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FDA may ban key ingredient found in many popular junk foods

A new review reveals that the substance is considered unsafe and should therefore be pulled from many popular products.

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This article was originally published by TheStreet

Many of us know that familiar feeling. 

You’re out to dinner, enjoying a meal with friends or family, and decide to go for the indulgent option. Maybe it’s a burger and soda. Maybe you splurge for the dessert. Maybe you just get the really big salad. 

Related: Sweetgreen makes a key ingredient change that will affect most orders

But a nagging voice in the back of your head pulls at you once you’ve been served: What exactly is in that food?

For those of us who follow nutritional labels religiously and strive to shop only the cleanest peripheries of the grocery aisle, this can take the fun out of dining out. Many foods get either tossed or severely restricted from our list; take one look at many of the dietary fads in recent years and it’s easy to see that plenty of Americans are on board with at least one strain of elimination dieting. 

Gluten free, dairy free, low protein, vegan, vegetarian, plant-based, carnivore diet, keto, paleo — there’s a lot of camps to attach yourself to. But even if you don’t have a diet tribe, you have probably at least heard of the increasing panic around seed or vegetable oils and the potential harm associated with them. 

These oils — which include canola, soy, or sunflower oil — typically contain high concentrations of Omega 6 fatty acids, which can lead to inflammation.

FDA makes a key proposal

And now, the FDA has made a proposal as it relates to one substrate: brominated vegetable oil (BVO). BVO is a vegetable oil that has been chemically modified to carry Bromide — a reddish brown chemical with a bleach-like odor. 

Industrially, it’s used for things like pesticides, insecticides, dyes, and drugs. But in foods, it’s suspected it may actually present toxic side effects. 

A sign for the Food And Drug Administration is seen outside of the headquarters on July 20, 2020 in White Oak, Md. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

So on Nov. 2, the FDA proposed banning the use of BVO in food. The substance isn’t as popular nowadays but may be used as a preservative in orange and citrus-based drinks. It had been listed as “Generally Recognized As Safe,” in 1970 but has been used since the 1920s.

“The FDA is issuing a proposed rule now because the agency has recent data from studies it conducted that demonstrate adverse health effects in animals at levels more closely approximating real-world human exposure,” the FDA wrote in its proposal.

“Based on these data and remaining unresolved safety questions, the FDA can no longer conclude that the use of BVO in food is safe. Results from these studies show bioaccumulation of bromine and toxic effects on the thyroid – a gland that produces hormones that play a key role in regulating blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, metabolism and the reaction of the body to other hormones.”

Concerned customers can check the labels on their foods or beverages for the presence of BVO to be safe. But, the FDA says, most companies stopped using BVO a long time ago. 

“Over the years, many beverage makers have reformulated their products to replace BVO with an alternative ingredient. Today, few beverages in the U.S. contain BVO. Consumers who wish to avoid products that contain brominated vegetable oil may do so by looking for it by name in the ingredients list,” the FDA writes.

If the proposal is finalized, BVO will no longer be acceptable as a regulated additive to food or beverages. The FDA is accepting comments on its proposed rule until January 17, 2024. 

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