Ingredient Investigator Extraordinaire

Hey, Hey!  How the heck are you, my friends?!  I hope you are treating life well, and I hope that it is reciprocating.  In this unit of the Ingredient Investigator Extraordinaire, I will expose an ingredient found in almost all soda pop and energy drinks.  Furthermore, I guarantee that you have seen or heard about this ingredient but probably do not have a clue what it is.  I was in this same boat until a few years back, and I have learned more about it since. I am ready and willing to spill the beans your way, so here we go!

The ingredient I speak of is benzoic acid.  It is a colorless crystalline solid and a simple aromatic carboxylic acid (for you chemistry geeks out there) that most commonly acts as a preservative. Additionally, it is an important precursor for the synthesis of many other organic substances. The salts and esters of benzoic acid are known as benzoates [1]. Benzoic acid is used in the treatment of fungal skin diseases such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.  It is also used in antiseptics and decongestants.


Is it safe?

The Pros

The acid is found naturally in both plant and animal species and is generally non-toxic.  It is particularly found in fruits such as bilberry, cranberry, and apples. The World Health Organization’s International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS) tells us that we can consume 5 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram) bodyweight per day. [2]

The Cons

This particular ingredient is listed on the State of New Jersey’s Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet!  What?  Hazardous substance!? Why, you ask?  Here is what they list:

-Contact with skin can cause redness, rash, and burning sensation

-Inhalation can irritate the nose, throat and lungs

-Exposure in high concentrations can cause skin allergy

-Contact with the eyes can cause irritation and possible damage

I found it interesting that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific instructions to follow if this ingredient were spilled.  For example, they state, “It may be necessary to contain and dispose of benzoic acid as a hazardous waste.”  I know that the fact sheet is speaking of industrial spills, and I know that the amount contained in our food supply is nowhere near an industrial spill, BUT I find it interesting that we don’t even bat an eyelash when this substance makes its way into our food supply.


I am okay with this substance in the natural foods that I eat, but I get a little wary of my clients pounding a bunch of it in their “energy drinks” day after day because of the problems just listed.  Yes, many individual food products are within the bounds that have been classified as safe, and I am aware of that, BUT it is proven that we are consuming much more of the foods that contain this potentially harmful preservative.  For example, in 1915, the average Coke bottle was 10 ounces, while today we are gloating our 44-and 64-ounce monster-sized drinks that sit on the corner of our desk while we work and snack.

Our liver is very resilient and has the ability to neutralize this compound in moderate amounts, but WE as a nation are the ones that are taking “moderation” to the utter brink of “extreme.” We do so with our “packed, canned or processed” way of life. This is a point that could be made with a lot of the ingredients that I investigate. They check out just fine “within dosage” but then we conveniently forget that our consumption of these ingredients is going through the roof with our fast-paced and convenience-based lifestyles.

To make sense of what I am trying to say, remember that the (IPCS) tells us that we can consume 5 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram) bodyweight per day of benzoic acid. [2] However, most people consume much more than that. Let’s take Mountain Dew as an example: If a 150 lb man consumes 1 liter of Mountain Dew in a day, he will be drinking 8.74 grams of benzoic acid Yet, he should not be consuming more than 3.4 grams per day! I don’t think that it is unreasonable to suggest that many people have that and MORE in a day depending on their addiction level. I personally know many people that consume up to two ungodly liters per day!

It is clear that we are OVERCONSUMING this particular ingredient, which makes us more vulnerable to the harmful side effects of overconsumption.

Well, there you have it, my friends; I hope this article was illuminating for you.  Stay natural and healthy!  Life is good!

1- Wikipedia, “Benzoic Acid”.  This page was last modified on 5 June 2013 at 18:10.  Researched 5-12-13

    2-^ a b c “Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 26: BENZOIC ACID AND SODIUM BENZOATE”

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