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Are You Eating Hormone Disruptors in Your Favorite Snacks?

Food

In case you needed more reasons to read product labels carefully ... Propyl paraben—a widely used chemical preservative in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products—could also be in your pastry.

Parabens are not only in skin creams. The endocrine-disrupting chemical has also been found in many types of snack foods.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

new analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that the preservative is in nearly 50 different snack foods, including Sara Lee cinnamon rolls, Weight Watchers cakes, Cafe Valley muffins and La Banderita corn tortillas.

Here's the full EWG list of snack foods that contain propyl paraben:

  • Amport Foods Chocolate & Nut Trail Mix
  • Archer Farms Gourmet Dessert Cookies
  • Arizona Snack Company Canyon Runner II Trail
  • Arizona Snack Company Sweet Energy Trail
  • Cafe Valley Apple Spice Mini Muffins Apple Spice
  • Cafe Valley Banana Nut Mini Muffins
  • Cafe Valley Blueberry Mini Muffins
  • Cafe Valley Cake Pumpkin Cream Cheese
  • Cafe Valley Chocolate Chips Mini Muffins
  • Cafe Valley Corn Mini Muffins
  • Cafe Valley Lemon Poppyseed Mini Muffins
  • Cafe Valley Orange Cranberry Mini Muffins
  • Cafe Valley Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins
  • Creative Occasions Old Fashioned Carrot Cream Cheese Cake
  • Elizabeth’s Naturals Psychedelic Sunday Mix
  • Emerald Breakfast On The Go Peanut Butter Chocolate Banana Nut & Granola Mix
  • Energy Club Fancy Mojo Mix
  • Energy Club Nuts N Chocolate Blend
  • Entenmann’s Coconut Crunch Donuts
  • Essential Everyday Classic Trail Mix
  • Island Snacks Fancy Chocolate Mix
  • La Banderita White Corn Tortillas
  • La Banderita Yellow Corn Tortillas
  • Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels
  • Newton's Naturals Get The Munchies Trail Mix
  • Nuevo Leon Tortillas
  • Oh Yeah! Candies Chocolate Caramel
  • Ole Mexican Foods Corn Tortillas
  • Patissa Pumpkin Pie Cream Puffs
  • Premium Orchard Rainbow Trail Mix
  • Private Selection Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
  • Quality Club Deluxe Moxxi Mix
  • Roundy’s Cranberry Trail Mix
  • Roundy’s Pak O Snax
  • Sara Lee Cinnamon Rolls
  • Sara Lee Honey Glazed Buns
  • Setton Farms Hiker’s Trail Mix
  • Superior Chocolate Nut Trail Mix
  • Superior Mini Chocolate Eclairs
  • Sweet P’s Bake Shop Black & White Cookies
  • Tropical Corn Tortillas, Traditional Style
  • Turano Brat & Sausage Rolls
  • Weight Watchers Carrot Crème Cake
  • Weight Watchers Chocolate Crème Cake
  • Weight Watchers Golden Sponge Cake
  • Weight Watchers Lemon Creme Cake
  • Weight Watchers Red Velvet Creme Cake
  • Weis Cross’n Country
  • Weis Milk Chocolate Candies

To determine which foods contain propyl paraben, analysts used EWG Food Scores: Rate Your Plate database, which contains rating information on 82,000 foods and 5,000 ingredients.

A great deal of attention has been placed on parabens as endocrine disruptors, which have been linked to a whole host of negative health impacts. According to BreastCancer.org, parabens can penetrate the skin and act like a very weak estrogen in the body, which could switch on the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. Also, as the EWG pointed out, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that exposure to the chemical might be associated with diminished fertility, while another study found that it led to decreased sperm counts in rats.

While, the federal Food and Drug Administration categorizes propyl paraben use in food “Generally Recognized As Safe,” the EWG has called on the agency to reassess its safety status as a preservative in light of recent research.

“It is of great concern to us that the use of an endocrine-disrupting chemical in our food is considered safe by our own government,” said Johanna Congleton, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., a senior scientist at EWG. “Studies show that chemicals that disrupt hormone signaling can lead to developmental and reproductive problems.”

Interestingly, propyl paraben is not allowed in food sold in the European Union after researchers found that the preservative affected sex hormones and sperm counts in young rats.

“The U.S. regulatory process is failing to protect us and our food supply,” Congleton said. “European Union regulators do not permit propyl paraben in food. So why do we?”

Cosmetics and personal care companies such as Revlon and Johnson & Johnson have since taken steps to cut out some parabens from their products due to outcries from consumers and public health advocates.

“Companies that still add parabens to their products need to hear from us loud and clear,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s director of research. “Ingredients that can disrupt hormone signaling should not be in any product we eat or put on our bodies.”

“It is clear that some companies have figured out a way to make their products without this unnecessary and potentially harmful chemical,” Sharp said. “It is time for the rest of them to catch on and go ‘paraben free.’”

Last year, EWG turned the spotlight on propyl paraben in food in its Dirty Dozen Guide To Food Additives. They have launched a social media campaign and online petition to pressure manufacturers who use propyl paraben in food to remove it from their products.

EWG recommends that consumers read product labels to avoid products that contain parabens, especially the long-chained varieties—propyl paraben, isopropyl paraben, butyl paraben and isobutyl paraben.

The organization also suggests using their Skin Deep mobile app while shopping for cosmetics and personal care products, as well as their Food Scores app for cleaner food options.

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