8 Scary Hidden Ingredients in Processed Foods


If you haven’t brushed up on your high school chemistry lately, chances are, you have a hard time figuring out the ingredients list on processed food labels. What the heck is butylated hydroxyanisole? Any clue what ammonium sulfate is, and what else it’s used for? Well, the answers might alarm you. Click through to read about some of the scariest, and some of the strangest,  ingredients in processed foods.

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1. Diacetyl

Found In: Microwave popcorn.

Several healthy, young and non-smoking males began developing an extremely rare form of lung cancer. What they had in common was that they worked in popcorn factories, and were inhaling diacetyl for extended periods of time. Several manufacturers have voluntarily removed the chemical from their products, and some governments have stepped in to regulate the harmful chemical. But it’s more than just a worker safety concern — a man in the United States was awarded over $7 million in damages after his case of the rare cancer was linked to the chemical. Studies have also suggested that diacetyl may be linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.

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2. Silicon Dioxide

Also Known As: Sand.

Found In: Fast food.

Just as you might add it to concrete to strengthen it, silicon dioxide is added to various fast food meals to keep it from clumping. Though that does sound pretty gross, it’s important to note that silicon dioxide is generally safe to consume in small quantities.

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3. 3-MCPD

Formed By: Exposing foods that contain fat and salt to high temperatures during the production process.

Found In: Asian oyster, soy and hoisin sauces. They’re also found in wheat products, meat and cheese.

Banned in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, (though not, yet, in the United States), 3-MCPD is toxic to humans and raises your risk of cancer.

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4. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

Also Used As: A preservative in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Found In: Butter, beer, meats, cereals, chewing gum and many snack foods.

BHA is usually used in processed foods to prevent fats from going rancid. Studies have shown that cosmetic lip products that contain BHA are quite harmful, potentially increasing the risk for cancer. The substance is banned for cosmetics used in the European Union, and its use is restricted in cosmetics in the U.S. It’s been known to cause cancer in some animals, and the National Institutes of Health believes that it is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

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5. Allura Red AC

Also Known As: Red 40, an azo dye manufactured from petroleum.

Found In: Lots of things — sodas, cough syrup, candy, cereal — you name it.

The most common red dye used in foods manufactured in the United States, Allura Red AC is banned or discouraged in several parts of Europe. Why? Well, studies have shown a problematic link between Allura Red C, along with other food dyes, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other hyperactive disorders. The dye has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

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6. Castoreum

Also Known As: Extract from the perineal glands of beavers.

Found In: You know that elusive “natural flavoring” ingredient in processed foods? Sometimes, that’s castoreum.

Don’t worry — this stuff is very uncommon in the United States. As a whole, the food manufacturing industry produces about 300 pounds of the stuff annually.

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7. Ammonium Sulfate

Also Used As: Fertilizer —  it’s a salt compound.

Found In: Some bread and flour products.

Ammonium sulfate is added to some bread and flour products to regulate acidity, particularly in breads at fast food restaurants. It’s generally safe to eat.

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8. Tartrazine

Also Known As: Yellow #5, a synthetic food dye.

Found In: Sodas, cereals, candies, ice cream, pickles, cookies, macaroni and cheese… you name it.

More allergic reactions are caused by tartrazine than any other food dye. Though intolerance to the chemical is thought to be quite low, for those who are intolerant, symptoms like migraines, depression, itching and blurred vision have all been seen. It’s not entirely clear whether people who aren’t intolerant experience negative consequences from ingesting yellow #5, some research has suggested a link to behavioral issues, cancer and damaged organs. It’s banned in some areas of Europe, but legal (and regulated) in the United States and Canada.

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stacey wallace
stacey wallace1 years ago


Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago


Bonnie M.
Bonnie M.2 years ago

Truly scary- and who is out there protecting us- the consumers? If these issues are out there for all to read- where are the powers that be who should be vigilant about protecting health and safety of all?

Bill and Katie D.
Katie D.2 years ago

Some really scarey additives for our food! Cook your own to avoid this!
Thank You

Indransh G.
Indransh G.2 years ago

I like your article. It is very informative. Thank you so much for sharing such priceless information. Hats-off to the writer. Keep on posting such nice articles. Love to read you. Thank you so much.

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado2 years ago

No more eating of processed foods?

Lydia Price

In the early 1970's my mother noticed she was developing a lot of little red spots [small benign capillary tumors] and severe, frequent headaches. She went to an allergist who tested her extensively and diagnosed her with a sensitivity to the new- fad preservatives BHA and BHT. My family soon learned all about these compounds and avoided purchasing anything containing them. Her red spots went away quickly. She still gets a severe headache if she unknowingly eats a food with one of these nasty concoctions in it. She has had to give up so many things she liked...especially her favorite brands of breakfast cereal. Manufacturers use these because they're cheap. These preservatives are common in many things, even pet food. The allergist told my mom that these chemicals are poison, so we've all been avoiding them for years.

Mirella Santillo
Mirella Santillo2 years ago

I wonder why BPA was not mentioned in that list?

Gaetano C.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you

Alice Birmingham
Alice Birmingham2 years ago

Great information, thanks.