10 Horrific Ingredients You’re Probably Eating Daily

article by Rachel Carr
March 22, 2020
We are inundated on a daily basis with food marketing and food advertising. More often than not, these advertisements are championing or encouraging us to consume food that is either processed or prepared.
When we buy into this powerful marketing and eat the food that is promoted, it means that we are consuming food that is likely to contain ingredients that are bad for us. This is because for processed food to taste good and have a long shelf life, it is often pumped full of ingredients that are so far removed from what we would add to our own home cooking.


Here are 10 ingredients that food companies sneak into your food, that you should watch out for:

#1 Castoreum

It sounds almost unbelievable but one of the ingredients used in ice cream is actually something that beavers secrete to mark territory. Thankfully, Castoreum is predominantly used when manufacturing perfumes or other fragrances. However, it can also be used to make cigarettes and food. This is because the FDA condone it as a generally safe ingredient to use. For this reason, it is used in vanilla, raspberry or strawberry ice creams as a natural additive.

All that being said, the main drawback to Castoreum is that it comes from beavers. It’s not actually bad for us and we can digest it fairly easily. There are not many, if any, side effects to eating or ingesting it. But the thought of consuming it, once we know what it is, is a fairly unsavory prospect. More surprising still is that it is used in some medications to help soothe anxiety and stress as it acts as a calming agent. Some people even take it as a way to induce sleep for mild insomnia.

#2 Olestra

Olestra is a nasty little ingredient because it is often used in foods as its use can mean they can be advertised as fat-free. It is used as well to help food taste good. The reason it is a nasty ingredient is that it the body cannot actually digest it. As a consequence, it causes humans to have aggravated diarrhea.

For example, when the ingredient was first discovered by Proctor and Gamble, they used it in their chips. It meant they could advertise their chips as fat-free, but the FDA did require P&G to label their chips with a “loose stools” warning. The FDA eventually received countless complaints that P&G’s chips had caused diarrhea.

The reason that Olestra is fat-free is the reason that it causes diarrhea. The ingredient is too large for our stomachs to digest and break down. As a consequence, it simply goes straight through our digestive systems.

Worse still, it has been found to block beta-carotene and lycopene. Humans need these nutrients to survive.

Despite this, Olestra can still be used and is found in a number of fat-free products.

#3 Gelatin

We have all probably heard of Gelatin. Some of us may even have used it in our cooking to make desserts and jams to help with setting. Few of us, however, probably realize that Gelatin is actually derived from animal fat and other parts like skin, hooves, bone, and intestines. In fact, it is often made from all the parts of the animal that is not used for meat. In other words, the leftovers.

For some, this won’t cause a problem. Some meat eaters are not squeamish and realize what happens to their meat when it is sold in shops. It could, therefore, be argued that gelatin is simply an extension of what we buy from the meat counter. However, it is not uncommon to be put off by the fact that when we eat desserts like Jell-O or similar, we are actually eating a dessert that is not suitable for vegetarians. Additionally, many candies will have been made with gelatin as an ingredient which can be an off-putting thought to so many – vegetarian or not. Some yogurts and ice cream have it too.

Again, it is not actually bad for your body, per se. In fact, it has been shown in some studies to have health benefits. However, knowing exactly what gelatin is may cause people to stop consuming some foods.

#4 Aspartame

Aspartame is a controversial ingredient. Some believe it to be totally fine for humans to ingest, while others maintain that it causes headaches at the very least. There have been studies conducted to see whether it has carcinogenic properties, but the test results were inconclusive. However, what is a clear fact is that the FDA recommend staying clear of the ingredient.

It is widely used as a sweetener as it is almost 200 times sweeter than sugar. Reportedly, it adds this sweetness without any calories, presumably because so little of it is needed to sweeten food.

#5 BHA and BHT

While you can find these ingredients in cleaning products, you can also find them in Graham Crackers, some gum and even lard – to name a few. These two chemical’s full names are Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT). They can be used in skin products too like body moisturizers.

It is intriguing that they are allowed to be used however as not only are they very bad for the environment, they’re terrible for our bodies too. BHA and BHT have been known to cause severe cases of vomiting, stomach pain, and dizziness. Worse still, they have been found to lead to damaging the liver. Given that they can be used to clean the house with, it is not surprising that they can upset the human body so much.

They are largely used as an antioxidant agent, but care should be taken in how much we ingest them.

#6 Parabens

You may have heard of parabens before through the course of cosmetics marketing. Many cosmetics proudly advertise the fact that they are paraben free these days due to the negative press that parabens have garnered recently.

While Parabens are more commonly used in cosmetics as a preservative, they can also be used in food. Parabens are popular with manufacturers as they stop mold forming as well as yeast in food. They can actually be found naturally, and these naturally formed parabens are totally fine for us to eat. However, parabens used in food are mostly synthetic, man-made ones. It is these parabens that can sometimes contain carcinogens.

This obviously puts the body at risk to ingesting food that is almost toxic to them. If too much is ingested over a lifetime, it can have a material impact on our health as a whole. Parabens, or synthetic parabens, can be found in ice cream, grains, fish and dairy products.

#7 L-Cysteine or Human Hair

Horrific but true, L-Cysteine is found in so many foods as an amino acid that can help prolong the shelf life of products. That is why it is so common. Manufacturers have a lot less wastage if their foods can sit on shelves for longer before becoming totally inedible.

While that’s great for them, L-Cysteine is actually derived from human hair. It can also be found in duck and chicken feathers as well as cow horns, but the L-Cysteine used in food is often from human hair. Most reports about the manufacturing of L-Cysteine conclude that it mostly comes from hair from China that has been gathered from barbershops and hair salons.

To avoid eating this ingredient, the best thing to do is to buy bread that is fresh from a bakery. Bakers won’t use flour that is laden with additives to prolong shelf life. Plus, stay well away from fast food restaurants that serve bread or wheat based products. This means MacDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts and Burger King should all become off limits if you don’t fancy ingesting human hair for your supper.

#8 Coal Tar

One of the main reasons that dietitians and nutritionists advocate a diet of unprocessed foods is to avoid the long list of food colorings used. The main reason that colorings are bad for you is that the majority of them are actually derived from coal tar. Remarkably, they can still be used in our food without the food becoming off limits through regulation.

For example, tartrazine ( a yellow coloring), comes directly from coal tar and has even been linked to childhood hyperactivity. While in the EU any food that contains this coloring must be then labeled clearing with a warning, the same stipulation does not exist in the US. It is a popular coloring too and has recently had some bad press from bloggers. A group of them were trying to petition to have Kraft remove it, amongst others, from their ready-made macaroni cheese product.

#9 Boiled Beetle Shells

Another food coloring that we would avoid eating if we stuck to a diet of unprocessed food, is most unnaturally red food. The reason that we may want to avoid this food coloring from now on is that it is mainly made from boiling down beetle shells in an ammonia solution or a solution made from sodium carbonate. In fact, it takes a huge 70,000 bugs to make just one pound of dye.

At one point, it was used by Starbucks in their frappuccinos. However, the coffee giant eventually stopped using it as an additive when it attracted bad press for its use. But they’re not the only food retailer that used it as in ingredient in their foods. For instance, are you a big lover of red velvet cake? Well to get that color, many a bug’s shells was boiled.

The problem with switching to another red food dye to avoid eating bug shells or a bug shell derivative is that other popular red food dyes aren’t much better. Many that aren’t made from bug shells are actually made from derivatives of petroleum.

#10 Rodent Hair

This is not an ingredient that food producers and manufacturers actively look to add to their food. However, that is not to say that rodent hair still does not infiltrate some processed foods that hit our shelves. This is because the FDA allows for a certain amount of rodent hair to be present among food owing to what they can call “unavoidable defects”. It is a regulation that has been allowed as an acceptance that not all industrial cooking facilities can be rat free 100% of the time.

That is not the biggest comfort, however, especially when you consider that this amounts to one rodent hair being present for every 100 grams of chocolate made. Or even that a huge 22 rodent hairs are allowed for every 100 grams of cinnamon. Lastly, the FDA ruling even lets every 18 oz jar of peanut butter have five rodent hairs in it.

While these rodent hairs certainly won’t kill you or harm you in any way, it’s still not a nice thought to consider when having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The Bottom Line

The inclusion of these ingredients in so many different prepared and processed foods is perhaps the biggest reason to eat unprocessed food. This means that cooking and preparing meals for yourself is the safest way to ensure that you are not ingesting any nasties. By making home cooked foods, you know and control exactly what goes into your food.

However, cooking does not come naturally to everyone. Plus cooking can become a mundane chore as is going to the supermarket to buy ingredients. This is where a meal kit delivery service can come in so handy. They eliminate so many of the reasons that we all revert to eating highly processed foods.

Meal kits are easy to use, tasty and very convenient. By delivering ingredients to your door, they stop the need to go to the supermarket. By delivering ingredients that are the correct amount for a recipe, they dramatically reduce waste. By delivering the right amount of food for a specific recipe, they also control our portion sizes.

All these factors work in conjunction with one another. The result is we not only save time, but we also eat more healthily too, and often while saving money as well. We continue to rate Hello Fresh, Home Chef and Freshly as the three best meal delivery services on the market. They all provide this convenient service to their subscribers who start to enjoy the benefits of using them quickly.