All expats have it and so do I: The craving for certain foods that we grew up with back home, before we moved to America. They are a piece of home, a special treat that you can’t get that easily anymore. And even if there appears to be a good substitute in American grocery stores, our guts don’t quite trust the look-a-like, so we hold off and wait for the next visitor to arrive to bring us what we know and trust.
This could be a life saving or at least life extending instinct long-term, because certain foods in America contain additives that are not safe and therefore banned in other countries. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is trying to control the American food chain and is supposed to look out for our safety, but they’re doing a very poor job in some cases. Read on for 10 foods that you can still buy in America, that are banned in other countries.
Artificial Food Colors and Dyes
If you’ve ever seen an American birthday cake for kids, you knew this can’t be healthy. Looks fun though and kids just love everything with rainbow colors. In countries where food colors are banned, companies like Kraft use natural colorants like paprika extract, beetroot and annatto. So why can’t they just do the same in the U.S.? Check out the ingredients label on everything that looks suspiciously colorful, especially when it’s for your kids. Look for ingredients like red 40, yellow 5, or blue 2. It’s easy to spot these artifical food colors.
Found in: Cakes, kids cereals, candy, cheese, sports drinks, medicine, maccaroni and cheese.
Health hazards: Most artificial colors are made from coal tar, which appears in products like head lice shampoos to kill off the small bugs. Research on laboratory animals has shown that artificial food dyes can cause behavioral problems, cancer, birth defects and other health problems.
Banned in: Norway, Finland, Austria, France and the U.K.
The European Union requires a warning notice on most foods containing dyes.
Mostly found in bromated flour, which is used for nearly every commercially baked bread, because it strengthens the dough and reduces the time it needs baking.
Found in: Bread, flat bread, rolls, wraps, bread crumbs, bagel chips
Health hazards: This additive is made with the same toxic chemical found in BVO (brominated vegetable oil) and has been associated with kidney and nervous system disorders as well as gastrointestinal discomfort.
Banned in: European Union, Canada and China.
Synthetic growth hormones rBGH and rBST
Dairy farmers inject cows genetically engineered growth hormones to boost milk production by up to 10%.
Found in: Milk and dairy products.
Health hazards: Both cows and humans suffer the consequences. Cows become lame, infertile, and suffer from inflamed and infected udders. Humans can develop breast, colon and prostate cancers with the IGF-1 levels found in “supercharged” milk.
Banned in: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, Japan, and the European Union.
Watch out for farm-raised salmon in the grocery store. Salmon has been fed genetically engineered grains to grow faster and bigger. Unfortunately the healthy red color turns to gray with that type of food, so fish farmers bring back the color with feeding chemicals. Stay away from Atlantic Salmon. Buy Alaskan or Sockeye instead.
Found in: Restaurants, Grocery store
Health hazards: To compensate for the grayish flesh, fish farms feed synthetic astaxanthin made from petrochemicals, which has not been approved for human consumption and has well known toxicities.
Banned in: Australia and New Zealand
Genetically modified Papayas
In order to make them resistant to the ringspot-virus, most Hawaiian papayas are now genetically engineered. These don’t have a lot in common with the original papayas anymore as Ka Sundance, German expat in Costa Rica, explains pretty good in his video. Real papayas are not as sweet and big and come with a lot more seeds than their Hawaiian replicas.
Health hazards: Unfortunately, GMO foods have not been long enough on the market to see long-term effects, so the dangers to humans are still unknown. However, research on animals fed with GMO foods like corn and soy suffer intestinal damage, multiple-organ damage, massive tumors, birth defects, premature death and/or nearly complete sterility by the third generation.
Banned in: European Union
Arsenic-based drugs are approved by the FDA for animal food, because it causes them to grow quicker and their meat to appear pinker and therefore “fresher”. The FDA also says that these drugs are safe because they use organic arsenic, which is less toxic than the other inorganic form. Less toxic?? Why would you allow anything toxic in the food chain to begin with?
Found in: Poultry
Health hazards: Organic arsenic could transform into inorganic arsenic, which has been found in elevated levels in poultry sold in grocery stores.
Banned in: European Union
Olestra aks. Olean
How do fat-free chips sound for health conscious people? Pretty good you might think. Procter & Gamble created Olestra, a calorie- and cholesterol-free fat substitute, to achieve just that. However, Olestra/Olean has been named one of the 50 worst inventions ever by Time Magazine three years ago.
Found in: Chips, French Fries
Health hazards: Consumption of foods made with Olean causes adverse intestinal reactions to the fake fat including diarrhea, cramps and leaky bowels.
Banned in: UK and Canada
Preservatives BHT and BHA
These preservatives prevent food from becoming rancid or developing objectionable odors.
Found in: Chewing gum, beer, breakfast cereal, butter spread, nut mixes, meat
Health hazards: According to the U.S. National Institute of Health, BHA may be a human carcinogen, which is a cancer-causing agent. It may also trigger allergic reactions and hyperactivity, while BHT can cause organ system toxicity.
Banned in: Parts of the European Union, Japan. The UK doesn’t allow BHA in infant foods.
Brominated Vegetable Oils (BVO)
BVO acts as an emulsifier, preventing the flavoring from separating and floating to the surface of beverages.
Found in: Citrus flavored sodas, sports drinks
Health hazards: The synthetic chemical BVO was originally patented as a flame retardant. Bromine alters the central nervous and endocrine systems and promotes iodine deficiency, causing skin rashes, acne, loss of appetite, fatigue and cardiac arrhythmias.
Banned in: Europe and Japan
Ractopamine is an asthma drug given to livestock in the days leading up to slaughter, so that they grow more muscles, reducing the overall fat content of the meat. Unfortunately 20% of the drug remains in the meat and ultimately lands in your stomach. 45% of U.S. pigs, 30% of cattle and an unknown amount of turkeys are pumped full of ractopamine.
Found in: Pork, beef, poultry
Health hazards: It damages the human cardiovascular system and may cause hyperactivity, chromosomal abnormalities and behavioral changes. In animals, ractopamine is linked to reductions in reproductive function, increase of mastitis in dairy herds, and increased death and disability.
Banned in: 160 countries across Europe, Russia, mainland China and Republic of China (Taiwan)
There you have it: 10 of the worst additives found in foods sold in the U.S., approved by the FDA. I know it’s difficult to completely stay away from it, especially when you’re new to the country and want to try out a lot of the popular American foods that you’ve never had before. Even more challenging is to keep kids away from some of the colorful treats, because they are getting candy with these ingredients everywhere. It’s difficult to avoid that.
The more I read about topics like this, the more adjustments I make to my own diet, trying to shift the balance to more organic, home grown and home made foods. You just can’t trust the food industry, especially when they have the FDA stamp of approval on profit increasing but toxic ingredients.
If you would like to learn how to grow your own organic greens even if you live in an apartment and don’t have your own garden, check out the book from Ka Sundance, German expat living in Costa Rica. He and his family live a very dedicated lifestyle on a raw food diet and offer a lot of free advice on YouTube as well as guides and books to purchase.
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