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The Hidden Danger Lurking in Your Favorite Food

In today’s world, it seems like there’s no end to the things we need to worry about when it comes to our health.

From the invisible threat of microplastics in our food and water to the looming specter of chronic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s—it’s enough to make you want to throw your hands up in despair.

And now, as if we didn’t have enough on our plates (pun intended), a new study has revealed yet another potential hazard hiding in plain sight: DNA-damaging chemicals in our favorite desserts.

That’s right—even our sweet indulgences aren’t safe anymore…

The study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found alarming levels of genotoxic carbonyls—chemicals that can damage our DNA—in commercially available cakes, crepes, and other sweet treats.

Now, if you’re a regular e-Alert reader, you know that limiting your intake of sugars, ultra-processed foods (UPFs), and heavily processed snacks is KEY to maintaining optimal health.

But let’s be real—we all enjoy a little splurge every now and then, whether it’s a celebratory slice of birthday cake or a midday pick-me-up from the office vending machine.

Well, buyer beware…

The researchers tested 22 different packaged desserts, including waffles, cakes, crepes, and cookies, with or without chocolate. While most of the genotoxic carbonyls they analyzed were present in relatively low concentrations, one particular compound, furan-2(5H)-one, stood out like a sore thumb.

Furan-2(5H)-one is a chemical that produces a rich, buttery flavor and was once used as a food additive in baked goods. However, due to its proven genotoxic effects, it’s now banned as an additive in the European Union. The status of this chemical in the United States is currently unclear, as the FDA has not provided a comment on its regulatory standing.

Interestingly, the study found that furan-2(5H)-one can still form naturally during the baking process, even when it’s not intentionally added as a flavoring agent. The chemical appears to be produced through thermal reactions that occur when these packaged treats are made.

And the levels found in some of the tested products were far from trivial…

According to the study’s lead author, consuming just 20 grams of the commercial sweet snack with the highest level of furan-2(5H)-one (4,320 µg/kg) would result in an intake of 86 µg of the chemical—a staggering 573 times higher than the commonly accepted threshold of toxicological concern for genotoxic substances (0.15 µg/person per day).

In other words, a single serving of these seemingly innocent treats could expose you to a potentially dangerous dose of DNA-damaging chemicals.

Now, while more comprehensive risk assessments are needed to fully understand the scope of the problem and develop strategies to limit the formation of these chemicals in food, there are steps you can take right now to minimize your exposure:

  1. Read labels carefully and opt for desserts with shorter, simpler ingredient lists.
  2. Choose homemade treats over packaged ones whenever possible, so you have more control over the ingredients and baking process.
  3. Limit your overall intake of heavily processed snacks and desserts, and focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods instead.

Remember, while the occasional indulgence is fine, moderation is key—especially when it comes to protecting your DNA.

As always, we’ll keep you updated on the latest developments in this unsettling story. But in the meantime, let’s all try to be a little more mindful of what we’re putting into our bodies—even when our sweet tooth is calling the shots.

To healthier (and safer) treats,

Rachel Mace
Managing Editorial Director, e-Alert
with contributions from the research team

P.S. Click here to read more damning evidence against FAKE food.


Dusart, A., Uka, V., Van Lancker, F., Adams, A., & De Meulenaer, B. (2023). α,β-Unsaturated carbonyls in packaged sweet snacks: Analysis and formation pathways. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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