Welcome to 2007, where people eat food products full of interesting chemicals and fascinating representations of flavor. This is your food supply – and mold is just the beginning.
10. Ice Structuring Protein (ISP)
Sounds harmless enough, right? ISP is used in many ice creams these days, especially light and low-sugar varieties.
Translation: “genetically-modified fish ‘antifreeze’ proteins from the blood of ocean pout”. Hey! (Source)
9. Phosphoric Acid
This tangy chemical is in so many foods – particularly carbonated beverages – no one thinks much of it anymore. It’s cheaper than real ingredients like ginger and lemon. Folic acid, citric acid, phosphoric acid – acid is good, right?
Translation: Phosphoric acid is an efficacious, plentiful and cheap industrial chemical. In all but the most modest amounts, it’s corrosive and dangerous. Phosphoric acid is a terrific rust and stain remover – just pour Coca-Cola on rust and wait a day. Now, just imagine what it’s doing to your bones, tooth enamel and digestive tract. (Source)
(We don’t have osteoporosis because we’re lacking in calcium, though Big Moo would love you to believe that. We consume more calcium, in the form of dairy, than many cultures – particularly those in Africa and Asia. Yet despite all our chugging, osteoporosis is a persistent American problem. It’s the soda!)
8. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
It’s been linked to heart disease and cancer, but evidently…whatever. BHA and BHT are both actually antioxidants, hence their use in preserving processed fats. But these antioxidants aren’t the happy sort you want in your body. Their safety has not technically been “proven” per se – the FDA has simply approved them because, like any other food ingredient, they’ve gone through the standard approval application process. This means that the burden of proof has fallen on industry. You can guess what that means. (Source)
7. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
I believe HFCS is one of the most destructive food ingredients humans have yet to invent. There’s nothing “natural” about this ingredient. It’s a highly refined industrial product. HFCS is linked to diabetes, obesity, anxiety and many other prevalent health conditions. Avoid it at all costs. This incredibly cheap sweetener nicely deals with the surplus corn issue in our country (since we inefficiently continue to subsidize corn farmers according to outmoded 1970s models of production).
From wikipedia: “High-fructose corn syrup is produced by milling corn to produce corn starch then processing that corn starch to yield corn syrup that is almost entirely glucose, and then adding enzymes that change the glucose into fructose.” Wow, I’m drooling already.
(Note: Plain old fructose is not the same thing as HFCS. Fructose, though incredibly sweet, comes from fruits and honey. Though fructose consumption will produce an appreciable rise in blood sugar, it is metabolized more slowly than HFCS. I don’t recommend that you consume sweets and flavored beverages – including juice – but modest amounts of fruit or honey are certainly acceptable for most people. I eat berries nearly every day, and I often toss half a banana into my Responsibly Slim shake.)
6. Polysorbate 80
Another wonderful chemical with many uses ranging from stabilizing to improving texture. Isn’t it great how we ingest all these chemicals as a matter of course? Who knows what they do to us – but, hey, sign me up! You’ll find polysorbate in ice creams, candies, and anything remotely gummy, chewy, or firm. You may, in fact, eat a lot of it, so the least you can do is send a card.
There are loads of emulsifiers. Some are natural, some are “natural”, and some are chemical. Common emulsifiers include things as harmless as eggs and vegetable lecithin and as bizarre as Purawave. To emulsify simply means to blend two unblendable particles in an artificial or suspended state (I’m using lay terms here to keep it easy). Butter is emulsified, for example. When you whip olive oil into your vinegar for salad dressing, you’re emulsifying – pretty innocuous. While an emulsifier won’t make you sprout a third eye – yet – I don’t think we need to be eating anything that needs chemicals and processing just to become edible. Butter is one thing. If you need a chemical to keep a food from becoming rancid or falling apart like putty that’s been in a third grader’s pocket all day, maybe you ought not to eat that “food”.
Now we’re getting into sudsy detergent territory. Surface active agent – that’s a surfactant. They go by many names, but the general rule is that if you cannot pronounce or define it, you’re probably looking at a surfactant. They improve the “surface” of a product, often increasing wetness or improving spreadability. In soaps and shampoos, they add that nice lather (which is not actually necessary for getting your hair or body clean; in fact, the higher the quality of the product, the less lather you’ll get). In “foods”, surfactants improve mouthfeel, consistency and smoothness. Dressings, spreads, “cheese” foods, Handy Snacks, margarine – they’re all team players. What I really love about surfactants is that this class of chemicals is the epitome of multi-tasking. Surfactants work equally well in detergents, herbicides, laxatives, and chocolate puddings. They’re not necessarily dangerous, but merely serve to illustrate the general message here: choose foods over food products.
Flavored foods are infuriating. Chemical flavorings aren’t especially dangerous in most cases (though they have been in some cases), but beyond that, I feel using chemicals to flavor food is a wholly deceptive and unethical practice. Paying lab workers to experiment with various chemical combinations in order to yield a chemical that tastes like food is routine now. When you eat anything – and I mean anything – that is processed or packaged, there’s a very good chance that you’re eating a totally disgusting, flavorless, mass-produced hunk of starchy junk dressed up with a few drops of chemicals to resemble food. It simply boggles my mind that so many “foods” we eat are nothing more than insanely cheap, worthless starches, pumped up with unhealthy, mechanized, manipulated fats and texture props, and topped off with flavoring that isn’t actual flavor at all. That’s profitable. That’s your food supply.
2. Mold, I mean Mycoprotein
By now we all know that maltodextrin is a starch and mono- and di-glycerides are lard. They’re actually pretty harmless compared to all the many chemicals, hydrogenated fats and spike-tastic sweeteners. The really cutting edge “m” food product is mycoprotein. Quorn is a very popular vegetarian product that turns mycoprotein into “chicken” and “chicken nuggets”, among other things. Though the marketing gives you the impression that the main ingredient – mycoprotein – is a mushroom derivative, don’t be fooled. Take a big vat, some spores, and the will to stand by your mold. Mycoprotein is industrial manufactured mold. Yes. Mold. And yes, side effects.
1. Oh yeah…the entire notion of processed food!
“Come on, Mark, they test these chemicals on rodents for safety.” Hey, I’m the last person to come to the defense of a few mice – as you know, I espouse responsible meat consumption. I’m hardly an animal rights activist. But it really bothers me that we’re compelled to kill off millions of small animals annually simply to satisfy our mechanized food habit. Whether or not the chemicals are “safe” is almost a moot point to me. Creating artificial products that necessitate even thinking about testing is, to my view, insanity. Big Agra is infinitely creative, and I guess I have to applaud that, but I’m beginning to think old Ben Franklin was on to something when he deplored the expansion of commerce.
As I always say: eat food, not food products!
What do you think about food versus food products?
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Want to do some digging? Check out the comprehensive chemical scorecard for consumers. (Though I hate being called a consumer!) Or have a blast with the Food Chemicals Codex. Not only are these two words hanging out together like two happy little peas in a pod, there’s a specific publication that thoughtfully covers (no, seriously) the whole enchilada. Now that’s teamwork.
Fast Food Nation
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