylene Glycol helps other additives mix together better. In dog food it is used to lower the freezing temperature of wet foods. The issue that wary consumers often take with PG is that it is also used as an anti-freeze, particularly in defrosting commercial planes. The chemical is not deemed safe for cats and has not been cleared for use in the European Union where food safety laws are notoriously stringent. In reality the known side effects of PG are the least on this list. Side effects note have been skin irritation, even through oral doses and lung irritation when inhaled.

What’s it in? McDonald’s Big Mac sauce, Folgers coffee.

GMO High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is probably one of the most debated and villainized ingredients in the world’s food supply and with good reason. There have been numerous discoveries over the last couple decades revealing the potentially harmful side effects of ingesting what was once considered a miracle food. Add in the concern over GMO corn products and you have a one two punch of potentially hazardous, ethically questionable fillers. Since its introduction HFCS has been linked with the sudden onset of type II diabetes in adolescents and obesity. Both statistics have risen considerably (at least 70%) since the compound was approved for consumption in nearly every product we buy today. Other side effects include a rise in Leptin which directly affects the metabolism making you slow and lethargic. Ghrelin is an enzyme produced after consumption of HFCS that interferes with the brains ability to signal the feeling of ‘full’ to the body. Therefore you continue to eat even though you no longer need to.

What’s It In? Burger King Buns, soft drinks, Stacker sauce.
The list of foods that contain HFCS is too long to attempt. Almost every manufactured product on the shelves these days seems to contain this chemical.

Azodicarbonamide – Rubber

Like many ingredients listed here this additive is labeled as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA. For this particular ingredient the reasoning is that while the additive is commonly used as a blower in rubber manufacturing which includes everything from tires to yoga mats, it meets federal regulations in small amounts. This boils down to the government sanctioning what is known as food grade version of the additive that in small amounts are deemed to have no noticeable effects on humans. The purpose of the ingredient is to increase shelf life and limit waste. There have been studies which indicate azodicarbonamide is a respiratory sensitizer which may cause undesired reaction in asthmatics. Australia and the UK have banned the substance.

What’s It In? McRib Sandwich

Dimethylpolysiloxane – Plastic

A lot of people have jokingly asked which part of the chicken does the nugget come from? As it turns out the McNugget may be anything but chicken. Specifics aside one of the key ingredients in processed chicken sold at the fast food giant is dimethylpolysiloxane. Anything with the part ‘poly’ in it should be a clear giveaway to unnatural ingredients but this one is particularly interesting. Poly means plastic. As in breast implants and silly putty. That is exactly what dimethylpolysiloxane is used for. Also illegal in the UK but considered GRAS by the FDA this chemical compound has shown such side effects as nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse. In industrial settings it is used as an anti foaming agent in plastics production.

What’s It In? Chicken McNuggets

Caramel Coloring

This one seems innocuous. After all it has caramel in the title, not some long, complicated technical name. In reality this is one of the most widely consumed and least natural ingredients on the list. A name isn’t everything. Caramel coloring is what gives dark sodas their color. It is what Taco Bell puts in its meat to give it a uniform color. This is however not sugar that was melted and added to a recipe to increase its desirability it is actually a burnt chemical compound. Caramel coloring is achieved by starting with corn syrup, the kind we referenced earlier and superheating the already genetically modified mix until it burns. What remains is a melted version of the same substance that resembles and tastes like real sugar based caramel. Known side effects of ingestion include hypertension and high blood pressure. In California a lawsuit led to the changing of their caramel color additive by both Coca-Cola and Pepsi when it was determined to contain the carcinogen 4-methylimidazole. An organic version is also available.

What’s it in? Coke, Pepsi and Taco Bell meat.

MonoSodium Glutamate – MSG

Everyone knows about MSG. It’s the infamous ingredient in Chinese food that makes you feel hungry 30 minutes after you eat it. Why does this happen? Because MSG alters the way your body perceives what it is eating. The compound, usually in powdered form, tricks your tongue into thinking you’re eating more protein rich foods than you actually are. It is an anti-appetite suppressant. The result is you eat a lot more food with a lot less nutritional substance. Damage to the brain has also been shown not only to increase obesity rates, but damage the hypothalamus in such a way that Leptin (the substance responsible for weight loss) is ignored. Therefore you stay overweight. Studies have also made associations between MSG and Alzheimers, Autism and other diseases related to nerve damage of the brain. Common side effects known to affect approximately 30% of the population (the number sensitive to MSG) are nausea,vomiting,sweating,headaches and vision problems.

What’s It In? KFC Chicken.

MSG is in a lot of things. Bouillon, natural pork,beef and chicken flavoring, soy sauce and cornstarch to name a few.

L-cysteine – human hair or duck feathers

You would think that if there was an alternative to using human bi-products in food, that alternative would be used most often but this is not true. While it is possible to make L-cysteine from duck feathers or pig hair it is most often (90% by some estimates) made from human hair from China. Used as a dough conditioner and present in most breads as well as a meat flavoring in popular fast foods, there is even a synthetic version available. The expense involved continuously returns manufacturers to the human component. This is of particular concern to religious groups that prevent the consumption of human based foods.

What’s It In? Taco Bell Chalupa Supreme

Silicon Dioxide – Silica – Sand

When you were a kid you probably ate dirt. Most of us did and did relatively little harm to our young bodies. You most likely also assumed you stopped somewhere around kindergarten. In reality almost everyone eats sand every single day. Silicon Dioxide also referred to as Silica is nothing more than sand introduced into food products as an anti-caking/ anti-foaming agent. The solution also absorbs moisture to achieve desired consistency in commercial products. Aside from its gross factor, at the very unpleasant, silica has been known to cause allergic reactions and renal complications for those sensitive to it.

What’s It In? Wendy’s Chili

Cellulose – Wood Pulp/Cotton

In a similar vein nature has been offering a lot of unexpected surprises in our daily diets. When we think of eating healthier we often look towards leafy green vegetables and nuts or berries. Most of us have already been chowing down on wood pulp for some time. Cellulose, known by a variety of names is a filler. It simulates fullness in foods and allows them to reach the status of ‘low calorie’ by replacing other ingredients without limiting portion sizes. It can also be found in shredded cheese to prevent sticking together in package and powdered drinks.

What’s It In? Jack In The Box Smoothie

TBHQ – Butane

TBHQ is a form of butane. You can stop there. There is no but or qualifying factor. TBHQ is a chemical preservative with a long list of possible interactions. This ingredient is often used as a replacement in foods labeled ‘non-trans fat.’ Since it is often considered a secondary ingredient it is not necessary for companies to label it on their products. Possible interactions include: nausea, delirium, collapse,tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and vomiting, hyperactivity, asthma, rhinitis and dermatitis. It may aggravate ADHD symptoms. Studies have shown links to cancerous development in rats, DNA damage and interference with estrogen levels in women.

What’s It In? Chicken McNuggets, Girl Scout Cookies, Diet Foods


Bisphenol-A – BPA

They say you should always wash your hands before eating. Here is a good example why. BPA is a chemical found in plastic. The compound was deemed too dangerous to be used in baby bottles or toys that children put in their mouth but was still considered GRAS for adult consumption. The chemical leaks into food that is stored in plastic containers, especially those that are heated with food inside, and from the lining of cans. Recent studies including one performed at Stanford University have indicated a possible link to an exceptional raise in miscarriage risk for exposed women. Some studies have also suggested depression as a side effect of BPA exposure. BPA is highly present on paper receipts which has led Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut (all owned by Yum! Brands) and other fast food franchises to eliminate their use in those restaurants. Experts have claimed it is impossible to eliminate exposure to BPA (in the US) and is in fact already present in virtually everyone’s blood stream.

Possible side effects: Breast and prostate cancer, genital deformity, impaired immune system, low sperm count, Down’s, Turner and Klinefelter Syndrome, impaired learning, elimination of sex differences in behavior, changes in response to fear or pain stimulus.

What’s It In? Fast food in general and canned foods. Highest concentrations were found in hamburgers.

9 thoughts on “10 Frightening Fast Food Additives

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