Monday, March 21, 2011

Five Things I Hate In Food

Pure palm oil - production from rural Jukwa vi...Image via WikipediaThe ketchup post a wee while back seems to have caused a few raised eyebrows so here's some more good old food scare type stuff to have you checking labels a tad more carefully next time you're trundling that trolley down the aisles!

This is a quick scan of some of the things I avoid in food, just in case you'd like to do likewise. I understand that I am slightly more than normally obsessive about these things. I use basic, raw ingredients wherever I can and distrust processed foods in general - hence getting into the habit of looking at what's in foods - and why it's there in the first place. I haven't mentioned HFCS as it was extensively covered in the ketchup post a few days ago and also over here. But here are a few areas to watch...

98% of American corn is genetically modified to allow it to live despite being saturated with pesticides. High proportions of the American and Canadian soy bean, maize and rapeseed (Canola, by the way, is rapeseed that has been rebranded with a more 'consumer friendly' name - CANadial Oil Low Acid, in this case) crops are genetically modified. Oh, and cottonseed too. Europe used to be a safe haven, but it's patchier than it was. Generally, the UK, Ireland, France and Germany are hardest on GMOs. India has long battled with the issue and a lot of Indian rice is genetically modified. Interestingly, India Gate brand rice is labelled specifically as containing no GMOs.

Generally, if it's American and processed, the food is likely to contain GMOs. So watch out for those flakes of golden, Genetically Engineered corn at breakfast!

Are GMOs bad for you? I prefer not to eat food that has been modified in this way until we truly understand the science and we certainly don't. Also, if it's been altered to accept massive doses of pesticide that's nice - but I haven't. Here, in case you're interested, is one list of 'Frankenfoods' and the Greenpeace guide to avoiding GMOs. I bet you find a few surprises in the Greenpeace document ( I would have linked to Greenpeace's own site, but I can't find the stupid document there - the site's not terribly well done!)

I've written about this stuff before over here, but it's worth a revisit. Palm oil is insidious stuff that is used as cheap fat. It's really, really bad for you because it's a saturated fat - basically, you'd be as well off eating liquid beef fat as eating palm oil. It's popular with food processors because its nice, cheap fat and also because it's semi-solid at room temperature, behaving much like thick cream. Watch out for it in ice creams (it's cheaper than the stuff that comes out of cows) and in Lay's crisps, which are fried in Palm Oil. Also in cheaper biscuits, bakes and processed foods such as freezer cakes and the like. You'll often find it masquerading as Vegetable Oil (palm and/or other oils) on labels.

Quite apart from its health issues, palm oil is also responsible for some of the most wicked deforestation of important rain forests, particularly in Indonesia.

You'll often find 'E' numbers lurking in the labels of processed foods, frequently as 'permitted colourings E110, E115'. These are European Union classifications for permitted food additives of a wide variety. This one, E110, is 'Sunset Yellow' an artificial colouring derived from petroleum that has been widely linked to allergic reactions and triggering hyperactivity in kids. You can find a full list of E numbers and explanations right here, some of my favourites include the disgusting Brown FK (E154, it's derived from creosote) and E120, cochineal, which is made out of crushed beetles. I kid you not. They look so much nicer as 'E' numbers, don't they? Oh, and by the way, the natural colour of a tinned pea is grey.

It's amazing how much sugar you can cram into processed foods. A can of coke, for instance, packs a heft 39g of sugar. This website, Sugar Stacks is quite fun, it shows a wide range of foods next to stacks of sugarlumps showing quite how much  bulk of sugar we're talking about here. Generally, foods are labelled with ingredients in decreasing order of weight, so where you find a food that's labelled Ingredients: Water, flour, sugar then you can bet we're talking quite a hit of sugar. Kellog's Fruit Loops, for instance, pack a hefty 48% of their total dry weight as sugar. And they're not that atypical, either.

Food manufacturers often play games with labelling that, after a while, you can develop a 'nose' for. Take Nesquik Fat Free Chocolate Milk. Sure, it's fat free. But it's got 54 grammes of sugar in it!

Well, more sodium than salt. There are about 40 different sodiums in common use in food processing. Salt, good old sodium chloride, is by far the most ubiquitous. We like salty food, it's more flavourful, so frequently processed foods consist of a good dose of sugars, salts and some nice potentiators like MSG (monosodium glutamate to you, mate) that con us into thinking the stuff we're eating isn't really grey gloop that's been derived from belly button fluff in a huge factors but is actually a taste sensation full of the goodness of the sun and rolling fields. Sodium saccharin, a sweetener and sodium benzoate, a preservative, are other commonly used sodium based additives. We should be consuming no more than 6g of salt a day. And yet a cup of V8 juice packs 480 mg alone. And by the way, a tablespoon of soy sauce is about 1.2g of salt - and stock cubes are little more than salt, celery and sundry other gook - they're full of the stuff. Even the good old baked bean packs something like 3g of salt in a 200g can! Basically, anything above 1g of salt per 100g of product is very high in salt - surprises include breakfast cereals and soups in particular.

If that's not all enough for you, you can take a look at what they put in Pringles over here.

Enjoy that next shopping trip! :)
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EyeOnDubai said...

Very interesting and thought provoking post, thank you. My own way of avoiding these things is very simple - i try to stick to one basic rule, that is 'nothing from a packet'. Muddy carrots, fish from a slab, everything from first principles wherever I can. Cooking is one of life's greatest pleasures!

AJ.Salman said...

i hate to say that...but u r totttaly right !!!!!

Keefieboy said...

Excessive salt, sugar and MSG, sure: AVOID! E-numbers, not necessarily bad - it's only a system for identifying various substances (and you'd be stuffed if you stopped consuming E948 and E949). Tartrazine (the yellow food colouring that drives some kids crazy) should be banned.

Shereen said...

MSG is evil stuff and is the reason I have largely stopped eating Chinese food in restaurants. It gives me a reaction similar to having had 5 espressos and a couple of red bulls in a short space of time (or what I imagine it would feel like since I haven't actually tried!). I get the shaes, clammy, palpitations and major anxiety - followed by the worse headache and nause ever. Nice stuff. I don't think I am alone either - when I ask people they often say the same.