I'm absolutely shocked at how many people don't investigate what's really in the products they swallow. When something is sold as an herb, vitamin, superfood or supplement, they think it's automatically safe.
And while the natural products industry has a truly remarkable safety record -- especially in contrast to the massive number of deaths caused by pharmaceuticals -- it still suffers from a lot of hidden toxins that are routinely used throughout the industry.
I know this because I've been an investigative journalist and activist in the natural health industry for over a decade. Natural News is arguably the most-read natural health news website in the world, reaching millions of readers a month. I've walked the floors of countless trade shows, conducted hundreds of interviews and spent tens of thousands of dollars on laboratory tests to determine what's in these products. On top of that, I'm deep into organic product formulations and certified organic food production, serving as the supervisor of a USDA-certified organic food production and packing facility.
When I look around the natural products industry, I see examples of super honest, high-integrity companies like Nature's Path and Dr. Bronner's. I also see an alarming number of cheats, crooks and charlatans who are only involved in the industry to profit from the explosion of interest in health supplements. In truth, some nutritional products are downright dangerous to your health. My role as a journalist and activist is to help you tell the difference between products that are GOOD for you vs. products that might actually be toxic. Because ultimately, I want you to be healthy, vibrant, intelligent and active. I want you to enjoy life and improve the quality of your life.
Be prepared to be shocked in reading what follows. After reviewing this list, you will probably throw out quite a few products in your refrigerator and pantry. Very few people are willing to tell you the truth revealed here, so some of this may come as a complete shock (see #1 and #2, below).
#1) Maltodextrin (from GM corn)
Let's start out with the big one first: If you pick up a natural product and the ingredients list says "maltodextrin," chances are very high that the maltodextrin in the product is derived from Monsanto's GM corn.
Virtually all the maltodextrin used throughout the natural products industry is genetically modified. Products that are certified USDA organic, however, are not using GMO maltodextrin.
The non-GMO, non-corn replacement for maltodextrin derived from GM corn is tapioca maltodextrin, and you'll find tapioca starch / maltodextrin in many certified organic, non-GMO products. Corn maltodextrin should be avoided unless it's certified USDA organic. Look for tapioca maltodextrin instead (or no maltodextrin at all).
#2) Vitamin C / acorbic acid (from GM corn)
Here's another whopper that's sure to open some eyes: Nearly all the "vitamin C" sold in vitamins across America right now is derived from GMO corn.
This means that many of the supplements sold at Whole Foods, the vitamins sold on Amazon.com, the pills at your local pharmacy, and especially the products at the grocery store are (nearly) all routinely made with genetically modified vitamin C. It's typically called "ascorbic acid," and nearly 100% of the ascorbic acid used in the natural products industry is derived from GMOs.
Sourcing non-GMO vitamin C requires you to go outside the United States. There is no existing supply chain of certified organic, non-GMO ascorbic acid available anywhere in America (at least not to my knowledge). You can't even run batches of non-GMO ascorbic acid production in the USA because all the facilities are contaminated with residues of GM corn.
Rest assured that all those cheap "vitamin C" pills sold at retail are derived from genetically modified corn.
#3) Hexane-extracted soy and rice proteins
Nearly 100% of the "natural" soy proteins and rice proteins sold in the USA are extracted in China using a hexane extraction method. This is true for brown rice protein superfoods as well as the soy protein used in nearly all so-called "protein bars."
Hexane is a highly explosive chemical. It is not only extremely hazardous to the environment, there may also be trace amounts of hexane left remaining in the resulting protein products. My understanding is that hexane extraction is not allowed in certified organic proteins, so if you have a choice, go for certified organic instead of just "natural" (which means nothing anyway).
#4) High levels of Aluminum in detox products
Natural News helped expose high aluminum levels (over 1200ppm) in a popular detox liquid, causing the main U.S. distributor to issue a "recall" notice and provide over $1 million in refunds to customers.
The manufacturer of this product, Adya Clarity, intentionally and knowingly deceived consumers by mislabeling the product and not mentioning the 1200ppm of aluminum it contained. The FDA seized some of the products and ran its own lab tests, confirming the high aluminum level as well as identifying multiple labeling violations.
Adya Clarity is just one of many so-called "detox" products containing alarming levels of aluminum and other metals. Ingesting these in order to "detox" your body may be harmful to your health. This experience also proves you can't always trust health products sold through online webinars, where manufacturers can ignore labeling laws and fabricate false claims. Buyer beware when it comes to metals in detox products that claim seemingly magical results.
#5) Lead and arsenic in herbs from China
China is the most polluted nation on the planet (by far), yet many fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown in China and exported to North America for use in natural products.
High levels of lead and arsenic are routinely found in various food, supplement and herbal products from China. I'm not concerned about 1ppm or lower, by the way, of heavy metals like lead and mercury. Even aluminum isn't necessarily a problem when found organically grown inside foods that test at higher levels such as 150ppm. But when lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium get to high saturation levels (or are present in inorganic forms), it makes the products potentially a source of heavy metals poisoning for consumers.
Astonishingly, many of the small and medium-sized companies that import and retail products from China conduct no metals testing whatsoever. I know this as a fact because I've talked to people doing this.
For the record, everything packed under my own brand name (Health Ranger Select) and sold at the Natural News Store is independently tested by us to ensure full product safety and regulatory compliance.
#6) Inorganic minerals in cheap vitamins
Would you eat iron filings and call it nutrition? The majority of people don't know that most of the cheap vitamins sold today are made with iron filings. "Scrap metal," almost.
The calcium found in cheap vitamins is often just ground-up seashells, and magnesium is often sold as cheap magnesium oxide which may be completely useless to your body's cells. If you're buying mineral supplements, you may be wasting your money unless the minerals are in the right form: Magnesium orotate or malate, for example.
When it comes to mineral supplements, you'll often find trace levels of scary things like barium and lead in liquid supplements, but these are typically at such low levels (ppb) that they are no real concern. But the No. 1 best source for all minerals is, not surprisingly, fresh plants. If you really want to boost your minerals, feed 'em to sprouts or garden plants, then eat or juice those plants. Your body wants "organic" minerals from plants, not inorganic minerals from rocks.
The Cornucopia Institute, a highly-effective food activism group that we've long supported, recently published a warning about carrageenan in foods. Cornucopia says carrageenan is linked to "gastrointestinal inflammation, including higher rates of colon cancer, in laboratory animals."
It goes on to report:
Given its effect on gastrointestinal inflammation, Cornucopia urges anyone suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms (irritable bowel syndrome/IBS, spastic colon, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, etc.) to consider completely eliminating carrageenan from the diet to determine if carrageenan was a factor in causing the symptoms.
Personally, I have never had any problem with carrageenan, and given that it's derived from seaweed, I also didn't mind the source. I actually consume quite a lot of carrageenan in Blue Diamond almond milk, which I drink when I'm too busy to make my own raw almond milk. And I've never had a problem with it whatsoever. So from my personal experience, I don't see carrageenan as a worrisome ingredient, but I do understand that some people experience it differently, and it may be troublesome for people whose digestive systems are more sensitive than my own.
For the record, I definitely don't consider carrageenan to be anywhere near as worrisome as, say, aspartame, GMOs or MSG.
Acrylamides are cancer-causing chemicals produced during the cooking of carbohydrates. Fried snack chips, for example, contain acrylamides. They don't have to be listed on labels because they are technically not "ingredients." They are chemicals produced during cooking or frying. Consuming acrylamides increases kidney cancer risk by 59 percent.
The FDA has published an extensive reference guide on acrylamide levels in foods, revealing that french fries have the highest levels of all. But they are also present in prune juice and even breakfast cereals.
A bag of organic snack chips can have just as many acrylamides as a bag of conventional snack chips. This is why fried snack chips should be eaten only sparingly, or never at all. I'm guilty of eating some of these chips myself from time to time, but I limit the quantity and make sure I'm taking chlorella or other superfoods at the same time to counteract the acrylamides.
Interestingly, it turns out that vitamin C blocks acrylamides from causing damage to your body. But if your vitamin C is from a GMO source (see above), you may want to rethink that strategy. Natural citrus juice, rose hips or even camu camu berry powder is a much better choice of natural, full-spectrum vitamin C.
If you eat fried foods of any kind, make sure you ingest a lot of vitamin C, astaxanthin and chlorella before and after your meal or snack.
#9) Hidden MSG / yeast extract
Hidden MSG is a huge issue across the natural products industry. Pick up almost any veggie burger, and you'll find it's made with yeast extract, a hidden form of MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Yeast extract is unbelievably prevalent in the food industry because it looks nicer on the label than "MSG." Most people are trained to avoid MSG, but yeast extract slips by, so food manufacturers put it into canned soups, dip mixes, snack chips, microwave dinners and especially in vegetarian products, many of which are so loaded with chemicals and additives that I won't dare touch them. Just because a food says "vegetarian" doesn't mean it's healthy.
Hidden MSG is also labeled as "autolyzed yeast extract" or "torula yeast" or even "hydrolyzed vegetable protein."
#10) Fluoride in green tea
Green tea is famous for being contaminated with high levels of fluoride. This is frustrating, because green tea is phenomenally good for your health. It has been proven to lower "bad" cholesterol levels, and it may even help prevent cancer and neurological disorders. It's probably one of the healthiest beverages you can ever drink.
The tea plant that produces green tea just happens to uptake a huge amount of fluoride from the soils. So when there's fluoride present in those soils, the green tea will have a surprisingly high concentration, sometimes as much as 25ppm.
An interesting article on this issue is found at Toxipedia.org:
While this fluoride in green tea might not be a health hazard all by itself, the governments of the world seem insistent on pumping even more synthetic, chemical fluoride into the water supplies, thereby creating a high risk for fluorosis. Adding green tea to the fluoride consumption you might experience from tap water is a recipe for disaster: brittle bones, discoloration of teeth and even cancer.
The final "dirty little secret" of the natural products industry
Finally, there's one more secret you need to know about. Most importers, packers, vendors and retailers of natural products foolishly trust the lab results provided by the manufacturers and exporters!
So a typical U.S. company that sells, for example, pomegranate powder on the internet may never conduct their own tests for lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and aluminum. They will simply take the lab tests provided by the manufacturer and consider those to be absolute fact!
This is extraordinarily foolish. Growers and exporters routinely lie about their lab tests in order to pull the wool over the eyes of importers, formulators and retailers. The lab tests are easily faked or simply bought off in their home country. Contaminated products can be easily sold and exported because the FDA doesn't routinely check imported raw materials for heavy metals contamination.
On the good news side, I do know for a fact that all the higher-end retailers such as Natural News, Mercola, Gary Null, etc., all routinely test their raw materials for contaminants. I'm pretty sure Gaia herbs (www.GaiaHerbs.com) routinely tests all their batches, and I know that VitaCost, before it changed hands a few years ago, was running their own lab to test raw materials on-site (for their in-house formulations). But I also know of smaller retailers who absolutely do not test anything and are far more interested in moving boxes than knowing what's really in them. I also know that some operations are claiming to sell "organic" products even though they do not have any kind of organic certification, and that's an irresponsible practice that should be rectified. (Look for the USDA organic logo when you buy "organic" products. If they don't have the logo, they aren't really organic.)
So once again, buyer beware. You need to be asking for lab test results on anything from China, and it's good to ask for them on just about everything else as well. For our part, Natural News Store is already in the process of building a mechanism where we can post lab results for all the batches we import, pack and retail. We reject anything with high levels of metals, which is why it took us so many months to secure a really clean source of chlorella.