Science education

Warning: Do Not Eat 1.7 Tons of Cereal a Day!

An average (US) female weighs about 75 kg; multiply that by 750 mg/kg bw and you get 56250 mg or 56.25 grams of BHT per day. So,  human females have to consume 56.25 grams of BHT every day for 64 to 92 days for their babies to weigh “lower than the overall average.” Since Food Babe is concerned about the BHT contained in cereals, the relevant question becomes: “How much cereal contains 56.25 grams of BHT?”

The US Food and Drug Administration allows up to 0.0033% BHT by weight in cereals (see item (4) here.) The average weight of a box of cereal is about 700 grams. So, each box of cereal contains about 0.023 grams of BHT. And if a female human being is to consume 56.25 grams of BHT per day, she has to eat at least 2445 boxes – equivalent to over 1.7 tons – of cereal every day!

Warning: If you are pregnant and eat more than 2445 boxes of cereal every day for two to three months, your baby may weigh less than the overall average!


Food Babe claims that BHT is linked to cancer in some animal studies. She doesn’t say which studies and what they conclude. So, let us look at some of these studies. In one study, Groups of 50 rats and 50 mice of each sex were administered BHT at one of two doses, either 3g/kg bw or 6g/kg bw; the rats for 105 weeks and the mice for 107 or 108 weeks. Cancerous and benign tumors occurred in the female mice at a significant incidence in the low-dose group but not in the high dose group, and the incidences were not significantly dose related. Study’s conclusion:

These lung tumors in the female cannot clearly be related to the administration of the BHT.

No tumors occurred in either male or female rats at incidences that were significantly higher in dosed groups than in corresponding control groups. Therefore, the study concludes,

Under the conditions of this bioassay, BHT was not carcinogenic for rats or mice.

How many boxes of cereal? 3g/kg bw (3 grams of BHT for each kilogram of body weight) means 240 grams of BHT for an average person weighing 80 kg. Remembering from above that each box of cereal contains 0.023 gram of BHT, you need to eat 10,435 boxes – or over 7 tons – of cereal every day for about two years to consume as much BHT as the study fed the mice and rats. And that’s just the low dose … and then conclude that the amount of BHT intake is NOT carcinogenic!

Like EWG, Food Babe’s citation is just a ploy to impress her readers, knowing very well that none, or very few, of them care to actually read the articles referenced. An example of this ploy is this article, in which we read, for instance,

“When it comes to the potential beneficial effects of BHT, it has been reported that BHT is able to inactivate in vitro lipid-containing mammalian and bacterial viruses (Snipes and others 1975), to protect chickens exposed to Newcastle disease virus (Brugh 1977) and rabbits against artherosclerosis (Björkhem and others 1991), to inhibit skin tumor promotion in rodents (Slaga 1995), to protect turkeys against aflatoxin B1 (Klein and others 2003), and to decrease total cholesterol levels in plasma and liver in monkeys (Branen and others 1973).”

“… A prospective cohort study carried out in The Netherlands found no association between the consumption of mayonnaise and creamy salad dressings with BHT and stomach cancer risk. Even a statistically nonsignificant decrease in stomach cancer risk was observed with increasing BHT intake (Botterweck and others 2000).”

“… However, in a similar study no evidence of the carcinogenicity of BHT administered to mice was observed (Shirai and others 1982). Studies performed in rats also reported dose-related increases in hepatocellular adenomas and carcinomas (Olsen and others 1986); nevertheless, other studies carried out with rats showed no consistent carcinogenic effects (Hirose and others 1981; Williams and others 1990).

The overall message of all these studies – what Food Babe fails to mention – is that

There is no evidence that BHT is carcinogenic in humans. Its effect on rats and mice appears to be nonexistent at best and cancerous at ridiculously high doses at worst.


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ContentsCarcinogenicity Credit: Secrets of the Psychics and James Randi