Food Babe Investigates: How Food Companies Exploit Americans with Ingredients Banned in Other Countries

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Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) is a regular contributor on 100 Days of Real Food. To learn more about Vani check her out on “Our Team” page.

Thoughts of outrage, unfairness, disbelief, and ultimately grief consumed me while I was doing this investigation. A list of ingredients that are banned across the globe but still allowed for use here in the American food supply recently made news. While I have written about some of those ingredients before, this list inspired me to look a little deeper and find out how pervasive this issue is for us. Could these banned ingredients be contributing to the higher mortality and disease rates here in the U.S.?

The health of Americans is downright grim according to a report just released by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. It declares “Americans are sicker and die younger than other people in wealthy nations.” The United States spends 2.5 times more on health care than any other nation, however, when compared with 16 other nations we come in dead last in terms of health and life expectancy for men and near the bottom for women.

Here is the breakdown for you:

  • More than two thirds of United States citizens are overweight – 33% being obese.
  • 32% of children are either obese or overweight.
  • 43% of Americans are projected to be obese in 10 years.
  • After smoking, obesity is America’s biggest cause of premature death and is linked to 70% of heart disease and 80% of diabetes cases.
  • And 41% of Americans are projected to get cancer in their lifetime!

These reports and statistics scream the word HELP!

Recently, I spent some time down in Mississippi volunteering in the most obese county in the nation. I found that while social and economic factors do play a part in this epidemic, the main culprit was the lack of nutrition education. The victims of obesity are likely the same victims of systematic brainwashing from Big Food marketers, relying on diet soda or low fat products or looking only at calories on product labels. Basically, they are doing what the food industry has been teaching them about losing weight versus finding out the truth about real food.

And that’s the problem – the food industry is the one leading our conversation in this country about food and nutrition, educating the mass public about what to eat and what not to eat. Coca-Cola recently even went as far as creating a special campaign to combat obesity – yes you read that right – a sugar filled soda company trying to stop obesity. (You can read my reaction to that here).

Unfortunately, the doctors in this country are not exactly leading the discussion either, since nutrition is not currently a focus in medical school. And the government has their hands tied by big food industry and chemical company lobbyists that basically control what the FDA approves, deems safe for human consumption, and our overall food policy.

So who is going to finally tell us the truth about our food?

The food industry does not want us to pay attention to the ingredients nor do they care about the negative effects from eating them. They certainly don’t care about the astronomical medical bills that are a direct result of us eating the inferior food they are creating.

The HELP we need starts here. We as a collective nation must stop this trajectory of sickness and rising health care costs, by understanding the ingredients we are putting into our bodies. We must challenge the U.S. food industry to discontinue the use of banned ingredients that are not allowed elsewhere in the world. We deserve to have the same quality food without potential toxins.

Food is medicine, and plain and simple, if our food is sick (filled with GMO’s, chemicals, additives, artificial ingredients, and/or carcinogens), collectively we as a country are going to continue to be sick.

Using banned ingredients that other countries have determined unsafe for human consumption has become a pandemic in this country. To prove this point, I found the best and easiest place to look for evidence was just across “the pond” in the United Kingdom, where they enjoy some of the same types of products we do – but with totally different ingredient lists.

It is appalling to witness the examples I am about to share with you. The U.S. food corporations are unnecessarily feeding us chemicals – while leaving out almost all questionable ingredients in our friends’ products overseas. The point is the food industry has already formulated safer, better products, but they are voluntarily only selling inferior versions of these products here in America. The evidence of this runs the gamut from fast food places to boxed cake mix to cereal to candy and even oatmeal – you can’t escape it.


US brands that are reformulated without additives in other countries

Some of the key American brands that are participating in this deception are McDonald’s, Pringles (owned by Kellogg’s), Pizza Hut and Quaker (owned by Pepsi), Betty Crocker (owned by General Mills), Starburst (owned by M&M/Mars), and Ritz Crackers (owned by Kraft). In the examples below, red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.


Betty Crocker Red Velvet Cake Mix Ingredients

Betty Crocker cream cheese icing ingredients

Having a pre-made box of flour, baking soda and sugar all ready to go saves time for some people when it comes to making a cake, but does saving time have to come at the expense of chemically derived and potentially toxic ingredients?

The United States version of Betty Crocker Red Velvet cake not only has artificial colors linked to hyperactivity in children, food cravings, and obesity, but it also has partially hydrogenated oils (a.k.a. trans fat). Trans fat has been shown to be deadly even in small amounts. “Previous trials have linked even a 40-calorie-per-day increase in trans fat intake to a 23% higher risk of heart disease.” This could easily be the amount of trans fat in one serving of Betty Crocker icing alone.

Sodium benzoate is an ingredient that Coca-Cola actually removed in their Diet Coke product overseas, but you’ll still find it in their product Sprite, cake mixes and loads of other products across the USA. The Mayo Clinic reported that this preservative increases hyperactivity in children. Also, when sodium benzoate combines with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), it can form benzene, a carcinogen that damages DNA in cells and accelerates aging.


McDonald's french fries ingredients

Fast Food giants like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut are just as guilty as General Mills’ Betty Crocker.

Look closely at the ingredients in McDonald’s french fries above. Do you see how the french fries in the U.K. version are basically just potatoes, vegetable oil, a little sugar and salt? How can McDonald’s make french fries with such an uncomplicated list of ingredients all over Europe, but not over here? Why do McDonald’s french fries in the U.S. have to have TBHQ, trans fat and “anti-foaming” agents? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I checked – I didn’t think Americans liked foam with their fries either!

The anti-foaming agent – dimethylpolysiloxane – is a type of silicone used in caulks and sealants and as a filler for breast implants. It’s also the key ingredient in silly putty.

Thanks FDA for allowing companies to put silly putty in our french fries. Seriously – this is out of control.


McDonald's strawberry sauce ingredients

McDonalds Strawberry Sauce in the United States includes high fructose corn syrup, red #40 and sodium benzoate, while the citizens of the U.K. get off scot-free. Instead, they get 37% real strawberries in their product and no additional flavoring or harmful preservatives.


Pizza Hut garlic cheese bread ingredients

Pizza Hut does a huge disservice to us (and their workers) by using Azodicarbonamide in their garlic cheese bread. This ingredient is banned as a food additive in the U.K., Europe, and Australia, and if you get caught using it in Singapore you can get up to 15 years in prison and be fined $450,000. The U.K. has recognized this ingredient as a potential cause of asthma if inhaled, and advises against its use in people who have sensitivity to food dye allergies and other common allergies in food, because azodicarbonamide can exacerbate the symptoms. However, Pizza Hut and many other fast food chains like Subway and Starbucks use this ingredient in their U.S. bread products.

Natural and artificial flavors and hidden MSG (in the form of autolyzed yeast extract, in this case) are commonly found throughout products in America but not elsewhere. Junk food companies intentionally add this combination of ingredients to create sensory overload by exciting your brain cells to remember the food you are eating and make less nutritious ingredients taste better to you.

I’m not saying that the food industry has completely eliminated these same tricks abroad – but when you look at the U.K. version of garlic cheese bread, the ingredients look pretty basic. Many of the ingredients you could use at home to make garlic bread. I’ve never found TBHQ in the baking aisle at the grocery store, have you? TBHQ, by the way, is a preservative derived from petroleum and used in perfumes, resins, varnishes and oil field chemicals. Laboratory studies have linked TBHQ to stomach tumors. This preservative is also used by Chick-Fil-A  in their famous chicken sandwiches.


Pringles sour cream and onion chip ingredients

Reviewing the ingredients in Pringles really got me worked up….ever wonder why you can’t stop eating chips after having just one? MSG is the culprit – and in the U.S. version of Pringles, it’s added twice! Once in its known name and again in a hidden source, called “yeast extract.”

This begs the question “Why are Americans so addicted to processed food?!” The food industry has designed it that way on purpose to line their pockets with profits, at the expense of our health.


Ritz Crackers ingredients

The U.K. Ritz Crackers ingredient list resembles items that you’d find in every household around the country – but the United States version goes the extra mile to include trans fat, HFCS and natural flavor. Natural flavor can be also be a hidden form of MSG, which, again, is an additive that will likely make you eat more than you would otherwise.


Quaker Oats strawberry flavor ingedients

In the United States, Quaker Oats has several different flavors of oatmeal that contain different fruit flavored, artificially dyed pieces of dehydrated apple but that don’t actually contain any of the fruit shown on the package. But in the U.K. – they don’t even attempt to sell that garbage. They instead have a product called “Oats so Simple” that actually has REAL strawberries in it – light years ahead of our version that includes trans fat, artificial food coloring, and artificial flavors.


Rice Krispies ingredients

There’s only one difference in Rice Krispies between the U.S. and U.K. version – but it’s a big difference.  It’s one ingredient that is banned virtually in every other country, except here in the United States. That ingredient is called BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) or BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and is a very common preservative used rampantly throughout packaged food in the U.S.

Test studies published by the IPCS (International Program for Chemical Safety) “show tissue inflammation, enlargement, and/or growths in 100%, and cancer in 35% of [animal] subjects” as reported in this article. How can the U.S. allow this chemical in our food – much less in cereal aimed and targeted at our kids?


Starburst Fruit Chews ingredients

And speaking of targeting our kids – food companies have found a way to naturally color candy all over Europe, but our candy here is still full of artificial substances made from petroleum and GMO sugar. Looking at the ingredients in Starburst Fruit Chews provides a great example of this disgrace.


I saved the most startling fact for last. One very cautionary set of ingredients that are included in almost all of the American products but not the U.K. products are GMO’s, in the form of either corn or soy.

There have been no long term human studies on GMOs and preliminary studies on animals show horrific consequences. For instance, a study showed GMOs caused toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. Another study revealed that female rats fed GMO soy for 15 months showed significant health issues in their uterus and reproductive cycle, compared to rats fed organic soy or those raised without soy. A 2009 French Study concluded that Glyphosate (used on GMO soy) can kill the cells in the outer layer of the human placenta, the organ that connects the mother to her fetus, providing nutrients and oxygen and emptying waste products. A Russian study conducted on hamsters that were fed GMO soy diets for two years over three generations found that by the third generation, most of the hamsters lost the ability to have babies, showed slower growth, and suffered a higher mortality rate.


Example UK genetically modified ingredient label

Example UK genetically modified ingredient label

In the U.K. food companies are required by law to list if a certain ingredient is derived from a genetically modified or genetically engineered material on the label. Out of all the products I researched, I couldn’t find one product with this label. (See example from GMO-Compass and BBC above of what it would look like if I did.)

This was very telling considering that not only have food companies taken out all sorts of hazardous chemical ingredients abroad – but they also have willingly reformulated their products without GMOs.

Food corporations in the U.S. claim reformulating their products to remove harmful ingredients or changing labels would be too expensive – but they’ve already done just that in Europe and in many other countries. Their governments listened to the outrage of their people and took the safety of their citizens’ health above everything else. Is it too much to ask the same for us in the United States of America? How much do our sickness, obesity, and mortality rates have to worsen before they respond to us?

I will leave you with this note:  Lisa and I are very disturbed about the shameful hypocrisy allowed to happen with our food supply here in the U.S. In fact we are feeling very compelled to do something about it. Stay tuned, because we are going to need every one of you to help when we are ready. In the meantime, I hope you’ll come check me out at Food Babe and also share this article (you can use the green ShareThis button below).

March 5th Update: Lisa and I have started a petition – please sign and share it now. Together we can make a change.

Vani HariVani Hari a.k.a. Food Babe is an organic living expert, food activist and writer on She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth. To follow Vani, check her out on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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690 comments to Food Babe Investigates: How Food Companies Exploit Americans with Ingredients Banned in Other Countries

  • Thank you for this article. The proliferation of additives in packaged food is astounding. Having started a packed food company (mustard) I’m hyper aware of all the “extra” non-food ingredients that are in most packed foods. The one ingredient that gets me, mostly because it’s in many “natural” and “organic” packaged foods is xanthan gum. I don’t think xanthan gum itself is a terrible product (you can make it essentially by fermenting corn), but from what I can tell almost all of it used in food manufacturing is derived from GMO corn.

  • Sherrie

    One ingredient that you don’t ciritcize, but occurs in some of these British foods is glucose-fructose syrup, which is simply the British name for high fructose corn syrup. From what I see, invert sugar, glucose syrup, and fructose syrup are also prevalent in many of these foods, and are just as unhealthy as many American ingredients. I agree with your comments about many of the preservatives, but those other added sugars are just as dangerous!

  • Daniel

    The amount of sodium benzoate in these foods is not a risk unless you are pounding cokes all day,

    • Hyperactivity may not kill you – but it is a condition that could be prevented. Exposure adds up overtime. The question I want people to ask themselves is – “How much poison is ok to consume?” And if it isn’t a concern – why did Diet Coke take it out of their products?

  • Susan

    As I sat in my endocrinologist’s office, I was horrified as I watched the “medical news TV” program they had playing in the waiting area. There was an obese woman “asking a doctor” about diet sodas… saying something about how she had heard artificial sweeteners were bad for you, but she was trying to lose weight. The doctor’s response? “Stick with the diet soda.” She said the artificial sweeteners aren’t going to make her sick and diet is always better than regular soda. I was waiting for the doctor to say “but if you are really trying to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle… drink water!” but there was NO mention of this. I was appalled. It doesn’t take any sort of formal nutrition training to know that neither diet soda nor regular soda are good options.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for this post. I feel sick, mad and sad. I’m wondering about GMOs. Is all whole wheat GMO even if it is organic? How do I know my organic potatoes, tomatoes and soy are non GMO? Can they come from GMO seeds but be grown organic? I thought all conventional wheat was modified in the 70s. Is only heirloom wheat non modified. I’m very confused. Please help. Thanks.

    • Jan Gebhart

      You’re exactly right! Since the late 70′s, the majority of wheat grown throughout the world is a hybridized variety…….not the wheat prior generations ate. Read “Wheat Belly” by Dr. Davis for the scientific reasons we need to cut it out of our diets. Eikorn wheat, as well as Emmer were the Original strains and their gluten is tolerated in the bodyAlso, I recently read that over 98% of all potatoes grown in Idaho are genetically modified!

    • cheryl

      Sarah, even organic foods can be GMO. It’s infiltrated everything here. Disgusting.

  • Christine D

    You’re not really comparing apples and apples. Becasue in the UK, they’re using a fancy name and in the US they use the common name. You highlighted for the US but not the UK. For example, in the cake box mix you highlight cellulose gum for the US. Carboxymethyl cellulose in the UK is the exact same thing as cellulose gum in the US.

    And in your cream cheese example, the UK uses titanium dioxide. I don’t want that in my food as an American. Titanium dioxide has recently been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen ”possibly carcinogen to humans”.

    • Christine – I agree that cellulose is a food additive both countries could do without. I compared ingredients that were blatantly different between the two countries and the ones that were specifically banned in the U.K. – to compare all of the ingredients would be too exhaustive, this is a blog after-all, not a research paper.

  • Cathy Stadler

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s time to do something, people need to know what’s happening here! Let me know you’re plans. I’ll definitely do what I can to help.

  • kb

    Not kidding, I started reading this blog post while munching on some Pringles…as soon as I got to that section I tossed the whole can…what an eye opener!!

  • Thank you so much for taking a stand and calling attention to the alarming degree of deception in America’s industrial food system!

  • Jason Leake

    The contents of this comment have been removed by the 100 Days of Real Food team due to violation of our comment policy, which may be reviewed here

    • Ang

      “Her opposition to genetically modified food is a mystery to me.” Even if you do not agree with our opposition to it– We should have the right to KNOW what is in the food we are purchasing. In my view, adding pesticides to the genetic make-up of a plant is much different than breeding cows, or even many traditional farming techniques. If you chose to eat it that is fine– but we should know what we are choosing.

  • Theodora Crawford

    A year after CA’s Prop 37 launched the news is spreading–nationwide. Thanks for all you do to provide research and answers. As more of us boycott main brands and protest vocally, the sooner we may see healthy food back in the stores and more gardens in backyards and on roofs.

  • Jason Leake

    The contents of this comment have been removed by the 100 Days of Real Food team due to violation of our comment policy, which may be reviewed here

    • Jeny Nathan

      Wow…i am not sure you actually understand the actual information she is trying to get across? Most people have no idea that artificial color, which is deemed safe by the FDA, is made of petroleum! If more people knew that, they would reconsider their food choices. I think you are the one who seems a little confused or “stupid” as you say. Doesn’t sound like a smear campaign, more information for one to make an informed decision on what they put into their bodies! Again, wow!

      • Sane Person

        Except that people who understand chemistry know that something cannot be made ‘of’ petroleum. Petroleum is a mixture of chemicals. Red 40 uses some ingredients extracted from Petroleum, but that’s because Petroleum is a bountiful mix of useful organic compounds. But consuming Red 40 is not the same as drinking oil as this article and others try to make you believe.

        • After reading the comment that ‘Petroleum is a bountiful mix of useful organic compounds”, I had to reply. I would agree with Mr Sane that it is organic, a carbon based item, or organic like a rock, but is inorganic to the human body. It was never meant to be used as a food source, is carcinogenic, and a disgrace feed to out children as shiny red candy.

  • Thanks for researching and posting all of this. I am trying to find healthy alternatives for my family on a budget and it’s very hard. I too have been researching various “green” solutions and it’s totally overwhelming. We have stopped using plastic to eat/cook with, use only natural shampoos/conditioners/bubble bath and have cut out lots of processed food. I can do it but it’s harder to get my kids and hubby on board.

    The thing that scares me though is what if(they may already do it) the companies just start lying altogether about what’s in the products and even though it’s not listed it may be in there? I was reading last night on a blog of a shampoo that claims they’re natural but was outed by a group of ladies that tested their product. It was shampoo that many many people have been using thinking that they were using all natural shampoo. How insulting, terrifying and sad!

    Keep on what you’re doing. I love this blog.

  • Jeny Nathan

    I learned all of this a few years back, including being able to go to to ask how artifical color was made. It showed the complete molecular structure of red 40, yellow 5 & blue 1…including that they were made from PETROLEUM!

    Doctors continue to be brainwashed from their predecessors, who believe something and pass it on. We as a culture put to much stock into our Doctors being the ever knowing all, also known as God! We should not be focusing on cures, but rather the source!

    I have recently moved my family across the country to a 32 acre parcel, so that we could start to grow our own animals, veggies & fruit for human consumption, so as to avoid our current public food offerings, also known as hazardous waste. We are aware of GMO’s and the many negative findings associated with them, and are avoiding them in seeds that are 100% heirloom. Please know that if a seed catalog offers so called organic varieties, said seeds can be of genetically modified origin, but grown with organic means. The only true way to know you have non~GMO, is to retrieve Heirloom varieties from a reputable source, such as Baker Creek Heirloom, who test all of their varieties for GMO influences.

    Good luck to the USA! I am not taking any chances! Jeny Nathan, Whitewater, WI

  • We are just beginning to understand food addiction.

    In 10 years, we will understand that what the processed food industry is doing to us, animals, the environment and the world is absolutely CRIMINAL:

  • Liz

    Of course, we don’t have it all right in the UK. Horsemeat labelled as beef anyone?

  • justagirl

    Thank you for all you do. This really is outrageous! I am very sensetive to artificial ingredients and MSG sends me into a huge migraine. I am tired of companies making “junk” as natural flovors. I read every label and make just about everything from scratch. Some real change needs to happen soon.

  • Isbjornen

    Hmm… seems like the US has more stringent product labeling laws than the UK, which allows “boutique” consumers to avoid those nasty three syllable compounds you cited. Good work. I feel the outrage. It keeps me warm.

    “Over 1000 deaths, over half of them children, are caused by dihydrogen monoxide every day”

    • Carolina_D

      @Isbjornen, you didn’t write the comment re: dihydrogen monoxide seriously did you? If so, please Google it. Dihydrogen monoxide is water. Nothing more, just using an unfamiliar name. In other words, it’s a hoax and you’re perpetrating it by your comment. We have enough REAL dangers to worry about.

      • thor214

        You apparently didn’t understand their point.

        The point was that the UK uses one or two syllable words and the US must use the proper chemical compound name for the same substances. Glucose-syrup? very similar to HFCS.

        The reason for citing the DHMO hoax is to show that long chemical names are always perceived to be more dangerous than the common name. And still, that many people drown, whether you call it water or dihydrogen monoxide. One of them just sounds scarier because of a lack of proper science education.

  • brandon

    What makes me angry is the ones who cant grow whole or organic foods basically see all of the chemicals as a cheaper alternative, because the whole/organic food stores are too expensive. This makes me sad that I could have probably avoided alot of my sicknesses and disorders if I had been better fed and educated on what I put in my body growing up. But now im 28 and 230 pounds. I just dont feel healthy.

  • Emily

    THANK YOU! Yes, it deserves all shouty capitals because I wanted to shout it! We recently made the switch to real/whole foods because of all I am learning. It is a work in progress, almost a year into it and we are the healthiest we’ve ever been! You are truly making a difference in people’s lives with your work here!

  • Nicole

    This is awful and makes me sick but now I wonder what can we feed our children? My daughter loves oatmeal for breakfast and I always thought it was a healthy option as oppose to sugary cereals. What is suggested as a healthy replacement?

  • Michele W

    I am curious as to why you did not highlight Propane-1 and Titanium Dioxide as potentially harmful ingredients in the UK cake mix and frosting ingredients?

  • TomCat

    You’re comparing apples to lug nuts here, Babe. Perhaps you SHOULD have put a little more research into this non-research paper. After only 30 seconds behind Google I found this “the problem for British consumers is that trans fats don’t have to be listed on ingredient labels, so it’s difficult to know which foods contain them.”

    Read more:

    The equal “disgrace” is the Starburst comparison. Let’s only highlight what makes your point, ignoring other equally damaging ingredients [Glucose syrup - hello! Glucose syrup is a food syrup, made from the hydrolysis of starch.] Oh & “Vegetable Fat” on the UK label .. Google Crisco & tell me what you think “vegetable fat” is. C’mon babe, you can do better than this.

    But kudos for getting eyeballs on your blog (the main point here anyway isn’t it?)

  • Kimberly Dauerman

    I agree with many of your points- but most of the doctors in our practice counsel patients every visit about nutrition. And I feel very well trained in this. You need to make your own food to be sure what you are putting in your body.

  • Pablo

    All that is said here is true BUT I think that in the UK some of those ingredients do not by law need to be listed by name individually. For example the words natural flavourings and natural colourings can cover up a host of evils whereas in the US you would need to list them individually by name and therefore making things look as bad as they are. We have the embarrassment at the moment of finding that some ready meals that say ‘Beef Lasagne’ on the box are actually made of horse meat. I could never imagine this happening in the USA.

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