be prudent therefore to limit the amount of smoked and cured foods that you eat, many of which are high in saturated fats anyway.

Two of the most common food additives are the preservatives BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). They are used extensively in dry cereals, shortenings, instant potato products, active dry yeast, and dry drink and dessert mixes. These two compounds have been around for many years, with no convincing evidence that they cause cancer or any other chronic diseases. There is no evidence, either, that the 100 or so milligrams of various food colors that we eat every day increases our risk of developing cancer.

Many of the indirect contaminants present in food can cause illness in humans at high levels. The amounts found in food, though, are so small that any risk they might pose is negligible. The one exception to this might be the microbial contaminant called aflatoxin, produced by a mold that infects corn and peanuts. Aflatoxin is among the most potent cancercausing substances known, and its effect is mostly in the liver. In parts of Africa and Asia, it is not uncommon for people to eat corn and peanut products contaminated with aflatoxin. In those parts of the world, the incidence of liver cancer is much higher than anywhere else. In the United States an effort is made to limit the amount of aflatoxin that gets into the food supply, though we still consume minute amounts daily. Nevertheless, liver cancer is still a rare disease in this country.

Overall, there is not enough safety information on the complete range of nonnutritive additives and contaminants present in our food. But it seems unlikely that they contribute to our overall risk of chronic disease.

But just to play it safe, wash your fresh fruit and vegetables to remove traces of pesticides that might be present on the surface. And do not eat the seemingly unspoiled parts of moldy or spoiled foods, for although they appear okay, they may in fact contain microbial contaminants.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement