The word ‘Toxin’ gets thrown around a lot however most of these claims do not have any scientific evidence to back them up.
However there are some food products though that do contain harmful ingredients, especially when consumed in large amounts.
Use Of BPA In Food Packaging
BPA or Bisphenol-A is a chemical found in plastic used for food packaging, such as plastic containers as well as lining in cans.
Generally it is commonly found in bottled water, or mass produced and packaged foods such as fish, chicken, beans and vegetables.
There have been many studies that prove that BPA leeches into the food or beverage and is absorbed by the body (1).
A main concern is that BPA mimics the hormone estrogen by binding to the specific receptor cells and disrupting normal hormonal function (2).
Another study shows a link to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) a disorder where a person experiences elevated levels of androgens like the hormone testosterone (7).
Studies have found that food is the main contributor of BPA in our bodies. This study investigated this link and found that BPA was present in 63 of 105 samples. This included fresh foods and processed foods, like infant formula (14).
While the recommended daily intakes of BPA should be a maximum of 23 mcg/lb of your body weight, 40 independent studies report that negative effects begin at much lower doses in animals (15).
There have been over 100 studies that have found BPA as harmful whereas there have only been 11 studies that show no ill-effects, all of which were industry-funded (16).
A study showed that people who swapped out BPA packaged for fresh foods had a 66% reduction in their bodily BPA (17).
You should reduce your daily BPA exposure by removing packaged foods, containers, bottles and cans from your diet and eating more whole or unprocessed foods.
Processed Vegetable Or Seed Oils.
Vegetable and seed oils from sunflower seeds, corn, soybeans and cottonseed are highly processed and evidence is gathering that suggests these types of oil are harmful when consumed in high amounts (18). Despite many believing that these oils are a healthy substitute.
Often people use these oils to substitute saturated fats from butter in order to reduce unhealthy cholesterol and also reduce risks of heart disease however these oils are also empty calories in the sense that they do not provide many nutrients.
Vegetable and seed oils contain high levels of polyunsaturated omega-6 fats.
On average people consume as much as 16 times more omega-6 fats as omega-3 fats, where the healthy ratio is 1:1 to 3:1 (19). People do not consume the right balance of the omega-3’s.
These oils also contain very high levels of omega-6 specific linoleic acid.
There have been some observational studies where links were found between women eating high intakes of omega-6 fats, low intakes of omega-3 fats and breast cancer.
Trans fats are created by pressurizing hydrogen and cheap unsaturated vegetable or seed oils. This process turns the oil into a solid fat and becomes the unhealthiest fats that you can consume.
We don’t metabolize processed trans fats like we do with natural fats found in olive oil or butter.
These trans fat contribute to a variety of severe health problems (29). These include inflammation leading to negative health effects on your heart and circulatory system, such as these studies on animals (30,31,32).
Inflammation in your arteries means extra work when pumping blood and extra general stress on the heart.
A study explored the effects of different fats when consumed by healthy adult men. Trans fats were the only fat which increased the inflammatory marker called e-selectin and causes damage to blood vessel cells (37).
This evidence and more reinforces the message to avoid processed trans fats and stick with natural butter, hemp seed oil, coconut or olive oils in moderation.
Grilled Or Smoked Red Meats
We all know that red meat is one of the best sources of vital nutrients like protein, and iron. However there are cooking methods which produce harmful by products that are toxic to humans.
You can reduce the levels of cancer causing PAHs by 40% by removing the drippings as the burning fat is the main contributor. However the safest cooking methods are slower options like roasting or opting in for other meats (43).
Smoked meats, bacon and salami etc. are normally full of preservatives as well.
Toxins In Cinnamon
It’s difficult to believe this household spice, often touted for its health benefits can be toxic. A compound called coumarin is the culprit and is toxic when taken in high doses.
True cinnamon or Ceylon is the bark of a tree from Sri Lanka and is much rarer.
Most humans can safely eat 2 grams or 1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon each day with no ill effects. However some cereals and baked goods containing cinnamon have 4 mg/lb.
One brand of cookie had 40 mg/lb so moderating your intake might be a good idea.
Refined sugars are empty calories that lead to obesity, diabetes and a raft of other health concerns. The toxic, harmful effects are more far reaching than just that.
In fact one observational study saw that those with the highest sugar intakes have double the risk of getting colon cancers than their counterparts with the lowest intakes of sugar (51).
There are many savoury dishes that contain refined sugar so don’t think that just because you are not drinking soft drinks or adding sugar to your tea or coffee that you are avoiding it all together.
Preservatives go by many names and are good for food manufacturers but play havoc on the human body, they have been linked to an increased chance of cancer, allergies, digestive problems, skin irritations, breathing abnormalities just to name a few.
Some examples of what to look for on food labels;
Sodium nitrites and nitrates- often found in meats such as bacon, salami and deli meats. These are normally harmless but when they come in contact with heat as what would happen when the meats are cooked they turn into nitrosamines (52). These are carcinogens (53, 54)
Sodium Benzoate- one of the more popular preservatives which is found in just about every packed food also goes by the name of Benzoic Acid, Potassium Benzoate, Benzoate etc. It extends shelf life but shortens human life span!
Some labels will just say things like preservative 202 , preservative 220 or will just state that there is a preservative present, this is easier said than done but you should avoid them as much as possible.
There is a study in rats showing MSG to have harmful neurological effects (55)
Some people get what is called Chinese restaurant syndrome which involves headaches, dry mouth, numbness/tingling, muscle tightness, weakness and flushing.
It is also known to bring about asthma attacks (56).
MSG is believed to be a carcinogen (cancer causing chemical) and can range from having immediate nasty symptoms to no symptoms at all, don’t be fooled into thinking you are not doing yourself any harm just because you do not experience symptoms.
High Levels Of Mercury In Fish
We all know that fish are a great source of nutrients but we need to be wary of mercury levels.
Mercury is heavy metal that is a neurotoxin in humans. This means it works to damage the brain and nerves in the body. Pregnant women should be extra cautious as mercury can be very harmful for a fetus’s developing nervous system (57,58)
Plants absorb mercury from poisoned waters, small fish eat those plants and absorb the metal, larger fish eat them and build up even more mercury and eventually humans eat those larger fish, like sharks.
In 2014 a study was undertaken to understand the levels of mercury present in women and children.
The results saw significantly higher levels that the World Health Organization feels are safe (60).
Coastal communities who naturally eat a lot of seafood were even higher than the general population.
Canned tuna can be a major source of mercury as tuna is a large ocean fish. A study found that the levels varied between brands but over half of the studied sample was over the 0.5 parts per million safety limits (61)
Fish species such as king mackerel or swordfish are both very high in mercury (62).
In order to limit your exposure to mercury educate yourself on seafood that is ranked low in mercury and consume only those fish.
This list holds the ranks for ‘safe’ fish and the great news is that Salmon, Herring, Anchovies, and Sardines are all low mercury and high in healthy omega-3’s.