Warning: you might want to ditch that pack of brown sugar cinnamon tarts.
According to a new peer-reviewed study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health From the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a food preservative found in nearly 1,250 snacks can damage your immune system.
The preservative under fire is tert-butylhydroquinone, more commonly known as TBHQ, which is used in many of your favorite snacks, including Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, and Cheez-Its to extend its shelf life. In both animal and non-animal tests (called high throughput in vitro toxicology tests), TBHQ was shown to manipulate immune function.
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TBHQ has long been used in processed foods, however the EWG recently found that TBHQ affects immune cell proteins in doses similar to those that cause harm in traditional studies.
“The pandemic has focused public and scientific attention on environmental factors that can affect the immune system,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., vice president of scientific research at EWG and lead author of the new study in a statement. “Before the pandemic, chemicals that can damage the immune system’s defenses against infection or cancer did not receive enough attention from public health agencies. To protect public health, this must change.”
Other studies have even indicated that TBHQ may negatively influence the effectiveness of flu vaccines and might even play a role in the recent rise in food allergies among Americans.
In the book, Consumer Dictionary of Food Additives, Author Ruth Winter, MS, explains that TBHQ contains petroleum-derived butane, a chemical compound found in natural gas and crude oil, and is used alone or in conjunction with other preservatives, such as BHA or BHT.
“The FDA said that TBHQ should not exceed 0.02% of its oil and fat content,” Winter writes. “Death has occurred from the ingestion of only 5 grams.”
While it is extremely unlikely that you will ever consume a lethal 5 grams of TBHQ from food alone, even a small amount can quietly wreak havoc on your immune system. Still, it is important to note that this most recent study was not conducted in humans.
“To our knowledge, epidemiological studies have not yet been done to examine the impacts of TBHQ on people,” Naidenko says. Eat this, not that! “These studies are important and should be done, since TBHQ is found in hundreds of food products.”
While it can be difficult to completely avoid packaged and processed foods, this study may provide reasons to further limit your consumption of these types of foods.
“Sometimes with busy lives, families and individuals will turn to packaged foods. The EWG generally recommends avoiding these products when possible, and not just because of TBHQ, but also because of the salt, sugar, processed fats and various Other food additives that are added. Packaged, long-shelf foods often have them, “Naidenko says.
Here are four packaged foods that contain TBHQ:
Pop-Tarts are the first snacks mentioned in the study. Instead, try BoBo’s TOASTEeR cakes for breakfast to get your fix, but without all the harmful preservatives.
Unfortunately, this kid’s snack features TBHQ and several other nasty ingredients. Try Simple Mills Almond Flour Farmhouse Cheddar Cookies for cleaner ingredients. Not to mention, they’re gluten-free too!
Marshmallow Soft Candy contains TBHQ, as well as added sugars and corn syrup. You’re doing your body a favor by passing this snack. Instead, consider trying the Made Good Organic Vanilla Crisp Squares!
According to the ingredient inspector, before Hershey took over Reese’s peanut butter cups, the chocolate treat was made with cane sugar and did not contain chemical preservatives. Now the candy contains TBHQ among other man-man ingredients that are used to help extend its shelf life, such as PGPR, a cheaper emulsifying agent that is a cheaper alternative to cocoa butter.
Instead, opt for Little Secrets Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge to avoid these two preservatives and more.
For more information, be sure to check out These Are The 12 Messiest Foods On Grocery Store Shelves, According To An Expert.