Everyday American Foods That Are Banned in Other Countries
Knowing what to eat can be tough. It seems like every day, experts are changing their minds about what’s healthy and what isn’t. Eggs are bad — until they're good. Wine is healthy, and then it's not.
But the 30 foods on this list — all banned in various countries across the world — should be taken off of your shopping list. From known carcinogens to chemicals used in the manufacturing of rubber, they contain additives that you don’t want on your dinner table.
Boxed Mac 'n' Cheese
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is about as American as a food can get: easy-to-make, salty and totally fluorescent. It's also pretty delicious, and no matter how hard you might try, you just can't replicate that flavor at home.
Kraft has vowed to go natural, but many other boxed mac 'n' cheese brands are still artificial, processed and loaded with sodium, preservatives and dyes — including Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6. These additives are banned in many countries across Europe due to their potential to cause hyperactivity and possible cancer risk.
We chew gum when we want to freshen our breath after a garlicky meal. We chew gum when we're in an awkward social situation and need something to do. We chew gum when we're hungry, but not quite ready to eat yet. We even chew gum when we're bored.
But next time you're about to grab a piece, think twice: Chewing gum is banned in several other countries because it contains BHA and BHT. These two chemicals are used to preserve food, and they're known to cause cancer in rats.
Toaster pastries, bagels, cereals, muffins — what do all of these things have in common? In addition to being breakfast foods, they often contain blueberries. Or do they? Turns out, those "blueberry" breakfast treats you're buying may not contain any actual blueberries at all.
Many products in the U.S. contain "blueberry bits," which are a mixture of various starches, sugars and food dyes. The blue dye in these products is derived from petroleum — the same stuff used to make gasoline, diesel fuel and asphalt. The dye has been banned in several countries, including Norway and France.
Azodicarbonamide! That's what magicians yell right before they pull the rabbit out of the hat, right? Actually, it's a chemical substance that may induce asthma and skin sensitivities. It's often referred to as the "yoga mat" chemical due to its widespread use in foamed plastics.
Doesn't sound like something you'd want to eat, right? Well, in America, azodicarbonamide is approved for use as a whitening agent in frozen dinners, in addition to many other convenience foods. In most European countries, any food containing this chemical is banned.
Pre-packaged Ground Beef
Ground beef is about as natural as you can get, right? It comes straight from the cow, and nothing else gets mixed in with it. Well, not exactly. Next time you pick up a package of ground meat for your family's dinner, take a look at the label.
Pre-packaged ground beef typically has "pink slime" added to the mixture. Pink slime is a filler additive that lowers the overall fat content, and during the production process, the meat is exposed to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill bacteria. It's banned in Canada and the European Union.
Unless you're making your own chocolate milk at home, steer clear. Many commercially produced varieties are loaded with artificial flavors and additives (not to mention tons of sugar). Of particular concern are brands that contain carrageenan — a type of seaweed used to thicken foods and beverages.
Carrageenan has been used as a food additive for ages, and though seaweed doesn't sound too harmful, this derivative has been known to cause inflammation and may contribute to the development of heart disease and Alzheimer's. Studies have also found that lab mice that were exposed to carrageenan developed glucose intolerance. It's banned in the EU.
Unless you're an endurance athlete, there’s really no reason you should be drinking most sports drinks. Why? Because they’re designed to replenish electrolytes in people who have been very, very active — and as such, they’re loaded with sugar and sodium.
Unfortunately, that's the least of the problems. These beverages also contain food dyes Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6, which are thought to have adverse effects on activity and attention in kids. As a result, these dyes are banned in the EU in foods for infants and children.
Who doesn't love a toaster pastry in the morning? Nice and warm, straight from the toaster. Crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. And the flavors — frosted strawberry, brown sugar cinnamon, s'mores. They seem like the perfect busy-morning breakfast. But wait a minute.
They're loaded with artificial flavors and dyes. Depending on which variety you grab, your pastry might contain Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6 or Red 40. Like the yellows, Red 40 may cause hyperactivity in children (along with potential allergic reactions). It's partially banned in the EU.
Taste the rainbow...of food dyes? Skittles contain a bevy of artificial colors. The dyes, which are used in everything from breakfast cereal to ice cream to candies in the U.S., have dozens of known health risks.
Not bad enough for you? Skittles also contain hydrogenated oil, which is known to cause arterial plaque. Though the candies are sold in the EU, they're made using natural dyes. Other countries, like Norway and Sweden, have banned them outright.
There are lots of reasons you might choose to not eat pork products. For example, pork is high in cholesterol and saturated fat, and pork liver is a top food-based transmitter of hepatitis E in the United States. Plus, pigs are kind of cute.
But the reason U.S. pork is banned in 160 countries is that it contains ractopamine. Studies show that up to 45% of U.S.-raised pigs have been given this beta antagonist, used to reduce overall fat content. Consuming ractopamine-laced meat can cause symptoms such as tachycardia, tremors and headaches.
Despite the bad rap sugar receives, sugarcane can be reasonably good for you. When pressed into a juice, it's known to act as a natural diuretic, cleanse the liver and aid digestion. Most surprisingly, it's said to be suitable for people with diabetes, as it doesn’t alter blood glucose levels as drastically.
Not all sugarcane is created equally, though, and the American variety is banned across the EU. Why? Because U.S. crops are treated with atrazine, an herbicide that’s known to cause birth defects, reproductive tumors, skin issues and other conditions.
Genetically Modified Vegetables
The verdict is still out on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but many people agree that it might be best to just stay away. Why? Because research on the long-term health effects of GMOs is virtually non-existent. Experts believe they may be linked to allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, cancer and other conditions.
Still, America is fully on board with GMOs due to their resistance to insects and their higher crop yields — and Europe isn’t interested. Several nations have banned genetically engineered produce grown in the U.S., and the EU in particular has specifically banned corn, soy and papaya.
Instant Mashed Potatoes
Why are instant mashed potatoes bad for you? First, they have more sodium than real potatoes. Second, they have less dietary fiber and vitamin C (although some products do use additives to compensate).
Most importantly, most instant mashed potato brands contain butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). The preservative is used in packaged foods to help keep them fresh, but it's also used in rubber and wax packaging. It's banned in several countries, such as the EU and Japan, for potentially being a carcinogen.
Little Debbie Swiss Rolls
Little Debbie may look sweet and innocent, but she's hiding a sinister secret: Her snacks are full of unhealthy ingredients. While Swiss Rolls aren't the worst of her treats (we're looking at you, Honey Buns!), they're near the top.
Each package contains 270 calories, 12 grams of fat and 27 grams of sugar. As if that wasn't enough of a deterrent, the popular cakes also include artificial colorings. Although not banned outright in the EU, the cakes do come with a warning.
No ice cream sundae is complete without a maraschino cherry on top. That's a fact. Unfortunately, it might be better to just do without. Not only are they low in vitamins and other nutrients (they lose them during the blanching process), but they have nearly three times the calories and sugar as regular cherries.
Of course, the biggest problems are the additives: Like many other products on our list, maraschino cherries contain Red 40. Anything containing Red 40 is banned in Europe due to its potential health risks (although, over there it’s possible to get all-natural maraschino cherries).
Like Skittles, you can find M&Ms overseas, but they're not exactly the same product. For example, the M&Ms sold in the United Kingdom contain the colors E100 and carmine — not the typical additives you'd see on this side of the pond. Why is that?
Because candy manufacturer Mars, Inc. isn't allowed to use the same formula in the EU that it uses in the U.S. American M&Ms are explicitly banned across Europe due to their use of harmful additives like artificial colors. Makes you think twice about grabbing a bag, doesn't it?
Arby's Sourdough Breakfast Bread, Croissant and French Toast Sticks
As far as fast food restaurants go, Arby's isn't all that bad. Their most popular item, the roast beef sandwich, is recognized as an "extra-lean" cut of meat by the FDA, which means it could have some health advantages compared to those double cheeseburgers the other guys serve.
Still, when it comes to breakfast bread, croissants and French toast sticks, it's best to steer clear. The chain uses azodicarbonamide (that "yoga mat" chemical) as a whitening agent and dough conditioner in its baked goods. That ingredient is banned across Europe.
There was a time back in the ‘90s when Snackwells treats were all the rage: You couldn't go anywhere without seeing the low-fat snacks. Today, dozens of different products (from potato chips to cakes) come in low-fat varieties — but you should probably steer clear of them.
Although "low fat" sounds healthy, most of those products contain an additive called Olestra, which is banned in Canada and the United Kingdom. Olestra (or Olean) makes your body unable to absorb vitamins and can also cause severe cramping and diarrhea.
You may find salmon a surprising addition to this list. After all, the fish is rich in antioxidants, a good source of protein and high in omega-3s. And salmon is good for you — if you eat the right kind. According to experts, wild Alaskan salmon is ideal.
Unfortunately, salmon that have been farm-raised are fed chemicals to make them the bright pink color we're all used to. They're also given synthetic astaxanthin, a chemical which might cause eye damage in humans. As such, farm-raised salmon is banned in some countries.
It should come as no shock that Mountain Dew is banned in several countries. Have you seen that almost fluorescent chartreuse hue? Still, Americans seem to love it as much for its outrageous caffeine content as they do for its neon green color.
So, why is it banned in Europe and Japan? Mountain Dew, along with dozens of other American sodas, contains brominated vegetable oil — an actual flame retardant. The additive may cause skin lesions, memory loss and nerve problems in humans. Some soda companies have begun phasing it out of their products.
Chicken is good for you. It has a high protein content, is low in fat and is chock full of calcium and phosphorus. Plus, its tryptophan and vitamin B5 are stress relievers. Unfortunately, not all chickens are created equally.
Chickens raised in the United States don't meet standards expected elsewhere in the world. Why? At one time, chickens were given feed that contained organic arsenic, which made the meat fresher — but it’s still arsenic, mixed with some other medications. In addition, chlorine is sometimes used to clean the birds after slaughter.
Rice is generally considered a fairly healthy food (unless you're counting carbs). It's low in fat and packed full of vitamins and minerals, like vitamin E, thiamine and potassium. In addition, brown rice is full of fiber and isn’t associated with weight gain.
Unfortunately, rice produced in the United States contains high levels of arsenic — and while it's true that most all rice contains arsenic, U.S. rice can be even more contaminated due to the use of pesticides. As a known carcinogen, the danger is enough to make Europe consistently monitor the grain.
Many people have a love/hate relationship with bread. They love it because it's comforting and chewy and delicious. But they hate it because it's loaded with carbs. And, unfortunately, some of it is also loaded with potassium bromate.
Potassium bromate is a common food additive that can help hold dough together — a lifesaver for bakers who don't have time to wait for that dough to age. But, it's been linked to kidney damage, cancer and nervous system damage in animals. It's banned in Europe, Canada, China and elsewhere.
If you were lucky as a child, your parents let you have "fun" cereals. You know what we mean: Fruity Pebbles, Lucky Charms, Cap'n Crunch. The stuff with cartoons on the outside of the box and toys on the inside.
But your parents may have been onto something when they wouldn't buy you those brands. Those sugary brands are usually chock full of artificial dyes. Some of the dyes, specifically those in Froot Loops, are believed to inhibit nerve cell development and are banned in several European countries, including France and Norway.
Some people joke that black coffee is the preferred drink of psychopaths. And it's no wonder: Choking down a cup of the bitter brew without sugar or cream is rough if you’re not used to it. But what if you found out your favorite creamer was bad for you or might even cause heart disease?
That's the case with many creamers. Often, these products are loaded with trans fats like partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, all of which are linked to heart disease. These additives are banned in many countries in Europe.
Ever wonder why the apples you get in the store are so shiny and smooth, while the ones you pick in the orchard are dull and rough? It's because store-bought apples are glossed up using a mix of chemicals designed to keep them looking fresher longer.
What exactly do they put on the apples? They use wax and other commercial sprays that make the apples’ skin shiny. The European Food Safety Authority has blocked American apples because several of the chemicals used in the glazes have been linked to cancer.
Turkey is good. Cranberry sauce is tasty. And candied yams? Amazing. But let's be honest here: The real star of the Thanksgiving table is the stuffing. Savory, herby and buttery — it's pure perfection.
Sadly, as much as you might love the convenience of boxed stuffing, it's best to stick with homemade. We know it can be time-consuming to make stuffing from scratch, but the boxed stuff is full of additives you don’t want on your dinner table, like BHA and BHT.
Milk. It does a body good. Or does it? As it turns out, it's not that simple. Milk does have lots of bone-boosting calcium and plenty of vitamins and minerals. But some U.S. farms use rBST, which is banned in several other countries.
rBST is a hormone that increases cows’ milk production. It's been linked to health conditions (in both humans and animals), including high rates of mastitis in cows, which contaminates the milk with pus and antibiotics.
Frozen Dairy Desserts
Imagine a hot, sunny summer day. You're outside playing with the kids, and the ice cream man comes around. What does everyone want? A strawberry shortcake? A snowcone? Perhaps an ice cream cone? We know those treats are delicious, but think twice about what you choose.
As it turns out, many frozen desserts use carrageenan for texture in their ice cream. The additive, derived from red seaweed, may cause digestive problems and inflammation. Its use is strictly limited in the EU.
As with many other items on this list, Wheat Thins are likely a product you thought was healthy. They're certainly marketed that way. They’re the more "health-conscious" alternative to traditional crackers, right? But while they’re 100% whole grain, that doesn't necessarily mean they're a healthy choice.
To help keep crackers fresh, Nabisco adds BHT to the packaging. The chemical (often found in rubber products) is banned in the United Kingdom, Japan and other parts of Europe due to its potential link to organ toxicity.