18 Unsettling Ingredients on Your Grocery List

By Aaron Stone

Believe you’re fully aware of what’s on your plate? Brace yourself for a reality check. From the drive-thru to your go-to snacks, certain ingredients will leave you uneasy. Get ready to grip your forks tight as we embark on a culinary journey into the unexpected. Join us in unraveling the enigma behind these ingredients—perplexing and far from appetizing. It’s time to explore the mystery lurking within the everyday meals we thought we knew so well.

Pink Slime

Remember those juicy burgers you love? They might contain “pink slime,” a meat by-product treated with ammonia. This ingredient is often used as a filler in ground beef and is made from the parts of the animal that are less desirable. Not only is it unappetizing, but it’s also a potential health hazard. The ammonia treatment is supposed to kill bacteria, but do you really want to consume something that needs to be chemically sanitized?


This seaweed-derived thickener found in many dairy products might seem harmless. However, studies suggest it could cause gastrointestinal issues. It’s often used in ice creams, yogurts, and plant-based milk. So, is that creamy texture worth the risk? The next time you reach for that pint of ice cream, you should check the label first.

Artificial Dye 

Those vibrant colors in candies and cereals aren’t from Mother Nature. Artificial dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in children and even some forms of cancer in animal studies. Time to rethink those rainbow treats! If you’re reaching for a colorful cereal for breakfast, you might be starting your day on the wrong foot.

The High Fructose Horror

It’s in sodas, bread, and even ketchup. High fructose corn syrup is a cheap sweetener, but it’s a nightmare for your liver and waistline. Consuming high amounts of this sweetener can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It’s a triple threat that’s best avoided.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) enhances flavor, but at what cost? Some people report headaches and other adverse reactions. It’s commonly found in processed foods and restaurant dishes, especially Asian cuisine. Is that extra zing really worth it? Consider thinking twice before adding that extra dash of soy sauce.


This artificial sweetener might be calorie-free, but it’s not consequence-free. Aspartame has been linked to various health issues, from headaches to more severe conditions like neurological disorders. It’s often found in diet sodas and sugar-free gums. So, the next time you think you’re making a healthier choice, think again.

Sodium Nitrate 

In processed meats like hot dogs and bacon, sodium nitrate may preserve color but is also a potential carcinogen. It’s been linked to various types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. Maybe it’s time to go meatless or opt for nitrate-free options.

BHA and BHT 

These preservatives extend shelf life but might shorten yours. Both BHA and BHT are suspected of being harmful to human health. They’re often found in cereals, chewing gums, and even cosmetics. While they keep products fresh, they might do the opposite for your body.

The Propylene Glycol Perplexity

This synthetic liquid substance absorbs extra water and maintains moisture in certain medicines, cosmetics, and food products. However, it’s also used in antifreeze. Yes, you read that right. While it’s considered generally safe in small amounts, consuming an ingredient also used in antifreeze is unsettling.


You might enjoy the vanilla flavor in candies, baked goods, and even perfumes, but you’ll be shocked to know where some of that flavor comes from. Castoreum is a substance extracted from the glands of beavers. It’s FDA-approved but rarely labeled explicitly, often under “natural flavoring.”


Those shiny candies and fruits look appealing, but the shine often comes from shellac, a substance derived from the secretions of the female lac bug. While it makes your apples look freshly polished, knowing their origin might make them less tasty.


Phosphates enhance the flavor and moisture content of meats like chicken and pork. However, high phosphate levels are linked to kidney disease and weakened bones. It’s another reason to read labels carefully.

Aluminum Additives

Aluminum-based additives are commonly used in processed cheese, baking powders, and flours. While aluminum is naturally occurring, excessive exposure can lead to neurological issues and has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Guar Gum

This thickening agent is commonly used in gluten-free products and is generally considered safe. However, it can cause digestive issues and even block the intestines in large amounts.

The Sulfite Surprise

Sulfites are commonly used as preservatives in dried fruits, wines, and some seafood. They can cause severe allergic reactions in some people and have been banned from use in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Potassium Bromate 

This additive is used to strengthen bread dough, but it’s banned in several countries because it’s a potential carcinogen. In the U.S., it’s still allowed but is supposed to be baked out during the cooking process. However, there’s no guarantee that all of it does.


While not inherently harmful, excessive caffeine consumption can lead to a host of health issues, including insomnia, high blood pressure, and digestive problems. It’s not just in coffee; it’s also in energy drinks, sodas, and even some medications.


Polysorbates are used as emulsifiers in foods like ice cream and are generally considered safe. However, they’re also used in cosmetics and have been found to cause skin irritation in some people. The question is, do you want to eat something that’s also in your skincare products?