When I first saw the word "BHT" on an ingredient label, I had no idea what it was. It wasn't until we started researching our first book, Unjunk Your Junk Food: Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks that we uncovered the truth. It's called BHT or butylated hydroxytoluene, and it's a synthetic antioxidant added to foods to preserve fats as well as color, odor, and flavor.
BHT preserves fats by slowing the oxidation process, so that foods don't go rancid. It's added to dehydrated potatoes, cereal, frozen dinners, baked goods, chewing gum, beer, and some fruit drinks.
You may have also heard of BHT's sister preservative, BHA. They are often used together. BHT and BHA have been known to affect the nervous system and cause behavioral problems in children. They have also been known to impair liver and kidney function. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program lists BHA as a possible carcinogen.
In rats and mice, BHT can cause circulatory, liver, thyroid, kidney, and lung problems. It may also mimic estrogen in the body, meaning its molecules copy the action of the body's natural estrogen. These xenoestrogens have been linked to a range of human health problems, including reduced sperm counts in men and increased risk of breast cancer in women.Read more about breast cancer
The worst part about all these nasty side effects is the impact that they have on our little ones. Their systems are more vulnerable. In fact, the foods kids eat actually become a part of their growing bodies. And if you're like me, it's disconcerting to know that BHT appears in the many foods that are marketed toward our kids, such as sugary, chemical-laden cereal. In Label Lessons: Unjunk Your Kid's Lunch Box, we talked specifically about Kellogg's Corn Pops, and showcased its ingredient list which contains BHT, along with a few other questionable ingredients. Take a look:
Kellogg's Corn Pops
- Potential GMOs
- Trans Fats
Kellogg's Corn Pops contains genetically modified corn and sugar beets. Unless the label reads GMO-free, you can [almost] be sure that the milled corn, sugar, and corn fiber are derived from genetically modified crops. Kids are especially susceptible to the impact of GMOs because their bodies and organs are still forming. Kids can also develop allergies related to GMOs.
Corn Pops contain hydrogenated coconut and soybean oil. While the label may read "trans-fat free" a label loophole allows companies to write "0 trans fat" on the nutrition facts panel if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving. Yes, I said, PER SERVING! To truly keep deadly trans fats out of your diet, always read the ingredients FIRST and THEN the nutrition facts panel. Avoid trans fats at all costs because there is no safe amount of this deadly fat. Trans fats are directly linked to heart disease.Read more about trans fats
So, that's what you shouldn't eat, but don't fret, you can still enjoy yummy morning cereal without preservatives, GMOs, and trans-fats. Here's a cereal I love to feed my three children:
Barbara's Snackimals, Organic Vanilla Blast Cereal
- No Scary Preservatives
- No Pesticide Residue
- NON-GMO Project Verified
- 8 grams of Whole Grains
No Scary Preservatives
This cereal contains clean, organic ingredients and is free of BHT, BHA, nitrates, TBHQ, polysorbates, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and sulfites — all listed under "Preservatives" on our Scary Seven list of ingredients to avoid.
No Pesticide Residue
Barbara Snackimals is organic so you don't have to worry about feeding your kids nasty pesticide residue.
Non-GMO Project Verified
Buying organic and looking for the NON-GMO Project certification avoids most GMOs. Products that have less than 0.9 percent GMO can be verified through the program. And since both the U.S. and Canada have no GMO labeling laws, this is currently the most dependable method.
Whole grains are unrefined grains that haven't had their bran and germ removed by milling. Whole grains are excellent sources of fiber as well as selenium, potassium, and magnesium.
The best way to avoid eating BHT or BHA is to read labels carefully and if you see that a product contains this potentially harmful preservative, put it back on the shelf and opt for a healthier alternative like Barbara's Snackimals.