Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Truth About Food Additive BHA - June 1st, 2012

Here's a question for you: What food additive does the Food and Drug Administration deem "generally recognized as safe," while the National Institutes of Health, says it's "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen?"

Here's a hint: It's a preservative, and you can find it in (drum roll, please): potato chips, lard, butter, cereal, instant mashed potatoes, preserved meat, beer, baked goods, dry beverage and dessert mixes, chewing gum, and other foods. Oh, also: rubber, petroleum products, and, of course, wax food packaging.

The molecule in question is butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and it appears in so many products because it's a potent antioxidant. How can an antioxidant prevent food from going bad? It all comes down to fat.

When fats and oils (in food, fats that are liquid are room temperature are called oils) are exposed to the air, oxidation occurs – the same process that causes old cars to rust. As previous Food Facts articles have mentioned, fats and oils have three long carbon chains. The more kinks in the chain, very generally speaking, the healthier and more fluid the fat is.

Unfortunately, when it comes to what makes a fat or oil rancid, the chemical bonds responsible for the kinks equate to a weakness in the fat's armor. Over time, oxygen in the air attacks the bond, which can transform the fat into a variety of chemicals, many of which smell foul and can be toxic.

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