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5 Toxic Food Ingredients That Have Been Linked to Health Issues

Here's how to avoid the worst stuff in your food.

When you're sitting down for a delicious meal or want to indulge in a tasty snack, you might expect each item of food to contain a certain amount of calories, not to mention various nutrients. But you're likely not expecting your food to contain toxic ingredients, which is sometimes the case.

Check out the following list of ingredients that might be in your food and the various concerning health issues they've been linked to or known to potentially cause.

For more, check out 12 Most Toxic Fruits and Veggies You'll Find At Your Supermarket Right Now.

Palm oil

palm oil

Palm oil is something that can be found "in practically everything," according to Live Science. This vegetable oil, which is derived from the pulp of a type of palm fruit, is so widely used that if you purchase packaged food from the grocery store, there's a high likelihood it contains it.

As common as it is, there are serious concerns over palm oil's effect on both the environment and human health. "The fat in tropical plants, like palm oil, is categorized by the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans as saturated fat because these plant oils have a higher percentage of saturated fat compared to other oils, " says award-winning nutrition expert Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND. "It's recommended to get no more than 10% of your total calories from saturated fat as it has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease."

High-fructose corn syrup

corn syrup

Turning glucose into corn starch which is then, in part, transformed into fructose gives you high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweet substance that can be found in food items like soda and juice as well as packaged desserts and snacks, to name just a few.

Unfortunately, just like any other sugary ingredient, it can cause tooth decay, obesity, and metabolic syndrome when a person consumes it in large quantities, according to Medical News Today. Beyond that, high-fructose corn syrup can cause weight gain, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and high triglyceride levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, each of these issues can increase your risk of heart disease.

Artificial sweeteners

artificial sweetener

When you reach for an artificial sweetener over sugar, you might think that you're making a healthier choice. However, sweeteners are not an ideal option. In fact, in a study that was published by the PLOS Medicine journal in March 2022, researchers found that artificial sweeteners like aspartame and acesulfame-K, which are used in many food and beverage products, are associated with an increased cancer risk.



If you or a family member likes to bake, then there's a very good chance that you have shortening readily available in your kitchen—it's a room-temperature fat such as lard or even margarine. And while shortening can benefit your crispy, flaky crust, it isn't so beneficial to your health.

"Shortening used to have trans fat which is linked to heart disease, but now you can find trans fat-free shortening on grocery shelves," Amidor says. "However, if you look at the label, most shortenings are still laden with saturated fat—more than the recommended limit of 10% of total calories. As such, it's an ingredient I would recommend limiting unless for a special occasion."

Food dyes


If your favorite packaged food happens to come in a delightfully bright color, then it was likely enhanced with food dyes. While there's no doubt that food color can make what we eat look more appealing, the Cleveland Clinic's Julia Zumpano, RD, addressed concerns over food dye by noting that when it comes to whether or not they're harmful and how dangerous they might be, the "results are mixed."

"Some studies show a link between dyes and increased ADHD or hyperactivity in children. One Australian study found 75% of parents noticed an improvement in behavior and attention once the dyes were eliminated," Zumpano explained.

Beyond that, Zumpano added that researchers have "also found tumor growth in animals that consumed high doses of food dyes, though it can be hard to translate what this means for children. Some studies say the small amount of benzene in the dyes can't possibly pose a high risk."

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée