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Five Facts You May Not Know About Processed Food

Updated on July 3, 2013

The following are a few things that you may not know about processed foods. Keep in mind that these apply only to a small subset of processed foods and are not representative of all processed foods.

However, it is true that one of the best things you can do for you health is to avoid processed food and eat whole natural food. This trumps even exercise. Exercise is only second in terms of health benefit.

1. Fake Fruits in Processed Foods

Did you know that some so called "blueberries" in cereals and muffins are not real blueberries? They are fake blueberries.

The Happiness Diet book does a good job calling out fake fruits in some processed foods...

"The ingredient list for Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups doesn't include ... strawberries" [page18]

"Those blueberries found in cereal, muffins, and bagels? They're often fake. Made of nothing more than sugar, hydrogenated oil, and artificial food dyes No. 2 and No. 40." [page 180]

That is not to say that all processed foods contain fake fruits. Some actually do contain real fruits -- Dannon Fruit on the Bottom for example does have real strawberries.

Just to get the facts from another reference source, you can also read about fake blueberries in Los Angeles Times.

2. Castoreum Derived from Beaver Castor Sac is in some processed food

According to Wikipedia ...

"castoreum is the yellowish secretion of the castor sac in combination with the beaver's urine, used during scent marking of territory"

So why is this in some processed foods? Because in the United States, castoreum is a food additive granted GRAS status Food and Drug Administration. GRAS stands for "Generally Recognized As Safe".

This ingredient is sometimes used as vanilla flavorings and you can sometimes see this ingredient listed as castoreum extract, castoreum oil, or simply "natural flavorings".

In the Fenaroli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, Firth Edition, it says that ...

"Extract is used as flavor components (particularly in vanilla flavorings) in most food and beverages."

In the book The United States of Strange, it writes ...

"Castoreum, an FDA-approved substanced obtained from the sex glands of beavers, ... However, it is usually listed simply as "natural flavorings.""

If you don't believe that book, then read article on It says the same thing.

To be fair, if castoreum is in processed food, it is only in very small amounts and it is not known to cause any adverse effects in this small amount.

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3. Cochineal from crushed insects use as coloring

The redish food coloring known as cochineal and carmine are made from ground insects. But don't worry, it is supposed to be fairly safe aside from some instances of allergic reactions.

Is this a myth or urban legend? Check article on, which is known to confirm or disprove myths and urban legends. Snopes says it is "true". Article writes...

"Cochineal and its close cousin carmine (also known as carminic acid) are derived from the crushed carcasses of a particular South and Central american insect."

A while back, Starbucks was in the media attention about using cochineal extract in its Strawberry Fappuccinos. It later declared that it would no longer use it. [reference]

This is not so bad. Some would argue that the use of natural cochineal for coloring is better than synthetic dyes. Many people around the world eat insects as part of their diet.

4. One Hamburger Patty is from many cows

Did you know that one hamburger patty is from the trimmings of many cows from many farms?

Is hamburger a processed food? Yes, it is. The bread bun is processed food. But even excluding the bun, the hamburger patty can be considered as processed food since it is made from the trimmings of many different cows merged together. Sometimes the meat comes from cows in different states.

From the book The Happiness Diet, ...

"The greater the number of cheap cuts of meat ground into a single patty, the greater the risk of contamination with E. coli. A standard fast-food hamburger contains the trimmings of dozens of cows raised around the globe." [page 6]

To partly avoid this problem, you can have steak instead, much tastier as well. Steaks must come from the same animal. That is why it is okay to eat steak medium well, whereas hamburger must always be fully cooked.

5. Brominated Vegetable Oil in Some Soda's

About 10% of sodas in the United States contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO). This practice is banned in Europe and Japan. [reference]

Brominated vegetable oil is vegetable oil (such as corn or soybean oil) that is bonded with the harmful element bromine.

Bromine affects the central nervous system and is an endocrine disruptors (affecting the endocrine and hormonal systems). Bromine competes with iodine for the same receptors that absorb iodine and hence can lead to iodine deficiency.

The book, The Happiness Diet, writes ...

"Many citrus-flavored sodas and energy drinks, like Mountain Dew and Gatorade, contain brominated vegetable oil. ... Bromine interferes with your thyroid, the gland that helps regulate your mood and body weight." [page 29]


This article was written in June 2013 and some of the information may be outdated by the time you are reading this. Information based on other references on the internet as well as from the book The Happiness Diet, which provides top 100 reasons to avoid processed foods.


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    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

      I agree cooking and making own food is one of the healthiest things one can do. But I still occasionally get a hamburger when I'm out just for the convenience. Without the bun, that is.

      Steaks are much better as they must come from the same animal. That is why it is important to fully cook a hamburger, but steaks can be medium well. I wrote about this here:

    • Gypsy48 profile image

      Gypsy48 4 years ago

      Informative article. Processed foods may be convenient but it is so much better to make your own food. I find that making my own blueberry muffins among other things taste much better and is healthier even though it takes time in the kitchen. The thought of a hamburger patty coming from several different cows is gross. I have never been much of a meat eater and I don't think I will ever eat another hamburger again. Voted up.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

      Thanks people for voting up and finding it interesting. I hardly eat processed food at all. There are no food in boxes in my grocery checkout line.

    • Kalmiya profile image

      Kalmiya 4 years ago from North America

      Am in a constant process of trying to get rid of all processed foods from my kitchen but it takes a bit of work. Thanks for your hub which brings to light how important for health it is to clean this junk out of our diets! It's really scary what stuff we are being sold as 'food' - yuk.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

      Kierstin Gunsberg 4 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Fascinating and icky! Great article : )

    • Oswalda Purcell profile image

      Oswalda Purcell 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks for opening my eyes :)

    • idigwebsites profile image

      idigwebsites 4 years ago from United States

      Wow, this is a revelation. Thanks for informing us consumers, you help us to be wiser on what's the best for us especially when it comes to buying foods. Natural foods (and not so-called natural foods) are still the best. Up, useful and shared.

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 4 years ago

      @BlissfulWriter I did enjoy your article and how it was very detailed however I couldnt finish reading it due to the gross ingredients in some common foods and drinks. No wonder why people are getting sick and getting cancer and other sorts of diseases. This is absolutely ridiculous ! Voted up, shared, and pinned !

    • jasonycc profile image

      jasonycc 4 years ago from South East Asia

      I try to avoid processed all this while. After reading this hub, I will be even more mindful on consuming processed food. Thanks for sharing this. Cheers.