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11 Ingredients in Beer You Don’t Really Want

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Water, Yeast, Malt and Hops – these are the basic ingredients for the brewing of beer. But sometimes they aren’t the only ingredients found in your frosty brew. Blogger Vani Hari has spent more than a year investigating the beer industry’s concoctions and reveals her findings.

Vani Hari is better known as the “Food Babe.” Her first name means Voice in her native language, and Ms. Hari uses her voice to share her passion for healthy food. Her expertise is particularly in the area of processed foods and the harmful ingredients they contain.

Ms. Hari began her investigation by reading Chemical Additives in Beer by the Center of Science and Public Interest. The list of additives for beers sold in America is lengthy – and sometimes not included on the label.

The World Health Organization safety limit for arsenic in water is 10 micrograms per liter. However, some beers tested by a scientific team presenting at the American Chemical Society’s 245th National Meeting and Exposition found that some German beers revealed higher levels. Arsenic is a known carcinogen.

Bisphenol A
BPA is a component in many can liners and could potentially leach into beer. Thankfully, those most susceptible to the harmful ingredient shouldn’t be drinking beer anyway (pregnant women and children). However, BPA can act as an estrogen in the body, with exposure increasing the risk of hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.

Calcium Disodium EDTA
EDTA stands for Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. In addition to beer, you may also find this ingredient in some margarine spreads, sodas, or salad dressings. Calcium Disodium EDTA could potentially interrupt the absorption of certain vitamins including vitamin C and the B vitamins.

Caramel Coloring
Most beers get their golden or deep brown color from toasted barley. However, one beer brand colors its product artificially using caramel coloring. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the FDA to ban caramel coloring in foods and drinks due to a concern that it could cause cancer.

“Carcinogenic colorings have no place in the food supply, especially considering that their only function is a cosmetic one,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “The FDA should act quickly to revoke its approval of caramel colorings made with ammonia.”

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Food Dyes (FD&C Blue 1, FD&C Red 40, and FD&C Yellow 5)
Over the past decades, many food colors have been banned from being added to foods and medications because research has indicated an association between their use and the development of cancers, neurological damage, birth defects and other serious conditions. However some still remain “safe” per the FDA. But these colorings are still regularly tested, with studies still finding a link with their use and serious health consequences.

GMO Grains/Sugars
GMO stands for “genetically modified organisms.” These are plants or animals created through gene splicing techniques of biotechnology – also called genetic engineering. Ingredients in beer most likely to be from GMO crops include high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, corn, MSG, sugar beets, and wheat. Natural flavorings may also contain ingredients from GMO crops.

High Fructose Corn Syrup
“Corn syrup gives beer a milder and lighter-bodied flavor,” notes a representative from Miller Coors. Unfortunately, though, it is also linked to weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Insect-based Dyes
Carmine is an extract taken from the cochineal bug. Some foods and beverages use this as a coloring product (red). There have been reports of severe allergic reactions to cochineal extract-colored foods plus it may be an unacceptable ingredient to those who do not consume or use animal products.

Fish bladders are used in the production process of some beers, including Guinness. It is used to clarify beers and does not pose a health risk, but vegans may oppose their use in their products. To find vegan-friendly beers, visit Barnivore.com

Monosodium Glutamate
MSG is a flavor enhancer most often associated with Chinese food. It is produced through a fermentation process using starch, corn sugar or molasses from sugar cane or sugar beets. While MSG is considered a safe ingredient by the FDA, it can cause some reactions in susceptible people, including headaches and potentially weight gain.

Propylene Glycol
Propylene Glycol is an alcohol produced by fermentation of yeast and carbohydrates. In the food industry, it is used as a preservative to keep foods fresh. Again, it is recognized as safe by the FDA. However, it can cause unwanted health effects such as depressing the central nervous system (it has an anesthetic effect) and can provoke allergic reactions in patients with eczema or other skin allergies.

What is Safe to Drink?
If any of these ingredients concern you, check the label of your favorite brew, but keep in mind that the manufacturers are not legally obligated to disclose all ingredients used in the brewing process. Hari says to do the research before you sip the unknown.

Food Babe: The Shocking Ingredients in Beer, July 17, 2013