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Mark's Daily Apple

12 Jun

McDonald’s Does Not Do Subliminal Advertising

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Click on the McDonald’s USA pic above to view the video. 

Picture Courtesy of McDonald’s

We know this scandal is a few months old, but we still think it is deserving of the infamous Rotten Apple Award. Congratulations McDonald’s!

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It Was Simply a Glitch

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12 Jun

Mold: Why, It Tastes Like Chicken! (and other mystery ingredients)

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.

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5. Emulsifiers

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”.

4. Surfactants

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.

3. Flavorings

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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Further reading:

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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11 Jun

What to Eat at the Gas Station (and Why It Beats the Cheesecake Factory)

Your local 7-11 has more to offer in the way of health than most popular dining establishments. True, quick marts are a landfill of trans sprinkles and grease crisps, but if for no other reason than portion size, you can often fare better in the linoleum aisles of the corner gas station than in the extra-wide banquettes of chain restaurants. Even seemingly healthy items like salads and vegetable omelets are typically two or three times more than the average adult’s caloric needs (read all about sneaky sauces and oils in “healthy entrees”). While fresh is infinitely better than fried, canned, packaged or pickled, you can make out pretty well in even the most forlorn and dusty of gas stations. Road trip? No sweat!

What to pick:

Jerky is a surprisingly lean, healthy choice. Don’t get the teriyaki or flavored kinds – they contain a lot of sugar. While it’s not grass-fed meat, this beats a hot dog or burger and will fill you up.

Trail mixes are always a smart bet. Whether you pick one with dried fruit or not, make sure you’re going easy on the salt. Tip: avoid the mixes with coated peanuts or candies. “Yogurt” covered nuts are nothing more than a sugary, trans-fat coated nutrition disaster.

Nuts. Try to go for almonds or even seeds over cashews and peanuts (which are not actually nuts, as you all know by now from my endless admonitions on this unhealthy legume). Watch the salt, friends.

Water. Yeah, yeah, obvious choice. But no one’s holding a gun to your head making you buy soda! (hmm…that may, in fact, be a terribly tasteless joke. Sorry.)

What to skip:

Everything else.

Exhibit A: Why the gas station beats the Cheesecake Factory.

Even chain restaurants’ salads, stir fries and chicken dishes are larger than your average body builder’s biceps. If you dine out, split the portions, go “dry” with the sauces and oils, or pick smart sides like fresh steamed veggies and grilled fish.

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What other smart compromises can be found in convenience marts? I’d like to hear your tips.

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11 Jun

The Devil You Know Is You

One of the most stupid maxims in the history of humanity is “Better the devil you know.” I’m sure you’re familiar with this phrase. I get really tired of hearing it. No axiom is better if you want to fritter your life away.

Essentially, the idea is that if you’re stuck in a less-than-ideal situation, it’s somehow better to stay stuck, because changing the situation might make things worse. Ostrich and mud metaphors aside, apparently comfort and familiarity are more desirable than living.

To play my own devil’s advocate, “the devil you know” might serve as a sensible note of caution against change for the sake of change. But I don’t see why the little gems we all seem happy to live by need to be put into binary terms. The opposite of “the devil you know” isn’t necessarily change without purpose, an obviously foolish thing. Restless is one thing (there can be character-building value in sticking with a “devil” you detest). Fear is another thing entirely. When I hear “the devil you know,” I hear fear. I hear defeat. I hear a negative outlook on life.

“Calculated risk” isn’t much of a risk at all. Comfort is just death warmed up. Making a change when you’re stuck is scary – that’s the whole point. So what if you fail? Do you think you’re going to go through your whole life without making some big mistakes? Would you really even want to?

Embrace your fear, embrace the gray, go grab the new devil by the horns. The one you know? He’s you.

(P.S. Things that are more interesting than the devil you know: wet toast, cardboard, reheated oatmeal).

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8 Jun

What’s Really in That Secret Sauce?

I’m not just talking about Big Macs, for secret sauce isn’t limited to peach mayonnaise.

“Secret sauce” is in many popular menu items – often the ones you’d least expect. From oil to cornstarch to corn syrup, it’s not just portion sizes that are to blame for restaurant meals delivering calorie loads heavy enough to feed a small country. Are you aware of these sneaky sauces?

Americanized “Asian” cuisine

You avoid the deep fried pork bits and choose a chicken sweet ‘n sour entree instead.

The secret: If it’s not deep-fried with a sauce, it’s still got a sauce. That sauce is almost always a sugary, cornstarchy affair: a blood sugar spike waiting to happen.

The solution: Go for authentic Asian cuisine that contains more vinegar and healthful oils instead of cheap carbs. Clear does not mean calorie-free.

Salads

You avoid the ranch and blue cheese dressings and stick to a raspberry vinaigrette.

The secret: These blends are often nothing more than high fructose corn syrup or a cheap oil such as canola or soybean – or a mix of both.

The solution: Ask for balsamic vinegar and olive oil instead, or choose a salad with enough fruits and veggies to naturally moisten the greens (tomatoes, cucumbers, mangos and citrus work well).

salad

This is Avlxyz’s Flickr Photo (CC)

Meats

You avoid the fried chicken and choose that herb-crusted salmon. Omega-3’s and weight loss are yours. Right?

The secret: Often, restaurant fish is farmed fish, so it’s just as high in bad fats as a meat option. And grilled chicken or fish are typically drenched in more oil or sweet glazes than you realize. “Herb crusts” can contain a lot of bread crumbs, starches and sugary additives.

The solution: Go for grilled or baked protein choices that use white wine, balsamic reductions, or lemon and herbs. Ask for your meat to be cooked “dry” to cut down on the cupfuls of oil. Even healthy oil can be too much of a good thing if your chicken breast is swimming around just trying to cope.

Vegetables

Aha! Veggies are a healthy, no-brainer choice for weight loss and smart dining.

The secret: Vegetables, especially carrots and potatoes, are high in starch. Choose green vegetables, or vegetable medleys. And be aware: that rich, buttery flavor comes from ladels of prepared hydrogenated margarine “sauce”.

The solution: Have your veggies steamed or seasoned without the oil. Ask for a side of olive oil or a small pat of butter instead.

grilledveg

This is Caribb’s Flickr Photo CC

Omelets (and scrambled eggs)

Eggs – the perfect protein!

The secret: Eggs are typically cooked on a greasy grill. An omelet can set you back upwards of 1,000 calories, depending on the filling choices. Even vegetable omelets are far too oily. Omelets and eggs should not glisten.

The solution: Ask for your choice to be fried or scrambled “dry” to avoid the grill’s caloric generosity.

What am I leaving out? What other foods contain sneaky calories? Chat here.

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