When it comes to the food that we consume, ignorance is not bliss.

Like many others, I used to rely on the FDA to do the dirty work for me.  If an ingredient was on the shelf of a U.S. grocery store, then it had to be safe for consumption -right? Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite our FDA’s $4.9B annual budget, other countries are leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. when it comes to food regulation. If you look at the European Union (EU), which represents nearly 30 countries across Europe, they require food manufactures to prove that proposed ingredients do not pose a health risk. This is required before an item is allowed to be sold in EU Countries. That seems logical to me and is what I assumed was happening here in the U.S. but, sadly, that’s not the case.

In the U.S., the FDA doesn’t approve ingredients before they hit our shelves. They’ve outsourced that approval to the food manufacturers. Wait…what? That’s right, all a food manufacturer has to do is hire an expert ($$$) to claim that the ingredient is not harmful – and we all know how much big businesses are motivated by ethics over revenue. The ingredient is then considered “GRAS” which stands for “Generally Recognized as Safe” and that’s it. They can then immediately start using the ingredient. A food manufacturer may voluntarily send their GRAS determination to the FDA, but this is not mandatory. This means that the FDA is in no way tracking or regulating the thousands of food additives being used in our foods. Yikes!

So how is this process (or lack of process) working out for us? Not great since it’s estimated that 41% of Americans will get cancer in their lifetime :/

Here is just a snapshot of ingredients that are frequently used in foods in the U.S., but deemed not safe for consumption in other countries:

  • Artificial Food Coloring: Sadly, these are most commonly used in foods we feed our kids and many believe it’s a cause for the rise in behavioral issues that kids are diagnosed with today.
    • Blue 1 & Blue 2 are banned in Finland, France, and Norway. Studies suggest they are linked to an increased risk of cancer and they have also been linked to hyperactivity and learning disabilities in children.
    • Yellow 5 & Yellow 6 are banned in Austria, Norway and Finland. Studies have linked both Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 to an increased risk of cancer and to hyperactivity and learning disabilities in children.
    • Red 40 is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the U.K., and many other European countries discourage its use in children’s products. Studies suggest that Red 40 is linked to an increased risk of cancer and has been linked in studies to hyperactivity and learning disabilities in children.
  • Brominated vegetable oil (BVO): This is a common ingredient in sodas and other beverages in the U.S. It is banned in more than 100 countries because it is a known carcinogen and has been linked to cancer.
  • Potassium Bromate: Typically found in baked goods in the U.S., this ingredient is banned across the European Union, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil, Peru, China, Sri Lanka, South Korea and, in California, foods containing this ingredient must have a warning label. It contains bromine which is a known carcinogen and has been linked to cancer.
  • Phosphates: Most commonly used in meat products as a preservative, this ingredient is banned across the European Union as it is considered an arterial toxin and increases your risk of heart disease.
  • Growth Hormones (rBGH AND rBST): These are most commonly found in dairy products as they are hormones that are often given to cows to increase their production of milk. They are banned in Australia, Canada, Japan, and the European Union as they are linked to an increased risk of cancer (especially breast, colon, and prostate cancers).

What do you do with this information? Most importantly, I think we all need to be empowered shoppers. We need to read our food labels. If there are ingredients that we don’t know or, even worse, can’t pronounce then look them up to learn more.

Let’s stop trusting the FDA to do the dirty work for us.