I really don’t want to eat cyanocobalamin

Or do I? There are many people who will tell you that ‘if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.’ But I like to get information from a variety of sources to get to the facts. As I heard more chatter in the media, particularly social media, saying that all these bad things were in my food, I decided to do a little digging.


When I started researching, I found that cyanocobalamin is actually the chemical name for vitamin B12. So, yes! I do want that in my diet. It made me wonder what other nasty-sounding ingredients were actually perfectly fine to eat. Here is what I found:

  • Ferrous sulfate, which is another name for iron. This is found on the ingredient labels of many common foods, such as boxed macaroni and cheese mix, dark green leafy vegetables and rice products. It also is often used as a stand-alone supplement for individuals with anemia.
  • Thiamine mononitrate is a salt commonly used in a variety of foods, including many breakfast cereals, frozen foods and even powdered infant formula. Thiamine is an essential nutrient, vitamin B1, and is naturally occurring in foods like legumes (beans) and spinach.
  • TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone) is a synthetic antioxidant that is added to foods to prevent or delay oxidation. Oxidation can lead to nutrients breaking down and not being effective. TBHQ is commonly used in salty snacks like popcorn and crackers. This additive has been used for decades.
  • Methylxanthine is a fancy word for caffeine. The average cup of coffee contains 80 to 175 milligrams of methylxanthine. This also can be found in chocolate and tea.
  • Pyridoxine sounds pretty bad, but it is really just vitamin B6. This ingredient is often naturally occurring in fish and potatoes, but B6 also is used as an additive in many processed foods.
  • Carboxymethylcellulose. Ok, this one sounds really bad. But it is actually a carbohydrate derived from plants that helps stabilize foods like ice cream, jelly and beer. Your body breaks it down and passes it through your system.

Two other points to note:

  • Everything is made up of chemicals. The human body is made up of 60 different chemicals.
  • ‘It is the dose that makes the poison.’ This is a scientific mantra based off a saying from Paracelsus, the Father of Toxicology, that refers to the concept that the toxicity of a substance is often linked to the amount ingested. Things that we put in our bodies every day can kill us. Things like caffeine (hello, coffee!), acetic acid (small amounts in common vinegar) and even water can kill you, if taken in high enough doses.

Luckily for us, most countries have regulatory agencies that help determine how much of these substances can be found in our food. The amounts are often so low that we would have to ingest enormous amounts in a small period of time to have an adverse effect. Even those vitamins that I mentioned earlier can be toxic if not taken properly.

So, you may need to dig a little bit to find the facts, but it is worth it. In fact, the majority of the website links that appear in Google search for ‘long food ingredient names’ are from sources that are not considered credible by the scientific community.
RobinsonAndi300dpiAndi Robinson is the Global Digital Communications Manager for Dow AgroSciences. She coordinates digital and social media communications for the company. Andi, along with her husband and two sons, make their home just south of Indianapolis, Indiana.