Organic rice baby cereal, other rice-based breakfast cereals, brown rice, and white rice have all been found to contain arsenic, a "potent human carcinogen [that] also can set up children for other health problems in later life, " says Consumer Reports. The problem occurs because rice is grown in flooded paddies and takes up the arsenic that occurs naturally in water and soil. Repeated flushing with fresh hot water can reduce some of the arsenic.
Food Coloring and Dyes
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) calls them a "Rainbow of Risks." A CSPI report finds that many of the food dyes approved for use raise serious health concerns. For example, Red Dye #3 was recognized in 1990 by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals and is banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. Red 40 (also seen on labels as Red Dye #40), the most-widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune-system tumors in mice. The dye causes hypersensitivity in a small number of consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children, says CSPI. Yellow 5 may also cause hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. The European Union requires a warning notice on most dye-containing foods, but here in the U.S., manufacturers need only say that the dye is in the product.
Grain and Corn Products That Contain GMOs
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have been incorporated into the seed used to grow a variety of grains. The original idea was to produce crops that would be more resistant to diseases and pests. But ironically, GMOs seem to have spawned an increase in pesticide use, while some animal studies show a link to potentially pre-cancerous cells, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, false pregnancies, and higher death rates. Products that contain grains or corn products are those most likely to contain GMOs, which means cereal, flour, pancake mix, cake mixes, corn meal, anything sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and even beer. Though many European countries have banned GMO food products, that's not the case in the U. S., though some states have started to require companies to label GMO-tainted food ingredients.
Canned tuna is the most common source of mercury in our diet, with white albacore tuna usually containing far more mercury than light tuna, reports Consumer Reports. Mercury is a problem because exposure in pregnant women and young children can impair hearing, hand-eye coordination and learning ability. Evidence suggests that frequent consumption of high-mercury fish might also affect adults' neurologic, cardiovascular, and immune systems.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical compound that mimics the reproductive hormone estrogen. It is associated with a wide variety of health problems, including cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and ADHD. The chemical is often infused into the internal lining of cans, where it may leach into the food inside. In fact, a study by a coalition of health advocacy and environmental groups found that 100% of bean and tomato food cans tested at "dollar" discount stores contained the chemical.
Noodle Cups and Instant Soups
If your pantry houses food in foam-like containers, beware. The containers may be made from a compound called polystyrene, a petroleum-based compound that contains the toxic substances styrene and benzene, suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins that are hazardous to human health. Styrene leaches into food when it comes into contact with heat or acid, so adding boiling water to cook ramen or instant soup should be avoided, as should making or serving hot coffee, tea, or chocolate in a styrene cup.
Plastic Food Packaging
Plastic food packaging (as well as shower curtains) may be made from vinyl chloride, one of the first chemicals designated a known human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Vinyl chloride may also contain phthalates, BPA, and chlorine, which makes it particularly dangerous to manufacture.
PFOA is the slippery stuff that makes Teflon-type pans non-stick. It's also what lines bags of microwave popcorn so that the kernels can pop without sticking to the bag and burning. At high heat, like what is found in a microwave, PFOAs can spread onto the popcorn. You might also end up inhaling them when you open the bag of popped corn and the steam escapes. PFOA has been linked to cancer, liver disease, developmental problems, and thyroid disease, reports Duke University.
Pesticide Residue on Foods
Fruits and vegetables that are grown the "old fashioned" way–by being treated with pesticides and herbicides to control bugs and weeds—generally retain some toxic residue. Environmental Working Group ranked 48 different fruits and vegetables them according to how much reside could be detected on each one. Apples, peaches, nectarines strawberries and grapes contained the most residue; pineapples, sweet corn and avocados the least. Though EWG's study considered fresh produce, it's likely dried produce is also contaminated. For example, the USDA Pesticide Data Program found 26 different pesticide residues on raisins.
Brominated Vegetable Oil, or BVO
BVO is a synthetic chemical that helps ingredients like orange juice mix better in soft drinks. The compound also makes the natural colors in food brighter. You might find it in soda pop, sports drinks, and citrus-flavored waters. The chemical could increase cholesterol; it may also damage the liver, testicles, thryroid, heart and kidneys. WebMD reports that "in very high amounts, drunk over a long period of time, BVO can build up in the body and cause toxic effects."