A food additive that's banned in some countries, brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is found in a variety of products in the U.S. You may have heard about BVO but aren't sure which foods contain it -- or if it's safe to ingest.
What Is Brominated Vegetable Oil?
BVO is a mixture of fats derived from plant sources, such as soybean or corn oil, that have been brominated --meaning the element bromine has been chemically added. Brominated vegetable oil is used as a food additive to help prevent separation of citrus flavoring from sodas and sports drinks. Mayo Clinic notes bromine is also present in brominated flame retardants, leaving some people fearful of ingesting BVO.
Is BVO Safe?
Brominated vegetable oils are banned in Japan and Europe but permitted in Canada and the United States, according to a 2013 review published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits the use of BVO as a stabilizer in fruit-flavored beverages as long as the amount of BVO doesn't exceed 15 parts per million. Mayo Clinic notes there are several reports of nerve problems and memory loss in people who drank excessive amounts (more than two liters) of bromine-containing soft drinks.
Which Foods Contain BVO?
BVO is mainly found in citrus-flavored soft drinks, such as Mountain Dew, sports drinks, and energy drinks like AMP energy original. The 2013 review in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry reports BVO has also been found in cocktail syrups, even when those syrup labels didn't list BVO as an ingredient. The review suggests imported soft drinks may also contain unlabeled BVO. Many food manufacturers have eliminated or are taking steps to eliminate BVO from their products. To help determine if BVO is in your favorite fruit-flavored beverage, check the ingredient list for brominated vegetable oil.
The best thing to do is avoid drinking large amounts of BVO or stay away from products containing this food additive. Many citrus-flavored drinks containing BVO are also high in added sugar, which can be problematic when consumed in excess. More research is needed to determine if BVO is indeed safe, and how much is too much. Based on results of future studies, BVO may eventually be banned in the United States as it is in other countries. In the meantime, many food manufacturers have already taken steps to eliminate BVO from products due to consumer safety concerns.