You’d Be Surprised to Know What’s in Processed Foods

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 06, 2015

Squeamish folks, beware.  

You might think the grossest substance you’ve ever consumed is the Scottish dish “haggis,” a boiled mixture of oatmeal and the stomach, heart, and lungs of various animals. Or maybe you got into the habit of consuming the last spoonfuls of your grade-schooler’s soggy over-sweet breakfast cereal. But the very grossest thing you’ve eaten is most likely an ingredient in processed food.

Many are animal products you’ve never heard of that manufacturers put in items you might assume were vegetarian. Here’s a short list:

Castoreum, drawn from beaver glands near the anus, is a Food and Drug Administration approved “natural flavoring,” that may show up in perfume, or items flavored by vanilla or raspberry.

Lanolin, a secretion from sheep’s wool, can legally be added to chewing gum, cosmetics, sunscreen, and baby products.

Gelatin is generally made of boiled down pig skin. Look for it in frosted cereals, yogurt, candy, and some brands of sour cream.

L-Cysteine, an amino acid made from human hair, hog hair, or duck feathers, softens manufactured dough products.

Isinglass, or dried fish bladder, gives many British beers their golden glow.

Shellac, the shiny sticky substance derived from secretions of the female Kerria lacca, an insect native to Thailand, may be called “confectioner’s glaze” on packages of jelly beans, candy corn, and other hard-coated candy.

Carmine, a red food-coloring that comes from boiled cochineal bugs, a kind of beetle, shows up in ice-cream, candy, and commercial juices.

Among the unexpected non-animal products are:

Silicon dioxide, also known as powdered sand or glass, can be found in salts, soups, and coffee creamer.

Cellulose, aka sawdust, appears in some ice-creams and commercial preparations of shredded or grated cheese.

How can you protect yourself? You might eat only foods with listed ingredients that you recognize. Shopping could get long and complicated if you try to learn many chemical names.

For example, there is some evidence that added phosphates increase the risk of heart disease. You might see phosphoric acid, sodium polyphosphate, pyrophosphate, sodium tripolyphosphate, polyphosphate, tricalcium phosphate, hexametaphosphate, trisodium phosphate, dicalcium phosphate, sodium phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, tetrasodium phosphate, or aluminum phosphate, in supermarket products.  

Then there are the familiar names that make commercial products taste good at the expense of your health. Watch out for heart-busting trans fats, “partially hydrogenated oil” you’ll find in ready-to-use frostings, microwave popcorn, packaged cakes, frozen pizzas, margarines, refrigerator dough products, crackers, and coffee creamers.

Salt hides in canned vegetables and soups, condiments, and cured or preserved meats like bacon, ham, and deli turkey. Too much salt in your diet can raise your blood pressure.

Food companies add corn syrup — “corn sweetener,” “corn syrup,” “corn syrup solids,” or “high-fructose corn syrup” — to frozen foods, beer, bacon, spaghetti sauce, soft drinks, ketchup, hamburger buns, and English muffins, among many other items. This ubiquitous liquid sweetener may raise your risk of diabetes and colon, pancreatic, and liver cancer, much research suggests.


April 09, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN