BHT butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and the related compound Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are often added to foods to preserve fats. They are chemicals that react with oxygen when a food package is opened, thereby keeping the oxygen from interacting with the fats & oils in the food. BHT and BHA keep food from becoming rancid and help prolong shelf-life.
Look at food labels – that’s the best way to know what you’re eating. Ignore the campaigns on the front packaging, head right to the ingredients list and read. If you’re looking at a cereal label you may find “Freshness preserved by BHT”. BHA is found in butter, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, snack foods, dehydrated potatoes, and beer. The same chemicals are also used in cosmetics, pharmaceutical drugs, rubber & petroleum products, jet fuels, and embalming fluids! Many packaging materials have BHT or it can be directly added to foods.
BHT & BHA | Are they safe?
These substances are banned in almost all other countries – but they have pretty widespread use in the US . The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does ban these preservatives from baby foods and the FDA does state that these substances have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals in high doses. There is evidence that certain persons may have difficulty metabolizing BHA and BHT, resulting in health and behavior changes. There is some anecdotal use of these substances as antiviral agents which would be positive health effects. So, who knows! The best thing to do is when you are able to, compare labels and choose the one with the least amount of ingredients and preservatives.
By using substances like these we are trading low-cost food and longer shelf-life potentially for our health. Consider eliminating BHT and BHA from your pantry shelves.