5 Foods that Should Probably Be Illegal

Last weekend my friends welcomed me back to town by presenting me with a very… erm, interesting gift. When I pulled the bottle out of the elegant little wine bag, I glanced at my friends. “Okay,” I said, “this can’t be legal.”

I don’t know about you, but my only knowledge of absinthe comes from the movie Moulin Rouge. Remember the scene where Ewan McGregor’s bohemian buddies bust out the absinthe to celebrate having fooled the Duke into funding their play? No? That’s okay, I’m glad you haven’t seen that movie as many times as I have. The point is, they get very drunk and there is a green absinthe fairy. You can understand that, while I found this fascinating, I also thought that this was probably a drink I should stay very far away from.

I still have that bottle of absinthe, sitting innocently up in my cupboard, waiting for its day. But in the meantime, I decided a little research was in order. If absinthe was legal in the U.S., what other suspicious-seeming foods might be around that I don’t know about? Quite a few as it turns out!

Absinthe: A little bit of research into absinthe cleared up much of the myth around it, and actually showed me that it’s not that dangerous. Traditionally distilled from the herb known as wormwood, what gave absinthe a bad rap back in the day was one little chemical compound called thujone. Labeled as a highly addictive psychoactive drug and hallucinogen, absinthe was banned in the U.S. by 1915. Today scientists who have tested thujone extensively have found no evidence that the chemical is addictive or causes hallucinations. That ban lasted in the U.S. all the way up to 1997, when it became legal to import and sell. Not saying I’m a prohibitionist people, just that with a drink coming in at 75% alcohol by volume, a little bit of caution is in order.

rBGH infused milk: Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is a synthetic hormone injected into cows to increase milk production. This hormone significantly lowers quality of life for the animal and can be dangerous for your health too. Milk produced with rBGH is full of a compound called insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which increases risk for breast, colon and prostate cancers.

Arsenic Chicken: Let’s pause for a moment and take that in. Arsenic. In. Chicken. Is FDA approved. When arsenic is added to chicken feed the chickens get bigger, easier to feed, and also, the constriction on their blood vessels gives the meat a pinker and “fresher” look long after its been packaged in the store. While still legal in the U.S., the E.U. banned the use of arsenic in food production in 1999 because of its documented history as a carcinogen in humans.

Olestra (aka Olean): Olean is a fat substitute found in most fat-free fries and potato chips. Sounds great, right? And it probably would be, if it didn’t have the embarrassing side effect of liquefying your intestinal tract.

Palm Oil: The main difference between many oils used in cooking and baking today is the type of fat they contain. Saturated fat is the bad kind of fat, raising LDL cholesterol levels in your body and increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. And get this: more than 40% of processed palm oil is saturated fat.

Luckily for you, with a little bit of forethought and consumer savvy, you can nullify the health risks many of these foods present. When you buy beef, dairy and chicken at your grocery store, check for “rBGH/rBST free” or “hormone free” labels, or buy organic. Before you buy packaged foods, you can always benefit by checking the ingredients and nutrition information. If your bag of chips contains olean or palm oil, give it a pass or look around for another version that is higher in unsaturated than saturated fat. Consider olive oil or another oil when cooking. And the absinthe, just remember: dilution is your best friend.

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