As obesity numbers continue to break records in the U.S. and many places throughout the world, health-conscious individuals are increasingly looking to their diet to try to maintain a healthy weight. Most of these people look out for ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats – and rightfully so, as regular consumption of such foods practically guarantees your waistline will grow. However, there are a few other ingredients you might not be aware of that promote obesity, and it’s time to add them to your list of things to avoid.
A new study published in Nature Communications, and carried out by researchers from Cedars-Sinai, found that three common preservatives added to food and other everyday products could contribute to obesity and disrupt your hormones. Using a novel method that entailed growing hormone-producing tissues from stem cells, they showed how being exposed to such chemicals on a regular basis interferes with signals sent between the digestive system and brain to let people know they’re full and should stop eating.
The strongest such effect was found in BHT, or butylhydroxytoluene. This antioxidant is found in breakfast cereals in the U.S., although it has been banned in other places. It is also used in other foods like cookies and chips to keep the fats in them from getting rancid and to protect their nutrients.
Although it is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, this ingredient has been shown in other studies to raise the risk of cancer and lead to liver enlargement, so promoting obesity is just the latest in a well-established list of reasons to avoid the ingredient.
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Another chemical to look out for is PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid. This polymer can be found in nonstick cookware and carpeting. In some places, it has made its way into drinking water, particularly in areas near chemical plants using PFOA, and it can even be found in household dust. The American Cancer Society also reports that stain-resistant carpeting and ski wax can also be sources of PFOA exposure.
The third chemical the researchers found to disrupt hormones and promote obesity was TBT, or tributyltin. According to a fact sheet issued by the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, the highly toxic TBT has been used in a variety of applications for many years. It can be found in household products like paints, stains, toiler cleaners, wood preservatives and carpet shampoos, to name a few.
Turn to natural foods and cleaners to minimize risk
If you think looking for all these ingredients on labels sounds like a lot of work, you’re right – and sometimes they are even disguised under other names so they might not be immediately obvious. You can make the task of finding healthy things to eat a lot simpler by sticking to whole foods in the form nature intended. Processed foods very often contain unhealthy ingredients in some form or another, no matter how “natural” they try to position themselves as being.
Organic fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are far less likely to cause harm, particularly if you grow them yourself. Anything that comes in a box or bag with a long ingredient list simply isn’t worth the risk.
By making a conscious effort to eat natural foods and clean with natural products like vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda, you can go a long way toward reducing your risk of disease as well as obesity. The testing method designed for this study could be used to test the effects of countless other chemicals in our food and environment, and the list of chemicals to avoid is only likely to grow as we learn more about the health effects of the products we are being exposed to. We can’t live in a bubble, but we can take very deliberate and effective steps to stack the odds in our favor by staying informed and making smart choices.