True Cellular Formulas Team - April 13, 2023

BHA and BHT Keep Cereal Fresh

But Are They Safe?

BHA and BHT Keep Cereal Fresh, But Are They Safe?

Preserving Freshness in Cereal

Cereal has become a staple in households worldwide. One reason for its popularity is its convenience and long shelf life, thanks in part to the use of preservatives like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). But with concerns about the safety of these additives on the rise, it's essential to understand their purpose, potential risks, and alternative options. In this article, we will explore the safety of BHA and BHT in cereals and provide information to help you make informed decisions about your breakfast choices.

Understanding BHA and BHT

BHA and BHT are synthetic antioxidants used to preserve food and extend its shelf life.[1] These chemicals work by preventing the oxidation of fats and oils in food, which can lead to spoilage, off-flavors, and the loss of nutritional value. BHA and BHT are commonly found in various processed foods, including cereal, potato chips, and vegetable oils.[2]

How BHA and BHT Keep Cereal Fresh

Cereal contains fats that can become rancid over time, impacting flavor and nutritional quality.[3] BHA and BHT help to preserve cereal by slowing down the oxidation process that leads to rancidity. By doing so, these preservatives maintain the taste, texture, and nutritional value of the cereal, ensuring a fresh-tasting product for an extended period.

Safety Concerns: Are BHA and BHT Harmful?

There have been concerns about the safety of BHA and BHT in food for several years. Some studies have linked these preservatives to potential health risks, while others suggest that they are relatively safe when consumed in low amounts. Let's take a closer look at the potential risks associated with these additives.

BHA has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible human carcinogen.[4] This classification is based on studies in animals that showed an increased risk of tumor formation after exposure to high levels of BHA. However, it's important to note that the amounts of BHA used in these studies were significantly higher than what is typically found in food products.[5]

Similarly, BHT has been linked to potential health risks in some studies, although the evidence is not as strong as it is for BHA. Some animal studies have found that BHT can cause liver and kidney damage at high doses.[6] However, other studies have suggested that BHT has low toxicity and may even have some health benefits, such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.[7]

In response to these concerns, regulatory agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have evaluated the safety of BHA and BHT. Both agencies have determined that these additives are safe for consumption in the amounts typically found in food products.[8] However, it is important to note that these safety assessments are based on the current state of scientific knowledge, and new research could change these conclusions in the future.

Alternatives to BHA and BHT in Cereal

Given the concerns about the safety of BHA and BHT, some consumers may prefer to avoid these additives in their cereal. Fortunately, there are alternative options for preserving freshness without relying on synthetic antioxidants.

One common alternative to BHA and BHT is using natural antioxidants like vitamin E (tocopherols) and rosemary extract.[9] These natural preservatives can help to prevent oxidation and maintain the quality of cereal, albeit potentially not as effectively as synthetic preservatives like BHA and BHT. In recent years, more cereal manufacturers have been switching to these natural alternatives to cater to consumer demand for cleaner, more natural ingredients.

Another option for consumers who want to avoid BHA and BHT is to choose cereals made with ingredients that are less prone to oxidation. For example, whole grain cereals typically have a longer shelf life than those made with refined grains because whole grains contain more natural antioxidants.[10] Additionally, some cereals contain added ingredients like nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, which can also help to extend the shelf life without relying on synthetic preservatives.

Making Informed Decisions about Cereal

To make informed decisions about the cereals you consume, it's essential to read the ingredient labels carefully. Look for cereals that use natural preservatives like tocopherols or rosemary extract, or those that don't contain BHA or BHT. Additionally, choosing whole grain cereals with added nuts, seeds, and dried fruit can help to ensure a longer shelf life without the need for synthetic preservatives.

In conclusion, while regulatory agencies have deemed BHA and BHT safe for consumption in the amounts typically found in food products, some studies have raised concerns about their potential health risks. As a result, consumers may want to consider alternative options for preserving the freshness of their cereal. By being aware of the ingredients in your cereal and understanding the potential risks and benefits associated with BHA and BHT, you can make informed decisions about the foods you choose to consume.

The Naughty List

  • Kellogg's Corn Flakes
  • Kellogg's Frosted Flakes
  • Kellogg's Rice Krispies
  • General Mills Cheerios
  • General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • General Mills Lucky Charms
  • Post Fruity Pebbles
  • Post Cocoa Pebbles
  • Quaker Cap'n Crunch
  • Quaker Life Cereal

The Good List

  • Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffs
  • Nature's Path Organic Heritage Flakes
  • Barbara's Bakery Puffins Cereal
  • Cascadian Farm Organic Cinnamon Crunch
  • Arrowhead Mills Organic Spelt Flakes
  • Bob's Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli
  • 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods) Organic Morning O's
  • Nature's Path Organic Mesa Sunrise Flakes
  • Trader Joe's Organic O's
  • Back to Nature Classic Granola
  1. Branen, A. Larry, P. Michael Davidson, Seppo Salminen, and John H. Thorngate. Food Additives. 2nd ed., CRC Press, 2002.
  2. O’Neil, Catherine E., et al. "Out-of-Hand Nutritional Comparison of Brands of Fortified Cereals." Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 104, no. 6, 2004, pp. 955-959.
  3. Labuza, Theodore P., and Lynn M. Breene. "Applications of 'Active Packaging' for Improvement of Shelf-Life and Nutritional Quality of Fresh and Extended Shelf-Life Foods." Journal of Food Processing and Preservation, vol. 13, no. 1, 1989, pp. 1-69.
  4. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). "Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)." IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, vol. 40, 1986, pp. 161-206.
  5. Wichi, H. P. "Enhanced Tumour Development by Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) from the Prospective of Effect on Forestomach and Oesophageal Squamous Epithelium." Food and Chemical Toxicology, vol. 26, no. 8, 1988, pp. 717-723.
  6. Williams, Gary M., Robert Kroes, and Ian C. Munro. "Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans." Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, vol. 31, no. 2, 2000, pp. 117-165.
  7. Saito, Tetsuji, et al. "Hepatoprotective Effects of the Antioxidant Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) on Carbon Tetrachloride-Induced Liver Damage in Rats." Journal of Toxicologic Pathology, vol. 21, no. 4, 2008, pp. 273-280.
  8. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). "Scientific Opinion on the Re-Evaluation of Butylated Hydroxytoluene BHT (E 321) as a Food Additive." EFSA Journal, vol. 9, no. 10, 2011, pp. 2392.
  9. Kanner, Joseph, and Simcha Harel. "Initiation of Membrane Lipid Peroxidation by Activated Metmyoglobin and Methemoglobin." Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, vol. 290, no. 2, 1991, pp. 343-349.
  10. Liu, Rui Hai. "Health Benefits of Fruit and Vegetables are from Additive and Synergistic Combinations of Phytochemicals." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 78, no. 3, 2003, pp. 517S-520S.

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