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6 Cosmetic Chemicals in Fast Food

It’s not difficult to make the case that fast food isn’t healthy.  One can point out the ubiquity of partially hydrogenated oils (AKA trans fats; which appear on five separate occasions in the ingredient list for Burger King’s grilled chicken filet).  Or the tablespoons upon tablespoons of added sugars.  Or the outrageously high levels of sodium.  Or the lack of fiber.  Or the presence of food dyes (there are two food dyes in Subway’s pickles!).  Pick your poison.

One also cannot gloss over the litany of chemicals — many of which are oddly found in cosmetics — present in these foods.  Sure, water and aloe vera are found in mass-produced beauty products, but food in cosmetic products is very different from cosmetic chemicals in food.

While fast food defenders point out that all these chemicals are legally “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), that isn’t as reassuring as it sounds.  Even if these additives posed no threat to health, their inclusion nevertheless makes it clear that as much as these companies like to “healthwash” and boast about “high-quality ingredients” and “freshness”, most of what they sell barely resembles real food.

Behold these fast-food and beauty product staples:

1) Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate: A common ‘dough conditioner’ used in many fast food chains’ “artisanal breads”, SSL is also found in shampoos and soaps. Fast food companies like to make SSL seem like a natural part of the breadmaking process, even though bread has been made for thousands of years — and still is — without it.

2) Benzoyl peroxide: Recently banned in China, benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient in acne creams — and commonly used to bleach white flour in the United States (and therefore used to make almost all fast food breads).  Neutrogena sandwich, anyone?

3) Disodium phosphate: A staple in mascara and mouthwash, you can find it in many fast food items.  At Wendy’s, for example, it is present in their chili, cheddar cheese sauce, and Frosty desserts.  Taco Bell includes it in their Southwest chicken.

4) Propylene Glycol: Commonly found in shampoo and mouthwash, as well as Burger King’s pickles, smoky cheese sauce, and BK stacker sauce.

5) Ammoniated glycyrrhizin: “Ammoniated glycyrrhizin is prepared from the water extract of licorice root by acid precipitation followed by neutralization with dilute ammonia.”  It’s commonly used in facial mask products, and is also an ingredient in Burger King’s ‘breakfast syrup’.

6) Calcium Disodium EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetate): Used as a stabilizer in skin products and hair conditioner, you can also find this used as a “flavor protectant” in most fast food sauces, dips, and dressings, including Taco Bell’s bacon ranch sauce, Arby’s light Italian dressing, and Burger King’s tartar sauce.

As much as fast food companies like to distract consumers with reduced calorie, low-fat items in an attempt to lure the ‘health-conscious’, they continue to serve up chemical concoctions that barely resemble food.  Leave the propylene glycol for those neon-colored mouthwashes and get yourself some real food.



  1. Chelsey @ Chew with Your Mouth Open said on October 5th, 2011

    Fantastic article! I never knew those chemicals existed in fast foods. Scary!

  2. Renata said on October 5th, 2011

    Once again, eat food, not too much, mostly plants. The rest is just gross.

  3. candice said on October 5th, 2011

    these things aren’t safe in cosmetics let alone food.. gross

  4. Joanna said on October 5th, 2011

    Ugh. Just… ugh. I had no idea.

  5. Lauren Slayton said on October 6th, 2011

    OK so now we are literally eating our lipstick. Revolting. My question is if I eat the bread, will my skin clear up?

  6. Carlene said on October 6th, 2011

    The use of phosphates as preservatives in food, especially fast food chicken, has become a huge problem for renal patients. I just finished my dietetic internship rotation at a dialysis center and the RD mentioned how hard it is for the majority of her client population to control their levels. Ps. Pts have to use double the phosphate binders when they eat drive through chicken. Gross.

  7. Ben @ NutritionHub said on October 7th, 2011

    Great article! Educational pieces like this are so essential these days now that all sorts of artificial/ highly processed “foods” dominating our food system. Thank you.

  8. Hunter said on October 7th, 2011

    Pretty gross!

  9. The Sauceress said on October 8th, 2011

    I am always telling people to make their own sauces – it’s extraordinary what chemicals are used in commercial bottled sauce! I didn’t know we are eating our cosmetics though. Would you allow me to republish this article on my blog, please, with a link back of course?

  10. Andy Bellatti said on October 8th, 2011

    Yes, you may republish on your blog with a link back.

  11. Kimberli said on October 8th, 2011

    Before I read this, I tolerated big fast food chains although I haven’t eaten in one in months. After reading this, I will gladly choose less chemically built food options. Big fast food chains get away with so much, don’t they?

  12. The Sauceress said on October 10th, 2011

    Andy, I have included your article in full, with a link back, in my latest blog post: http://saucerecipes.tv/eat-face-cream/. Thank you for allowing me to republish your excellent article.

  13. userdude said on November 2nd, 2011

    Not to forget, propylene glycol can also be the active ingredient used in deicing aircraft http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deicing_fluid

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