25 Most Disturbing Ingredients You Eat Everyday


After I was forced to see Super Size Me in sixth grade for health class, I started to fall in love with documentaries. (Because as much as I want to love An Inconvenient Truth, it still doesn’t “entertain” me nearly as much as Supersize Me does). From there, I started watching a bunch of documentaries, including other food based films like Killer at Large and Food Inc. Well, after seeing a slew of documentaries recently, like Blackfish, Gaslands Part II and a re-watching of Supersize Me, (as well as “meeting” Morgan Spurlock and Josh Fox), I’ve decided that I would spend my summer making a documentary on how disgusting the things you eat are actually made. And also, I read Ozzie’s autobiography and he had a rather horrific experience in a slaughter house, so I might try to find one to feature in the film as well.

Before I start off, let me say that I’m not trying to persuade you to start or stop eating meats or any other foods. I personally will remain an omnivore (and because living in a strict, right off the boat Italian family has made becoming a vegetarian a disgrace — plus I love bacon), but if you feel the need to change your dietary habits because of moi, feel free to tell me how much you love me or hate me, and any other foods I missed.

1. Mechanically Separated Beef

The difference between this and pink slime, I do not see, but mechanically separated beef is exactly what you just read: beef parts that are separated via mechanical machinery. Found in hot dogs and other “meat products,” MSB involves the taking of meat stuck on bones and forcing it through a highly pressurized pipe where it is then processed into a gooey pink paste. Because of the risk of mad cow disease, it is no longer used in foods (this was a recent change as well), but to think that we actually ate this can make your stomach churn.

2. Glyphospate

I really tried to stay away from genetically modified foods and organisms, but I couldn’t resist this one. Glyphospate is used to kills weeds, leaves, trees and other harmful critters in places where certain crops grow (i.e. trees and plants meaning clovers and other “small, not meaningful plants that take up space where corn can grow”). However, since it is sprayed on crops (especially coca plants) and it leaks into freshwater systems, into the fish you eat, there has been some outcry since glyphospate poisoning could cause extreme gastrointestinal pains as well as liver and pancreas damage. 

3. Shellac

Have you ever noticed how your Skittles glisten in the moonlight after you accidently burst a bag open by dropping a bowling ball on it? Just me? Well then ... That beautiful luster added to candy coated sweets is due to a bug. A bug from Thailand, kerria lacca, has special droppings that are collected to give basically anything shine. Most often used as a wood polisher, someone decided to use it for candy purposes to make the luster seem so beautiful in the moonlight. (Now that I’m thinking about it, shellac was probably used on that bowling ball too). So how is shellac “harvested?” People go into the woods and literally just scrape the feces right off the trees. You see, the kerria lacca drops the shellac to stick to the tree they are on. Unfortunately for you, only female shellac is scraped, and even worse, the females drop their eggs in the feces, meaning that bag of M&Ms you’re eating right now most likely contains some fraction of egg larvae. You’re welcome!

4. Castoreum

Ice cream never tasted so good without some beaver ... um er uh liquids. Castoreum, a substance (not exactly urine), that beavers secrete to mark their territory, is collected for multiple uses. Fortunately (or unfortunately, whichever way you see it), most of its usage goes into making perfume and other scents. It’s even used to give cigarettes its “smell and taste.” Anyhow, this beaver juice is recognized by the FDA as GRAS- generally recognized as safe. This allows for the juice to be kept in use, which usually is added to vanilla, and a few times to raspberry and strawberry flavoring- all as a “natural additive.” 

5. Olestra

Zero calories? Fat free? You might want to stay away from these products (what happened to the good ol’ sweat and tears from your workout?) because they have this little chemical called olestra. It’s mockingly named fake fat, and was invented by Procter & Gamble to use in their chips. Invented in the late 1990s, the company used olestra in its WOW! Chips products to promote its fat free product. Ironically, to comply with the FDA’s rules, it came with a warning label stating “loose stools,” and the FDA later reversed that regulation after receiving hundreds of thousands of complaints from people calling about excessive diarrhea. You see, olestra is too large for human enzymes to break down so olestra just ... goes down, but you don’t gain calories, so in a way, it is fat free. However, olestra also blocks beta-carotene and lycopene from being absorbed by the body- nutrients we need to survive. The Proctor & Gamble website has something different to say.

6. BHA and BHT

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxtoluene (BHT). Let’s go with the assumption that the longer the name, the more dangerous it is. Found in cleansing products and in skin products (here’s to you Aveeno!), BHT and BHA is extremely harmful to the environment (think of CFC’s times 20) and causes extreme cases of vomiting, stomach pain, dizziness and damage to the liver. The two chemicals are mostly in cleaning products, cosmetics and toothpastes, but are also used as anti-oxidant agents in gum, graham crackers and lard. 

7. Azodicarbonamide

I never thought bleached flour tasted so good. This extremely long named additive is used in flour to make the flour appear whiter and to make baking with flour easier. Banned in the UK and Australia due to studies reporting it leads to asthma, the World Health Organization has stated to avoid it.

8. Carrageenan

Ice cream just seems to be at the butt end of all those terrible food. Carrageenan is extracted from seaweed and has no nutritional value (so don’t say seaweed is good for you-which it is: because this literally has nothing in it). It is used as a thickener and a emulsifier (to combine two products together, like water in milk) that is commonly found in ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, processed foods, and basically any dairy product. 

9. Aspartame

If a certain product has its own Wikipedia page as well as another page labeled “Aspartame Controversy,” you know this is big. While most food advocates as well as the FDA state to avoid the additive, it still is found in soda and zero calorie sweetener. The Aspartame Center website might try to dissuade you but I’m convinced- people have suffered headaches, epileptic seizures, dizziness and more. Not only that, the additive is 180 times sweeter than regular sugar and has even led to leukemia in rats. 

10. Paraben

Do you like wearing makeup? Or do you come into contact with makeup (no beating around the bush here- kissing, etc). Well odds are you got into contact with this little preservative that is mostly used in cosmetics. However, parabens are also used to prevent the formation of mold and yeast in food. Although they can be found naturally, most of foods that use them (toothpaste, makeup, ice cream, grains, fish and dairy products) are made with synthetic parabens, that also contain carcinogens. 

11. Carmine

Because insects are so high in demand for candy making, candy makers have decided to use as much of them as possible (kind of like the pink slime where literally nothing goes to waste). Cochineal bugs are very red in color, and someone a long time ago decided to crush them to get the red coloring out. What ended up happening was that mentality carried down to foods and food coloring. So almost every candy that is coated in red cost the life of a cochineal bug, as well as food coloring, lipstick, juices and basically any red food (like red velvet cake for example). The boiled or crushed bug coloring is even used as dye for cotton and wool clothes. But worst of all, the additive has been known to cause asthma in some people. 

12. Bisphenol A

This nasty little chemical was frequently used in plastics (and sometimes still is) like water bottles, baby bottles and basically any container that was going to be holding foods. So this isn’t really an ingredient of food, but more of an ingredient of the container holding it. Forever banned from use in baby bottles, the chemical is still found in cans, like tomato cans, soup cans, tuna cans, and anything in between. It can even lead to cancer and obesity. 

13. Lanolin

So you’re going on your first date with this guy you met at the beach. Oh no! You just had some onion rings, nachos, garlic bread and any type of smelling food. You take out your pack of 5 Gum, which lasts forever and ever (for a reason) and because it just tastes so good. Wait, what’s that? Are your lips chapped? Time to put on the good ol’ chapstick/lipstick/whatever. Well, before you do any of those things, find out what Lanolin is. Lanolin is a wax that is secreted by sheep that are raised to make wool only (apparently sheep raised for meat make terrible lanolin and there, renders it unusable). That wax is often called wool grease since it helps the sheep stay warm in winter and vice versa in the summer. When wool is cut from sheep, it is pressed through rollers, which squeezes out all of that grease, plus some ticks and whatever undesirables you can think of which lurk in that wool of theirs. Ladies- do know that you are putting lamb grease on your face, because everything and anything makeup related contains some form of lanolin- ranging from shampoo to sunscreen to every skin cream and soap possible. And for years I thought this was how they made soap. 

14. L-Cysteine

You cannibal! If you are the average human being, then you probably eat grains. Since most baked goods are made of dough, mostly every grain food you eat will contain L-Cysteine, a substance found only in duck feathers and human hair. Most of the L-Cyst you eat comes from labs, and sadly, a large amount comes from human hair- mostly people who live in poverty stricken countries who desperately need the money. L- Cyst is found mostly in foods that are high in protein, including meat products like pork, sausage, chicken, duck, turkey, and deli meats; in dairy like milk, eggs, ricotta, cottage cheese and yogurt; and of course, in baked goods, like pizza, crackers, bread, cereal, donuts and more. Bu that shouldn’t be the only reason why you should limit your wheat intake- anything from high glycemic indexes to lectins could cause your blood pressure and health problems to skyrocket. 

15. Pink Slime ** (See “Mechanically Separated Beef”)

Now I’m sure you’ve heard of what Pink Slime is- you’ve seen pictures of that beautiful icing-like (did I just ruin strawberry flavored cakes for you?) substance and you heard all the controversy surrounding how schools have served pink-slime filled lunches. You’ve heard how Wendy’s and McDonald’s came under heat for having served the slime in the past and all this other hubbub. But here’s what makes it so disgusting- not only is it made up of the leftovers of actual food, but it continues to be served as a filler for over 10 billion pounds of ground beef. That’s billions. With a B. Even worse, it’s treated with Ammonia gas (which is used on not only pink slime, but also almost every meat product) to prevent the meat from turning brown whilst being packaged. 

16. Sodium Bisulfate

Would like some toilet cleaner with your wine? Sodium Bisulfate (mostly found in soaps and cleaners) is used to prevent the oxidation of food: meaning that banana will never brown if they put some sodium bisulfate on it. It mostly is used on fruits and vegetables, and it actually has resulted in 13 deaths due to allergies. 

17. Titanium Dioxide

Also known as paint pigment. That’s right, if you’re one of those people who put creamers and sweeteners in your coffee, then you have tried paint. Don’t like coffee? It’s also found in salad dressing, sunscreen, toothpaste, and anything white you can think of. Besides that, it’s found in numerous containers like plastic anything, makeup thickeners and pills. I’m just going to let you know that’s the same stuff they put in cement, glass windows and paint.

18. Cellulose

It just seems that you can’t have anything sweet without the few horrible ingredients used to make them. Cellulose, often used as a fiber substitute in ice cream, is made from wood pulp and is used to make ice cream creamier, as well as other products like sauces and salad dressings. It provides a smooth and sticky taste to the food you are eating. There is a good side to this- people are actually able to use less sugar and fat in making the foods you love.

19. Borax

Banned in the U.S., Borax (Sodium Borate) acts like a rubber band, which is exactly why it’s used that way as well. This additive is even banned in Indonesia (but companies still get away with using it), ever since the government’s Directorate of Consumer Protection stated it leads to liver cancer within 5-10 years of regular consumption. In part of its ban in the US, certain foods, like caviar and noodles, contain higher levels of sodium to achieve that rubber-like texture and taste.

20. Silicon Dioxide

Or also known as sand. That’s right, you’re eating sand in that cake that came from that cake mix, or in that ice tea that came from that ice tea mix (you get the point). Every food that comes in a powdery substance contains SiO2,which the FDA finds safe as long as the amount of silicon dioxide doesn’t weigh more than 2% of the entire product’s weight. You see, the sand ends up acting like an anti-clumping matter which helps reduce clumps in the powder, but it also acts as a water absorber to get that precious cake made quickly.

21. Bone Char

Must I explain this or should I just let you forever wonder what you must have eaten and what the world hides beyond it? Let me just start, before telling you the actual ingredient, that the spine and skull are never used to prevent the spread of mad cow disease. Scared? You should be, since you eat sugar every day. The bones are heated to a cozy 900+°F where the smoke is then trapped, where it is packaged into a liquid substance. This liquid is then transported to the US where sugar companies add it to their sugar to make it white. The same for confectioner’s sugar as well. 

22. Caramel Coloring

Coca-Cola is a big example at how dangerous this additive is. The caramel coloring that is added to the mixture (as well as any other caramel colored anything) can actually lead to cancer which has even caused Coca Cola to slightly change the nutrition facts and ingredients to comply with the FDA’s regulations. Pepsi is still at fault as well: one of the distributors that the company bought the coloring from used carcinogens.

23. Formalin

Just like its neighbor borax above, formalin aids in preserving shelf life of certain products while achieving a rubbery look. Usually found in fish (do you ever see those fish that look so clean and smell “brand new” instead of like a fish? Guess what you just ate!), tofu, wet noodles, and basically any sea product. Even look at this press release warning about its use.

24. Indigo Carmine

Just like carmine above, indigo carmine is the blue coloring you see in those blue raspberry slushies. (I actually remember getting the blue raspberry snow dogs solely because of the color . . . now that I think about it, aren’t raspberries red?). Apparently so, the Blue #2 has caused tumors in rats and is listed in the Center for Science in Public Interest as a dangerous additive that should be avoided at all costs. Have fun finishing that leftover red, white and blue July 4 cakes.

25. Gelatin

Now who doesn’t love Jell-O and Jelly Beans? I think I actually changed my own mind when I saw the video of how gelatin is made. If you don’t want to see the video, just know animal fat and skin and all that “yucky” stuff is used to make gelatin. People in white coats take the animal fat, skin, hooves, intestines, bones and whatever else isn’t used for meat, and they mix it all together to make it into a substance. I mean, animal fat is the same reason that caused the Sepoy Mutiny between Muslims and Hindus! It’s even sometimes found in yogurt and ice cream (that yummy John Stamos Greek yogurt will have to wait). Why would anyone want to buy animal fat gel unless it’s to make their coworker’s stapler a delicacy?