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Monday, October 24, 2011

What Is BHT and Why Should You Care?

Today, in honor of Food Day, I took a hard look at all the things in my pantry that come in a box. Crackers. Kids' cereal. Popcorn. Cookies. Pasta. I've read these labels so many times, I should know them by heart already. Allergy-wise, they are safe. Nutritionally, some are better than others, I'll admit. There is one thing I see on the nutritional label that I don't know much about, though. It is called BHT and it is added to packages "to preserve freshness". Since I have no idea what BHT is, I turn to the internet to find out.

Here is what Wikipedia says: Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), also known as butylhydroxytoluene, is a lipophilic (fat-soluble) organic compound that is primarily used as an antioxidant food additive (E number E321) as well as an antioxidant additive in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuelsrubberpetroleum products, electrical transformer oil,[2] and embalming fluid.

Hmmm....an additive in embalming fluid? And in jet fuel? In a cereal box???

I'd like to know more, so after some research I find out that BHT (like its close relative BHA) is commonly used in the food industry as an anti-oxidant, preventing fats from becoming rancid and preserving food color, odor and taste. Not only it is added to packaging, but it can also be mixed directly in cereals, meats, butter, chewing gum, baked goods, shortening, dehydrated potatoes (chips), and even beer.

As unappealing as it already sounds, it begs the question: how safe is it? Does it cause allergic reactions? Well, yes, it can. Both BHA and BHT are suspected of causing urticaria and angioedema, although this is a rare occurrence, according to AAFA. Nevertheless, the Center for Science in the Public Interest does recommend to avoid BHT when possible, due to potentially causing cancer in animals. BHA, on the other hand, is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" by the US Department of Health and Human Services and therefore should be avoided.

I guess I'll toss the Chex and the Wheat Thins and go on yet another wild goose chase at the supermarket, trying to find nut-free, soy-free, egg-free, sesame and sunflower seed-free, and now BHT-free cereal and crackers. Wish me luck.





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