This Controversial Ingredient In The Cinnamon Toast Crunch You're Eating

In February 2015, General Mills, maker of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, announced that it would remove the chemical butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) from its American products. Chemical & Engineering News reported that this decision was made due to the pressure brought by Vani Hari, the author of the controversial blog Food Babe. The piece also notes that this simply expanded restrictions already placed in Europe on its American products. Hari is considered controversial because her lack of food science understanding is used to distort facts, as seen in a series of critiques compiled by the Genetic Literacy Project.

"BHT is an FDA-approved food ingredient," the company stated, "but we're already well down the path of removing it from our cereals. This change is not for safety reasons but because we think consumers will embrace it."

Despite General Mills' protestations and moves to meet the demand, the shadow of BHT shrouds the perception of its products, like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Later in 2015, Cinnamon Toast Crunch appeared amongst Eat This, Not That!'s ranking of the worst breakfast cereals, BHT as one reason. BHT also appears in the rationale for its F grade on Is This Bad For You.

BHT is considered relatively safe by the FDA

As noted in the quotation from Chemical & Engineering News, BHT is approved by the FDA. In the regulations written on its governmental website, it specifically designates the allowance of BHT in dry breakfast cereals as long as their presence does not exceed a size smaller than one percent.

The specific worry about BHT and its related butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is that they may manifest as a carcinogen in humans. During the kerfuffle raised by Hari in 2015, Best Food Facts reached out to Dr. Sean O'Keefe, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to illuminate the chemicals and what they are.

The argument, Dr. O'Keefe explained, is that BHT and BHA are antioxidants, meaning they prevent oxidation, thus preserving food. However, some studies had shown that when exposed to BHT rats developed tumors, but not when exposed to BHT at legal quantities. So, in his professional opinion, the FDA made the right decision. Chemical & Engineering News also noted that BHT induces tumors in the forestomach of rats, an organ we lack.

So, though Cinnamon Toast Crunch is by no stretch of the imagination healthy, you do not need to fear it for reasons relating to BHT.