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    You Ask, I Answer:BHT/BHA

    I bought some gum today and the last items on the ingredient list are “BHT and BHA to preserve freshness.”

    Do you have any idea what that is? It sounds freaky and “chemical”-y.

    — Lori Echter
    [Location withheld]

    Chewing gum ingredient lists — especially those of sugarfree gums — are always fascinating. Artificial sweeteners and dyes abound! But, hey, at least they whiten your teeth, right?

    Since BHT and BHA are antioxidants (they prevent the oxidation of oils and fats), their presence increases the shelf life of gum and many other packaged foods.

    Yes, gum contains oils (in the form of glycerol, which impart a waxy texture).

    You are correct when you say that these two ingredients sound “chemical”-y. They ARE chemicals. BHT stands for butylated hydroxytoluene, while BHA is an acronym for butylated hydroxyanisole.

    Although the United States considers them safe to include in food processing, the European Union has banned BHA from all cosmetic products. BHT, meanwhile, is banned from the British food supply amidst reports of its carcinogenic risks and harmful renal effects.

    A significant problem here is not so much that the miniscule amounts of BHA or BHT in food are deadly, but rather that because so many people eat heavily processed diets, the amounts of BHA and BHT being consumed worry some researchers.

    For what it’s worth, the Food & Drug Administration claims to be conducting “further research” on BHT (they have been saying this for at least a decade).

    Whenever possible, I suggest you purchase products that use natural antioxidants to preserve freshness (i.e. tocopherols, also known as vitamin E).

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