Scary Food Additives
(Part 1 of 2)
Food companies are in the business of selling more. Like any corporation, if they sold 10,000 units this year, to grow they need to sell 10,500 units next year. The easiest way to do that is by convincing you, the consumer, to eat and drink more.
The problem food companies have is that simple, healthy food tends to be boring. To liven things up, foods are "enhanced" by blending, injecting and altering them with ingredients you might never suspect you're eating. The next time you see any of the following ingredients on a food label, you might want to think twice about putting it in your mouth.
Interesterified fat is what many food companies are replacing trans-fat with in their foods. It's a blend of fully hydrogenated and non-hydrogenated oils. Unfortunately, tests so far seem to show interesterified fats may be almost as harmful as trans fats, raising blood glucose levels and decreasing insulin response.
Canned soups, crackers, cookies and frozen meals are the most likely places you'll find this kind of fat. While most people don't pick up a box of cookies thinking it's healthy, they might reach for an innocent looking Marie Callender's Chicken Pot Pie. It's a small package that's a little over 5 inches square. That single pot pie packs in over 600 calories, 990 milligrams of sodium, 34 grams of fat and 13 grams of saturated fat.
That's more calories, fat and saturated fat than a McDonald's Big Mac; and it's over half your daily allowance of salt. Throw in a dose of interesterified fat and you've got a nutritional nightmare. If you see interesterified in the ingredient list, put the box back on the shelf.
When sodium nitrite is added to meat, it helps preserve the red coloring. Without it, bacon and hot dogs would appear gray. The problem is, over time nitrite breaks down into cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines, especially in fried bacon. To reduce the danger, many food companies add ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid to slow down the nitrosamine formation. That's good, but it doesn't completely eliminate the risk.
Nitrite is also used as a preservative. When added to food it helps prevent the growth of bacteria that cause botulism poisoning. Of course, proper refrigeration or freezing can do the same thing.
To make people feel better about their purchases, companies are starting to claim "no added nitrites" on the packaging. Some are made with celery powder or celery juice, which are naturally high in nitrite. In 2011 the New York Times revealed that "natural" cured meats can have up to 10 times as much nitrite as conventional products.
Since foods high in nitrites tend to also be higher in fat and salt, it's best to eat them sparingly or avoid them altogether. That's especially true if you're serving children, for pregnant or expecting mothers, or anyone with a family history of cancer.
Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are coloring, flavoring and preservatives used in luncheon meats, bacon, ham and hot dogs. They're also added to corned beef and smoked fish.
The best advice I've ever gotten from a nutritionist was also the easiest to understand. She said, "Eat only whole fruits and vegetables, whole wheat breads, oats and lean meats. Limit dessert to no more than a couple times a week and make sure it's never bigger than the palm of your hand."
It's simple. Make sure all your food choices fall within those guidelines and you'll find it difficult to over-eat. If you're pressed for time, make the food in advance and carry it with you to eat when it's convenient. For ideas, there are hundreds of healthier options in our RECIPES section.
Read part two to learn a few more scary food facts including salad dressings made with paint, crushed insects used in candy and a supplement that's especially dangerous for hemophiliacs and expectant mothers.
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