Even the most informed consumers could be putting their health at risk. That’s the eye-opening truth that Dr. Oz uncovered from his investigation into some of the nation’s leading industries. After consulting the country’s biggest watchdogs and most-respected experts, Dr. Oz documented three of the most shocking threats to your health right now. Learn what they are and how you can fight back.
Threat #1: Brominated Vegetable Oil
Brominated vegetable oil or BVO is essentially vegetable oil treated with the high-density element bromine. BVO was originally created as a flame retardant for children’s clothes and mattresses. The bad news: BVO is commonly added to your favorite sodas and sports drinks.
How did this flame retardant end up in your favorite beverages? Soda manufacturers started adding BVO for cosmetic reasons – it helps prevent the drinks’ ingredients from separating on the shelf. BVO is an emulsifier used to spread the fruit and coloring elements of the liquid evenly, giving citrus drinks a cloudy, more "natural" appearance and keeping the flavors evenly distributed. BVO is primarily used in drinks that contain citrus flavor oil, which the New York Times estimates is around 10% of all beverages. Soft drinks like Mountain Dew, Powerade, Gatorade, Fanta Orange, Fresca and Squirt all contain BVO.
Researchers link BVO to organ damage, neurological issues and even birth defects. Studies have found that brominated flame retardants (BVO’s cousins) build up in human tissues, including breast milk. Animal and some human studies have linked these substances to neurological impairment, reduced fertility, changes in thyroid hormones and early onset puberty. Up until the 1940s, bromide salts were used for medicinal purposes until it was discovered that they could cause psychological symptoms and mental disorders in patients and they were pulled off the market.
More than 100 countries have banned BVO, including countries in Europe and Japan. Yet in the US and Canada, it’s legal to add BVO to beverages in amounts no greater than 15 parts per million. This US standard was set in the 1970s and was supposed to serve as an interim ruling pending additional research. Over 40 years later, however, this standard remains unchanged and BVO is still listed as an “interim food additive” instead of an ingredient. Accordingly, manufacturers that use BVO are technically following government regulations.
Dr. Oz firmly believes that these regulations need to be updated. There has not been enough research to determine the long-term health risks associated with brominated vegetable oil. Despite the lack of conclusive data, there are plenty of substitutes that soda manufacturers could use to minimize your risk.
Until more information becomes available, take steps to protect yourself. Limit sodas or sports drinks. Try healthier swaps; instead of sports drinks, mix 2 parts water with 1 part 100% fruit juice. Have seltzer water in lieu of soda.
Sign a petition to remove BVO from Gatorade started by Sarah Kavanagh.
Threat #2: Acrylamide
French fries, potato chips, crackers, toasted cereals – your favorite guilty pleasures could contain a hidden carcinogen. It’s not a food additive – it’s a chemical linked to cancer called acrylamide that naturally occurs when you cook any starch, especially at high temperatures.
Acrylamide has always been known to exist in industrial waste, but it was only discovered in fried and baked foods 10 years ago. The EPA regulates the level of acrylamide in drinking water, as high amounts have been connected to problems with the nervous system and cancer. A recent study found a concentration of this toxic chemical in a typical large order of fast food fries could range from 200 to 2000 times the EPA-allowed amount in a glass of water! Despite this alarmingly high amount of acrylamide, much is unknown about the corresponding health impact of eating the chemical. Research suggests an increased risk of ovarian, uterine and kidney cancers. Another study showed mothers who eat high amounts of acrylamide had babies with a reduced birth weight.
When acrylamide was initially discovered in food a decade ago, the FDA expressed great concern, but has been essentially inactive on the issue, a stance that’s likely correlated to the scope of the problem. Any remedy would involve a huge, costly reform of the US food industry’s recipes and cooking methods, which would be a colossal undertaking. The lack of regulation means that acrylamide is very common in food. Any carbohydrate that’s roasted, toasted, baked or fried potentially contains acrylamide. That includes French fries, potato chips, crackers, toasted breakfast cereals, cookies and bread.
The good news is that the risk from getting cancer from acrylamide is not a huge one. It’s still a threat, however – one that could be lowered if the government pressured the industry and set a limit on acrylamide levels in food. Even simple differences, like cooking foods at a lower temperature for longer times using different varieties of potatoes would work toward minimizing carcinogens.
These strategies aren’t only limited to restaurants or food manufacturers. Because acrylamide forms naturally, you could be creating it in your own kitchen.
Acrylamide is made with three building blocks: high heat, sugar and protein (the latter two are found naturally in foods). The chemical starts forming at about 250°F, which is above water’s boiling point (212°F), but lower than most toasters, which often get to 300°F degrees or more.
Luckily, there are simple things you can do to minimize your acrylamide intake. Follow these three steps below:
1. Prep Your Carbs Before You Cook
If you’re cooking potatoes, pre-soak them for 30 minutes in water. This helps slash acrylamide levels by up to 38%. Storing your potatoes in the fridge prior to cooking increases acrylamide when you bake them. Keep them in another cool place before you prepare them.
If you’re a bread lover, cut off the crust, which contains the highest acrylamide content after toasting. If you bake your own bread, add some rosemary to dough prior to baking – just 1 teaspoon can reduce acrylamide by up to 60%.
2. Change How You Cook Carbs
The next time you roast potatoes, take them out of the oven when they’re golden yellow rather than crispy brown. If you want to avoid acrylamide altogether in your spuds, microwave, steam or boil them. These cooking methods result in little or no acrylamide because the water keeps the temperature below the 250°F needed for an acrylamide reaction. As a general rule: Cook slower and at lower temperatures.
3. Include Cancer-Fighting Foods in Your Diet
While researchers aren’t aware of any food that gets rid of acrylamide in your body, cruciferous vegetables are known cancer fighters. Stock up on broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. These veggies contain a "detoxifier" that deactivates cancer-causing chemicals and stops growth of existing cancer cells. Serve up this double-whammy of protection at least five times a week!
Threat #3: BPA
Also known as bisphenol A, BPA is the key chemical found in many hard plastic products, from water bottles to reusable food containers. It is also used in many common cosmetics. Research shows BPA is an estrogen-like chemical that's been linked to neurological damage, thyroid issues and even cancer. Just last year, the FDA finally banned BPA from being used in baby and children's products, but wide-scale use remains prevalent.
Over 90% of all canned goods in the US have BPA. If the label doesn’t read “BPA-free,” chances are that it contains the chemical. More acidic foods like tomatoes, chili and canned soups appear to have the most BPA. A new study by Harvard researchers found that people who ate just one serving of canned soup for five days showed an increase in their BPA levels by over 1000% percent. Despite this compelling research, the food industry continues to push back, claiming BPA blocks metals from leaching into foods, protecting from contaminations like botulism.
The long-term health risks of BPA exposure have been documented by hundreds of studies; the research shows a wide range of health effects. BPA disrupts hormones, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, diabetes and obesity in humans.
Until the industry bans BPA altogether, there are simple steps you can take to minimize your exposure. Follow the steps below:
- Opt for frozen, jarred or pouched foods instead of cans.
- Choose single-ingredient canned foods instead of all-in-one meals, which tend to be higher in BPA and less healthy in general.
- Rinse canned fruit and vegetables with water before eating or heating, this may reduce the amount of BPA you ingest.
In the meantime, speak up and call the FDA or write to your Congressman and tell them that you want BPA out of your food packaging. Make your voice heard!