Last week, my kid dove into his candy pumpkin and emerged with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
I said, “Hey, let’s see what’s in this!” And I read him the ingredients: crap, more crap, another kind of crap, something posing as chocolate that is actually made in a lab, lots of different forms of sugar, soy lecithin which sounds innocent but isn’t, and some tasty TBHQ so that the chocolate will survive a nuclear holocaust.
Your kid may not understand or care about the ingredients, so let’s go a step further by explaining what these ingredients do.
- a) Just a little innocent acronym–keep moving, nothing to see here.
- b) A four-letter word. Worse than the F word.
- c) Tunafish mixed with bananas, habaneros, and quicksand
- d) Tertiary butylhydroquinone.
This is actually a trick question because it has two right answers, b and d.
Who wants some tertiary butylhydroquinone with their chocolate? Sure sounds yummy. Let’s take a closer look at it.
THBQ is a form of butane (lighter fluid!) derived from petroleum, and it is used as a chemical preservative. It prevents spoilage so that processed food can sit on your shelves forever without going bad. It is used in candy, chips, crackers, cookies, microwave popcorn, processed nuts, pastries, biscuits, vegetable oil, frozen pizza and more.
That’s great! you say. Now you can make one trip to Costco and buy enough for the next 10 years.
Yes, you can, but here’s what you should know:
TBHQ has been linked to a variety of side effects:
- vision disturbances
- hyperactivity in kids
- worsen ADHD symptoms
- stomach tumors in lab animals
- DNA damage
- food allergies (tree nuts, milk, shellfish, eggs, wheat)
Anyone out there know someone with food allergies?
Maybe your own kid? It turns out that TBHQ causes the body’s T-cells, which are there to fight infections, to release a set of proteins that trigger allergies to tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and shellfish. “The T cells stopped acting as soldiers in the defense against pathogens and started causing allergies”, explained researcher Cheryl Rockwell. “The expanded use of tBHQ parallels a rise in food allergies and an increase in the severity of some allergic reactions.”
According to a 2014 report in European Food Safety Authority Journal, consuming up to a gram of TBHQ can cause side effects, and up to 5 grams can kill you. According to a study in the June 2008 issue of Carcinogenesis, TBHQ can make cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy agents. This National Institutes of Health study and another one in the June 2014 issue of Food Chemistry show that TBHQ can damage DNA and also human lung and umbilical cells.
My husband has personally experienced reactions to breakfast cereal with TBHQ.
WHAT??? Breakfast cereal in the Good Food Fighter’s home? Yes, unfortunately. My lazy-in-the-morning husband used to occasionally buy a box, and sometimes even managed to scarf down a bowl of cereal before I swiped and tossed it 😀. Twice, when he complained about not feeling right, I looked at the ingredients and found TBHQ hiding there.
TBHQ hides all over the place.
It is sprayed on the inside of fast-food containers and is in oil used for frying at fast food chains like Dominos, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. There is also an FDA loophole that enables food manufacturers to avoid listing this ingredient: if TBHQ is used to preserve ingredients that are used during the processing while not specifically preserving the final product, the manufacturer has the discretion to leave it off the ingredient list. And they will! Best way to avoid TBHQ? Don’t eat fast food/junk food/processed food. Try to buy food that eventually spoils–that’s how you know it’s real food.
TBHQ is listed under Most Dangerous Additives to Avoid by the Center of Science in the Public Interest. Its use in food is even prohibited in several countries including Japan.
Kissing Cousins: BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) and BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) are equally dangerous petroleum-derived preservatives, also used to prevent spoilage. BHT causes pulmonary congestion and lung lesions and an increase in cancer risk in lab animals. BHA is classified by the European Union as an endocrine disruptor and there is evidence that it causes cancer in lab animals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and it’s listed as a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65.
The FDA still permits BHT and BHA to be used in foods. Surprise!
How do you get your kids to not want food that is dangerous for them?
If your kid doesn’t mind a little acronym on his wrapper, maybe he will mind some gastro-intestinal distress or nausea. He probably never thought about what it’s like to not be able to breathe, so you could explain what asthma is. Not scary enough? How about becoming so allergic to a common food that you could die from eating it? Maybe pull up an article on the internet about a kid going to the ER in anaphylactic shock…or maybe one that didn’t make it in time.
You don’t want to scare your kid? What if the information will save him?
Remember that uncomfortable conversation about the birds and the bees? Well this one is just as critical, less awkward, and needs to happen earlier.
Teach your kids about bad ingredients that cause disease.
It is an unfortunate reality that these ingredients are part of our food supply and so most people expect them to be safe. Few (including all your nice neighbors who handed out TBHQ candy for Halloween) realize how harmful they are, especially for kids with growing brains and bodies. If your kids are older, you might explain how industry lobbying and corrupt regulatory agencies result in lack of protection for unsuspecting consumers.
Help them to understand that we have power as consumers and thinking humans and we can decide to protect ourselves by making good choices. First step: read the ingredient list.
Second step: voice your discontent. Call or email the companies that are using dangerous chemicals that are likely contributing to the rise in food allergies. Tell them you want them to cease using TBHQ, BHA, and BHT. Email, Facebook, and Twitter have all proven to be effective ways to get the point across. It’ll only take a moment…the same as making a comment on a friend’s FB page. Let’s start with Hershey’s and Mars.