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What is it Wednesday: BHT

March 17, 2010
by

Last week I stopped at the grocery store on my way home.  I didn’t do a meal plan last week or my usual weekly grocery shopping, so I needed to do a brief mid-week shop to get us through till the weekend.  I really wanted to get some cereal.  We hadn’t had any in awhile and it was sounding really good.

Now I’m sure you all know that cereal is expensive.  When you take out the chemicals and add in organic ingredients, it gets uber-expensive!  So I was shopping the regular cereal aisle (not in the health-food section), looking for something suitable.  I was pleasantly surprised to find this:

Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats.  Not frosted or brown sugar or strawberry or anything fancy.  Just regular old shredded wheat in mini form.  And they were on sale!

The ingredients looked okay:

Whole grain wheat, reduced iron, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), zinc oxide, folic acid and vitamin B12.  To maintain quality, BHT added to the packaging.

Most of the crazy names are vitamins that fortify the cereal.  Niacinamide by the way is vitamin B3.  Not sure how I feel about fortified cereal.  That will have to be the topic of another post.  But what really caught my eye this time was the part about adding BHT to maintain quality.  What the heck is BHT?

BHT stands for butylated hydroxytoluene.  Per Wikipedia, BHT is a fat-soluble organic compound primarily used as a antioxidant food additive.  It seems that it acts as a synthetic Vitamin E that keeps food fresh.  There is some chemistry language on the Wiki page that explains how this happens.

In layman’s terms, Wisegeek once again has a great explanation.  Foods that are high in fat have BHT added to them to prevent the oxidation of fats.  Hence the name “antioxidant”.  Oxidation of fats just means the fat goes bad and can then taste awful and/or cause health risks.

Basically BHT is an additive that acts as a preservative.  It helps food like my cereal have a longer shelf life.  BHT is also used as a preservative in cosmetics and jet fuel.

So is it safe?  The USDA has obviously approved BHT as a safe food additive since I found it in cereal.  It has also been approved by the European Union and is identified as E321.  However there seems to be some debate on safety.  According to both Wikipedia and Wisegeek, some studies have linked BHT to cancer, while other studies have said it may actually prevent cancer.  I wish I could find the actual studies and link them here.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest lists BHT as “Caution”.  Their Caution category is given to ingredients that “May pose a risk and needs to be better tested.  Try to avoid.”  CSPI also mentioned the animal studies that either increased or decreased the risk of cancer.

This post on The Good Human says that BHT has a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that says things like “do not let this chemical into the environment, ingestion causes abdominal pain, and harmful to aquatic animals.”  Oh yum – just what you want to eat right?  Here’s a link to a MSDS on BHT.  I did not find the exact same words as The Good Human mentioned, but be sure to scroll down to Section 11: Toxicological Information to read things like “may cause cancer based on animal test data” and “may cause gastritis, vomiting, hypermotility, diarrhea.”

And here’s a link to a Chemical Safety Card on BHT.  Note that it says in all caps with an exclamation mark: “AVOID EXPOSURE OF (PREGNANT) WOMEN!”

I’m sure that the quantities that the MSDS and the Chemical Safety card are referring to and the quantities that are in our food are vastly different.  However it is still disturbing that a chemical that has all these warnings is allowed into our food, even in small quantities! 

I feel like I’m a broken record.  Didn’t I say something very similar last week?

For me, if I was eating cereal everyday, I would not buy a brand with BHT.  Actually I will probably try to stay away from it altogether from now on, at least for the food items I bring into my own home.  The small quantities of BHT that I come into contact with when eating outside my home are probably not that harmful.

BUT different people react to things differently.  That’s why it’s important to read labels and know what’s in your food.  The small quantities that I can tolerate might not be tolerable to the next person.  Food is very personal.  Everyone has to make their own decision about what they eat.

What are your thoughts on BHT?  Please share in the comments!  I love to hear people’s opinions and would also love to know if you know anything else important about BHT that I did not mention above.

Sources:

Wikipedia on BHT
Wisegeek on BHT
The Good Human post on BHT
Material Safety Data Sheet on BHT
A Chemical Safety Card on BHT
Center for Science in the Public Interest on BHT

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2010 2:16 pm

    Oh Amy, I would be SO HONORED if you blogged about the cheesecake!
    Then, if you want, I can give you a shout out on my blog too :).
    I think your blog is so cute :)

    P.S. the vanilla drops are nunatural vanilla stevia drops. I *think* I linked to them in my post, but if not, you can find them at nunaturals.com

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

  2. Sharon permalink
    April 10, 2010 9:16 pm

    I’ve been trying for some time to find cereals without BHT and it is quite difficult. I find it interesting that the MSDS link you posted and the MSDS sheet I found at http://www.merisol.com/images/BHT_MSDS_Update_041708.pdf are quite different. The one I posted states that care should be taken to prevent BHT from contaminating “any lakes, streams, ponds, groundwater, or soil.” It also cautions against rinsing any spills into surface water or sewer system. In any case, this is definately something I do NOT want to be ingesting.

  3. christine permalink
    June 17, 2010 8:19 am

    I feel the same way…but I love the fact that things like shredded wheat is healthy and contains no added salt or sugar (very difficult to find) so…can something similar be made at home? or has anyone come across something similar to shredded wheat that does not have bht added to the package???

  4. Christina permalink
    September 25, 2011 8:17 pm

    I am trying and elimination diet for my son and trying to avoid BHT. It is in most cereals but we found one that does not have it….Honey Nut Cheerios! They win!

    • Desh permalink
      February 20, 2012 10:54 am

      Nothing is hard to to find!!! Your just looking in the wrong place :) Older conventional grocery stores work on the bottom line, they are not carrying these “health” foods because of a genuine concern for our well being. It’s simply marketing. Companies are trying not to loose our business but at the same time know that most people still trust the names, like Post and General Mills, so that’s what they bank on.
      I say let’s vote, let’s vote everyday by the store we buy from and the brand we choose. Find your local organic or natrual health food or grocery store and feel safer about what your buying and the people your buying from. Some wonderful grocery stores I know of are; Earthfare, Greenlife, Whole Foods, Jungle Jims and I am sure with more research or traveling more may be named. Buy purchasing from these stores your supporting Fair Trade, local farmers, wonder employee opportunities and a fare work environment, non use of pesticides or genetically engineered foods, like fruits and veggies, no chemicals, dyes, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup and cereals that give the same blood sugar levels of a candy bar :). Many good brands are available in conventional places as well, in Krogers, Meijers, Bi-Lo and a word hard to say, Walmart, unfortunatly they are harder to find, many times cost more and are brands most people haven’t had the chance to get to know.
      Well, I appologize if my long wind isn’t helpful but I sure am glad my BHT question was answered! Ha! Thank you all, your input has been a refreshing reminder that other do care about their future and families. Have a peaceful day.

  5. November 10, 2011 3:33 pm

    I was eating a box of wheat thins and noticed the same words under the list of ingredients… and my google search led me to your site.
    I really do feel like everything they sell now has this in it.
    Ugh.

  6. Elayna permalink
    June 6, 2012 2:31 pm

    Chex cinnamon and sugar doesn’t have BHT but the honey chex does so be sure to read the label:)

  7. July 25, 2012 1:44 pm

    When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment
    is added I receive four emails with the same comment. There has to be a means you are able to remove me from that service?
    Thank you!

  8. September 19, 2012 10:13 am

    First off I want to say awesome blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing.
    I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there.

    I truly do take pleasure in writing however it
    just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any recommendations or hints? Thanks!

  9. Jay permalink
    January 30, 2013 3:05 am

    BHT in quantities that your cells can detoxify, is probably OK. In quantities that exceed your cells ability to detoxify, is probably toxic. The safe amount varies person to person. Even with one person, it will vary for different circumstances. It is similar to the flavonoid quercetin, some is good, too much is toxic. Quercetin is natural, it’s been around for some time. BHT is synthetic, more chances it could be mis-metabolized and toxic.

  10. Shun permalink
    January 16, 2014 2:17 pm

    I cannot eat many items with BHT. My system begins to reject it immediately usually through nausea that results in vomiting to remove it. I ate a few Bugle corn chips and had an extreme case of vertigo. I read the label of everything that I purchase. I purchased Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and the packaging is coated/sprayed with BHT, which also means it gets on the corn flakes. I had to return the box. This sensitivity to BHT has made me more health conscience toward myself and my family. I now purchase fresh fruit and vegetables and read all labels.

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