For Your Health

There's What In My What?

The secret is out: there’s no real way of telling what exactly is in our foods. Nutrition labels throw us massive curves with technical jargon so alien you’d have to believe it was made up just to confuse the average person. Sodium Eyrthorbate? Why don’t you just say “salt”? And Monotriglyceride? Fat would suffice. Not all of us are dieticians or, better yet, chemical biologists. We’re only talking about our means of sustenance, right?

But those aren’t the only confusing words that wind up on our food labels. Terms like “Natural”, “All-Natural”, “Natural Flavoring”, and “Organic” grace the labels of more and more products on the market, but these catchy claims actually serve as catch-alls; not every company uses them fraudulently, but there are those out there that sling the formers around like Yo-Yos on the playground.

The best way to avoid the common pratfalls of food-ingredient ignorance is to read the nutrition labels closely. Truly organic products are certified by the USDA and will sport a corresponding emblem. Foods labeled “100% organic”, and sport the USDA emblem, are entirely organic. Foods listed with “organic” labels only meet as many as 95% of the criteria to qualify as organic. Any food that says “made with organic ingredients” on the label means it meets 70% of the criteria for organic certification. “Contains Organic Ingredients” means less than 70% organic, but still made from some organic ingredients. Some companies will mislead you to believe “natural” is the twin sister of “organic”. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Products certified 100% Organic bear this seal. (Google Images)
What you’re looking for on food labels will vary depending on your diet needs and preferences. Regardless of diet, there are ingredients lurking out there in some of your favorite foods that, if known, you wouldn’t want to eat them. Below is a list of 5 disgusting additives, preservatives, dyes, and substances that just plain shouldn’t be used our foods, and are used far more than you’d like to think.


Nutrition labels sporting the typical big-word “castoreum” may have you saying, “damnit,” and retching a little bit after you read this blurb. A popular alternative to vanilla extract is the secretion from a beaver’s castor sacs called castoreum. Beavers discharge the fluid to mark territory. The smell is reported to be musky, pungent but not horribly offensive. What is offensive is the fact that beaver castor sacs sit close to the anal glands, which generally mix fluids when the castor sacs are engaged. The additive has been used in foods, both commercially and domestically, for 80 years, according to a 2013 National Geographic report. Castoreum also falls under the pseudonyms castor, castor fiber, Canadensis (HA!), castormine, and castorin. Some companies, in an effort to disguise the sticky discharge lurking in your food, simply chalk it up to one of the aforementioned catch-alls; generally falling under the most widely used catchall “Natural Flavoring”. Although reported completely safe for human consumption by the FDA, think twice the next time you pop the top of that half-gallon of ice cream.

Common Uses:
Ice Cream

Carminic Acid

A worker demonstrates the deep crimson color of a crushed cochineal shell.
Often referred to as Natural Red 4, or simply Red 4, is the pulverized shell of a crimson red beetle called the cochineal. Formally known as “Carminic acid”. The bug is used in the production of food and cosmetic dyes. Originally discovered as a source of reds for painting and clothing dye in the 1500s, crushed cochineal shells, or as its food-label alias Red 4, squirms its way into some of the most popular candies and dyes used in baked goods on the market. This breeds new meaning to the phrase “bugging out” after eating too much candy. Unlike the controversial Red 40, Red 4 remains safe for human consumption.

Common Uses:
Hard Candies


Whenever you see the ingredient “gelatin” on you favorite foods, know that you will rarely ever be eating the same thing. The true derivative of gelatin generally comes from the skins of animals. Collagen, as it’s formally called, has found it’s way into even the most seemingly friendly foods. Typically harvested from pigskin, the collagen or gelatin is used as a thickening agent, which helps bind ingredients (and bowels). It’s also the same stuff plastic surgeons inject into the lips of rich housewives and people who fancy pudgy straw suckers.

Common Uses:
Protein Bars
Facial Injections

Bone Char

Next up on this sideshow list of additives is what’s referred to as Bone Char, or crudely put, charred bones. Sugar manufacturers often use charred cow bones to purify their products. When processed, sugars actually retain a brownish color. The sugar companies use the charred bones to refine the sugar and produce the nice, synonymous white finish. The process has been in existence since the early 1800s, which is infamously used by leading sugar manufacturer and distributor Domino Foods. Bone char is typically only used in the production of sugar from cane, which excludes many substitutes, like Stevia. But, don’t worry. Records only show Domino Foods holds a 25% market share.

Common Uses:


As if we needed any more reason to doubt our government. This one is a little more serious, but still nonetheless shocking. Within the last year, the FDA released reports that two of our most widely consumed foods in the United States test positive for the poison chemical arsenic. In September 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released positive analytical evidence off arsenic in rice. What’s even more shocking is that arsenic levels are supposedly higher in concentration in the well-believed “healthier” brown rice than in white rice. The butterfly effect of this announcement reaches as far down the line as children’s rice-based cereals. The FDA also recently admitted (in expected backhanded fashion) that chicken feed distributed to American farms also contains the toxic poison. Forever the FDA, dating back to the 1960s, denied the claim arsenic remained in our foods by sticking to the story the chickens excreted the chemical out as part of their natural digestive cycle, only to retract those claims last month. According to Canadian research facility Centre for Research on Globalization, the same litter produced by chickens is fed to cows in beef factories. What’s ironic is another common use for our old friend bone char: filtering arsenic. Now if this doesn’t paint a messed up portrait of the American food manufacturing industry, I don’t know what will.

As a country, the United States consumes 8 billion chickens per year.

Per capita, Americans consume between 24 and 26lbs. of rice annually.