McDonald’s has a very complicated brand image: entirely unhealthy, yet an affordable option that is almost universally available. McDonald’s isn’t a place we go to get our nutritional needs met, and with most research connecting our Western/fast food diet directly to various diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, one begins to wonder why this company continues to serve billions and billions. Availability is a key to McDonald’s worldwide success. This fast food mecca can be found in every airport, off rural highways, on college campuses and, who knows, maybe one day the golden arches might even show up in Arches National Park. All joking aside, the global addiction to McDonald’s is frightening, and assuming that McDonald’s isn’t going away anytime soon, then perhaps it is time you know some of the toxic ingredients that can be found in a typical McDonald’s menu.
The items on a McDonald’s menu may vary slightly from country to country, but there is one fried food you can expect to find worldwide: fries. In Canada, these “Famous Fries” can be served with gravy or cheese curds, but all McDonald’s fries contain one very unhealthy element: acrylamide. While acrylamide is not an added ingredient, it is a result of frying food, one of the most common methods of cooking at McDonald’s. Acrylamide levels are particularly high in fried potatoes. The debate over the link to acrylamide and cancer continues, yet this chemical compound can be found on the Proposition 65 list. This is a list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Additionally, the National Toxicology Program lists acrylamide as a chemical which may be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” How long a food is cooked can also affect acrylamide levels. For example, if your fries are cooked longer and their color turns a dark brown, then these fries will contain much higher levels of acrylamide than fries which are cooked for less time.
Almost every bun at McDonald’s contains dough conditioners. These are ingredients which are used to “improve” the texture of the dough. McDonald’s uses azodicarbonamide in their buns, from the sesame to the McRib bun. Azodicarbonamide is also a chemical foaming agent, a blowing agent for plastics and rubbers and a common food additive, and it is even found in some tobacco products. In the UK, you cannot find azodicarbonamide in McDonald’s buns, because it is a banned food additive there. It is also banned in most European countries, as well as Australia. In Singapore, using azodicarbonamide can result in a 15-year prison sentence and a fine of $450,000.
Some McDonald’s food items are prepared with a liquid margarine which contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Partially hydrogenated oils are very high in trans fat. Trans fats are known to increase one’s risk of heart disease and may also add to one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Trans fats raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Sodium acid pyrophosphate
Sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP) is a synthetic substance which is often used as a leavening agent. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) warns that “excessive consumption of phosphates could lead to dietary imbalances that might contribute to osteoporosis.” SAPP can be found in the McDonald’s hash browns, eggs and tortillas, to name a few fast food items. In bulk form, SAPP may cause severe inflammation if it comes into contact with the skin or eyes, or is inhaled or ingested.
Dimethylpolysiloxane is added to cooking oils and is used as an anti-foaming agent to cook McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish, Chicken McNuggets and french fries. Dimethylpolysiloxane can also be found in cosmetics, hair conditioners, silly putty and even in breast implants.
The Chicken McNuggets are also prepared in a vegetable oil with a chemical preservative called THBQ, or tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product which can also be found in cosmetic products such as eyeshadows.
Sodium aluminum phosphate
Sodium aluminum phosphate is another food additive in the batter of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. Several studies have shown a possible link to sodium aluminum phosphate and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Sodium benzoate can be found in many of McDonald’s sauces, as well as in most of their soft drinks. One UK study found that consuming a mixture of sodium benzoate with artificial food colors can be linked to increased hyperactivity in children. The study recommended that children should avoid foods with these products.
Disodium 5′-ribonucleotides (a combination of disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate) can be found in McDonald’s chicken products as well as in some of their sauces. Disodium guanylate is not safe for very young babies (under 3 months old) and should be avoided by asthmatics and people with gout.
Sodium metabisulfite is another dough conditioner used in McDonald’s tortillas, and it is known to cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to sulfites. Sulfites also may be related to certain diseases and health conditions, including skin conditions, lethargy, diabetes, bloating, joint pain and even brain fog. Sodium metabisulfite is also used in waste treatment and as a bleaching agent in coconut cream.
High-fructose corn syrup
McDonald’s has a very hardworking PR campaign that tries to minimize the adverse health effects caused by these toxic ingredients. On their own website, they claim that high-fructose corn syrup, an ingredient used in many of their products, is similar in composition to sugar. They also state that HFCS is in a “wide variety of products found on your local supermarket shelves,” which is clearly a way of trying to normalize the use of HFCS. It is also an attempt to skirt the issue and avoid the serious and well-documented negative health effects caused by consumption of HFCS.
The toxic ingredients found in many of McDonald’s products are hidden in their cooking oils, breads and sauces. The science experiments taking place in the McDonald’s kitchens are filled with foods (and chemicals) that you do not want to eat.