Have you ever heard of butylated hydroxytoluene? Do you know that it is used as a food additive? Are you familiar with the dangers of its consumption? If you’ve answered no to at least one of these questions, then you are definitely going to find the following guide really useful. Today, we are going to answer all of your questions about butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) in foods. We will look at what BHT is, how it is used in the food industry, and whether or not it is dangerous to our health. Let’s begin!

bowl full of chips

What Is Butylated Hydroxytoluene?

Butylated hydroxytoluene or BHT is an organic compound that is derivative of phenol. It has antioxidant properties that make it useful for a wide range of industries. Mostly, we use it to prevent fluids oxidation and the oxidation of other materials where one has to control the free radicals. Cosmetics manufacturers also use it, and so does the pharmaceutical industry. Moreover, people add it to certain foods in order to keep fats from going bad. But should something that people use in the making of cosmetics also be in our food? Let’s find out!

BHT in Foods

As we’ve already mentioned, food manufacturers add butylated hydroxytoluene or its companion butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) in different types of food. Some examples would be cereal, cookies, chips, processed meat, vegetable oil, and so on. They do it to preserve them for a longer period of time. By adding BHT or BHA to your food, you make sure the oil does not oxidize and become rancid. This would affect the odor, flavor, and even color of the food. It would also take away some of its essential nutrients.

christmas cookies decorated with colorful candies

Is Butylated Hydroxytoluene in Foods Dangerous?

The answer to this question might be rather confusing, since specialists conducted a lot of studies to uncover the truth. However, the studies contradict each other. So people are rather confused about whether or not they should continue to consume foods with BHT in them. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this compound is safe to put in foods in small amounts. However, a lot of people distrust the FDA’s capacity of correctly assessing the dangers or lack thereof associated with different compounds. Since there seems to be no definite answer to the question “Is butylated hydroxytoluene in foods dangerous?” we thought we’d look at some studies and what they came up with it.

The Dangers of BHT in Foods

There are a lot of studies that show a correlation between butylated hydroxytoluene and cancer. For instance, a study released in 1984 shows that male rats got forestomach and bladder cancer when scientists exposed them to BHT. In 1986, another study found traces of hepatocellular adenomas and carcinomas in rats that consumed butylated hydroxytoluene. However, we must note that the scientists conducting this study did feed the rats a much larger amount of BHT than we would normally consume in our food.

Another study that came out in Sweden in 1988 shows how both BHT and BHA cause tumors, while a study published in 1999 confirmed the results. More recently, in 2001, a study showed that mice who were sensitive to butylated hydroxytoluene got lung tumors.

Surprisingly, there are other studies who claim that BHT does not lead to cancer. Moreover, they say it can actually be beneficial for people who are suffering from it. For instance, a 1991 study shows that people might benefit from ingesting BHT. It explains that we may be able to prevent cancer coming from long-term exposure to carcinogens by using butylated hydroxytoluene.  Yet another study, this time from 2000, agrees that BHT might be anticarcinogenic if we keep its consumption minimal.

Can We Replace Butylated Hydroxytoluene with Something Else?

The answer is yes, we can, and the alternative is much better. We are talking here about vitamin E. This nutrient does the exact same things BHT and BHA do. Moreover, we already know it is safe to consume if we don’t ingest unnecessarily large amounts of it. Maybe you are wondering why most food manufacturers are still using BHT then. Well, that is because it lasts longer at high temperatures.

liquid vitamin e in a dropper

What Is the Bottom Line?

If you still don’t know whether you should consume BHT or not, we are going to do our best to sum up everything you should consider before making a decision. First of all, the studies that specialists conducted are quite confusing and contradictory, as you may have noticed. Even if butylated hydroxytoluene can cause cancer in rats, there is no actual study that proves it does the same thing to humans. Moreover, the studies that show how BHT is actually anticarcinogenic have the same subjects, namely rats.

Given the fact that we can’t know for sure if butylated hydroxytoluene is carcinogenic or anticarcinogenic for us humans, the best possible course of action would be to try and avoid it. However, remember that the FDA deemed it safe for human consumption. So if you do consume BHT, chances are nothing is going to threaten your health.

Finally, considering the fact that we can easily replace butylated hydroxytoluene with vitamin E, we can only hope that more food manufacturers will embrace this alternative. That way, we can be perfectly sure that BHT doesn’t threaten our health.

Image Source: 1,2,3