Reading the Toxic Fine Print: Understand What You’re Really Eating

Most North Americans are regularly consuming toxic chemicals in their food and causing unknown amounts of damage to their bodies

Credit: Flickr/jenna.kaminsky

If you’re concerned about toxins in your food, start by reading food labels

Most people ingest a toxic brew of chemicals every day, causing damage to their bodies. It’s time to understand what you’re really eating

Last night for dinner, I had, among other things, potassium metabisulphite. I often opt for brands that don’t use preservatives or chemicals but I was in a rush so I bit the toxic bullet, so to speak, and used the wrong brand of coconut milk.  

Potassium metabisulphite, an inorganic compound also known as Na2S205, is used as a sterilizer and preservative. It is manufactured by chemical companies like BASF, which also produces chemicals for solar cells, fertilizers, glues, resins, electronic materials, bulk chemicals, and the BASF Fuel Cell.  

After discovering our son suffers from eczema, we decided to stop buying products with potassium metabisulphite because it may cause allergic reactions, particularly skin irritation. Last night, my two-year-old was so itchy from an outbreak of eczema behind his knees that he couldn’t sleep.

Toxins in Your Food

Can something measured in parts per million be hazardous to your health? 

To answer this, I keep a shoebox handy to collect wrappers, papers and packaging covered in words so small it takes a magnifying glass to read the long and impossible-to-pronounce lists of chemical compounds.  

I was surprised to find propylene glycol in my shoelaces, deodorant, shampoo, yogurt and anti-freeze. Luckily, the U.S.  Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  says it is “generally recognized as safe.” Only large quantities cause perceptible health damage.

Perception is the process of attaining awareness by organizing or interpreting sensory information and all perception requires signals in the nervous system. My signals are telling me to pay careful attention.

How Much Toxin is Safe?

Just because it is sold in a store does not make it safe. 

In a recent article on ScienceDaily, Patricia Hunt, a professor of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University, says that the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) need to look “beyond the toxicology of substances to the other ways chemicals can affect us.”

In 2010, Hunt helped make Washington the fifth state to outlaw bisphenol A (BPA) in children’s food containers and drinking cups.

In 2010, Canada became the first country in the world to ban BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical that has been linked, in very low doses, to cancer. A 2010 Statistics Canada Survey says 91% of Canadians have BPA in their bodies.  

According to Dodging the Toxic Bullet, a recent book by Canadian environmental lawyer and author David R. Boyd, 93% of Americans have Bisphenol A in their blood, with higher concentrations in women and children.

Toxic Buildup in Your Body

Boyd says that if you took a blood sample from every member of your family and sent it to a laboratory, “it is almost certain that testing would identify a witches’ brew of contaminants: pesticides, flame retardants, stain repellants, rocket fuel residues, heavy metals, and other chemicals.”  

This toxic cocktail, known as your body burden, could include dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) banned years ago by industrialized nations.  

Unlike the indecipherable lists in my shoebox, Boyd gives a bullet-by-bullet account of how to protect yourself from everyday health hazards. 

Most importantly, Boyd reminds us that for every toxic substance, process, or product, there is a safer alternative that can ease the body’s burden. The easiest way to start is to read the label.   

Teresa Goff is a freelance writer and broadcaster. As the mother of one very allergic boy and one very energetic boy, she has learned how to make food out of nothing at all while playing lego and doing two art projects at once.