Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid...More Than a Mouthful

Thanks to one of my blog readers, I’ve come up with an interesting, albeit unfounded, theory. He mentioned that beans gave him headaches. Since canned beans are popular, being that they don’t need to be soaked first because they’re already packed in liquid, I assumed this was the type he consumed. So I checked out the ingredient list.
Both my Wegman’s brand black-eyed peas and my Bush’s Best Garbanzos beans contained Disodium EDTA. Both also informed the consumer (in parenthesis) that the substance was used to “promote color retention.” Upon doing some research, I came up with a different explanation for its usage.
Before I explain further, let’s break this solution down so we can understand what Disodium EDTA is.
EDTA is short for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. This acid is considered a chelating agent. A chelating agent neutralizes harmful metal ions found in water-based substances. When a metal reacts with a non-metal, the metal atom loses its electron in the outer shell. It then becomes what is known as an ion, and it forms a salt. Thus the name “disodium EDTA.” EDTA decreases a metal ion’s reactivity.
Here’s where things get interesting. EDTA is also used to treat lead poisoning and skin irritations caused by chromium, nickel, and copper metals (this is called chelation therapy). And we know that beans are canned in metal containers. Yes, a plastic coating is used. But what if…and this is my pragmatic mind speaking here…what if the reason why EDTA is added isn’t so much to keep the color, but to help prevent the metals from the aluminum can from harming our bodies?
I know, I know. My imagination is going full throttle. So I have to wonder…how does ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid retain vegetable color?
The patent to this design was filed in May of 1968. According to my study, EDTA was either added to brine or to the syrup following the brining process in order to keep pickles crisp. Pickles are generally produced in glass jars. So this does not help my theory, although it does prove that manufacturers use EDTA to improve texture in food.
I looked into this further and discovered that when one consumes a lot of EDTA, it can absorb the metals in our bodies that are necessary for human health, such as zinc, and leave us deficient in these metals.

Okay, so what about headaches? Can EDTA cause them? The simple answer is yes. People going through chelation therapy may have headaches due to the sodium content or the lowered blood glucose. But this is when EDTA is used to treat heavy metal poisoning or removing plaque on artery walls caused by arteriosclerosis.  The amount used is higher than what is used in food processing. But is the EDTA in canned food causing headaches? The jury is out on that one. I have searched the web far and wide, and there’s enough information written about ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid to make my eyes cross. Some people report those symptoms along with stomach issues, but I have found nothing conclusive. I also can’t find a single shred of evidence that manusfacturers use EDTA in order to prevent metal contamination from canned goods.

But I’d love to hear from anyone who is positive EDTA has caused their migraines, headaches, or even stomachaches. As I am well aware, sometimes it is the consumer that finds side effects from consuming products. How many times have you heard of a lab rat complaining of a headache? None? Right. And lab experiments are how the majority of chemicals are tested for safety and side effects.

Okay, so my theory about companies using Disodium EDTA to prevent heavy metal contamination in their products seems a little far-fetched, but it does have me thinking. After all, not everything is always what it seems. If anyone knows that, it’s the Amateur Food Detective.


  1. Kim, I am one of those people that get a massive headache from disodium edta.
    I have had migraines since I was 7 yrs old and have increased in the pain level to the point that I would rather die.
    Recently I have discovered I am allergic to msg.... This has lead me to discover (through extreme pain eating the wrong items) that yeast extract IS msg.
    I found it in a ready to eat chicken from Walmart after being in an immense amount of pain.
    I have to now watch labels for so much.
    I decided to make tuna with mayo and eat with crackers I knew was safe... I was slammed in pain. A few days later, my husband made chicken for me...salt and pepper, nothing else. I made it into a sandwich. I was slammed with pain again. Turns out, there is disodium edta in mayo. I found the culprit but also discovered it in almost everything!
    Beans, mayo, broth listed a msg free, soup, and sooooo much more.
    I have been reduced to pb&j... But the more expense brands with no additives.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Brokentia. This is another problem that needs to be addressed. So many people have migraines and try to determine what causes them. When an ingredient is used in SO MANY products, it's difficult to determine which one could be the cause to endless misery. So thank you for your information. I definitely think more people need to be aware of this.


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