Do You Know What’s in the Foods You Eat?
When we are looking to eat healthier or change our diets for the better, a lot of times we spend a great deal of energy focusing on the amount of calories, fat, protein, and fiber that a food product contains. In our efforts to make good choices, we can totally bypass a very important element to healthy eating – the ingredients label.
In this series, which will be spread out over the next few weeks, we are going to take a look at some of the packaged foods most commonly found in the pantry or refrigerator of the average person trying to be calorie conscious or make better choices. We are going to examine the nutritional information for each, specifically the terms that most people tend to gloss right over because they do not understand what they mean. This review is meant to help you to better understand what is in the foods that line the shelves of your local grocery store, so that you will be able to make educated choices as to what foods are the best option for you and your family. Today we will examine the following three food products.
Orbit Gum – Wrigley’s
Sorbitol, gum base, glycerol, mannitol, natural and artificial flavors, xylitol, aspartame, acesulfame K, lecithin, Blue 1 Lake, BHT (to maintain freshness), color added.
Phenylketonurics: contains phenylalanine
Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, aspartame, and acesulfame K are artificial sweeteners (sugar sub link).
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), also known as Butylhydroxytoluene, is a lipophilic (fat-soluble) organic compound that is primarily used as an antioxidant food additive as well as in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, and embalming fluid.
No matter what side of the fence you stand on regarding artificial sweeteners, it is obvious that gum offers no nutritional value. We chew it to freshen breath, suppress appetite, or even just because we like the taste.
Most health food stores offer natural versions, however, to be honest I have not found one that has long lasting flavor or tastes very good. If you disagree, or if you have found a natural gum that you enjoy, I encourage you to post it below in the comment section.
Classic Caesar Croutons – Pepperidge Farm
Unbromated unbleached enriched wheat flour [flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid], vegetable oils (canola, sunflower, and/or soybean), nonfat milk, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2 percent or less of: salt, buttermilk powder, cheddar cheese (milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), maltodextrin, onion powder, spices, yeast, vinegar, monoglyceride, citric acid, garlic powder, sugar, malted barley, wheat flour, dextrose, disodium phosphate, lactic acid and turmeric (color).
Unbromated unbleached enriched wheat flour, although made from wheat, is not a whole-grain flour so it doesn’t provide all the benefits of the whole grain.
High Fructose Corn Syrup: See High Fructose Corn Syrup For President
Maltodextrin is a modified starch (most often corn starch), used as a thickening or binding agent in foods.
Monoglyceride acts as an emulsifier, helping to mix ingredients such as oil and water that would not otherwise blend well.
Disodium phosphate is used commercially as an anti-caking additive in powdered products.
This is one laundry list of ingredients.
Buy a loaf of bread (or make one yourself) that has only whole ingredients and cut it into cubes, brush with a little oil, and sprinkle with garlic powder and/or other spices, and bake at 350° F for 10-15 minutes until golden.
Trader Joe’s California Style Complete Protein Bread
Stick to breads and croutons with only natural, whole ingredients on the list, i.e. whole grain, organic protein sprouted wheat berries, filtered water, barley malt, rolled oats, etc.
Stay away from words like refined, processed, enriched, white, modified, and words that you cannot pronounce.
Fat Free Ranch Dressing – Hidden Valley
Water, corn syrup, maltodextrin, sugar, modified food starch, buttermilk*, salt, less than 2% of vinegar, garlic puree, onion puree, dried garlic, dried onion, spice, sour cream* (cream, nonfat milk, cultures), xanthan gum, soy lecithin*, soybean oil*, monoglycerides*, natural flavors (soy), artificial color, monosodium glutamate, lactic acid, phosphoric acid, disodium phosphate, with potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, TBHQ and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives, alpha tocopherol (vitamin E).
* adds a trivial amount of fat and/or cholesterol
Corn syrup: See High Fructose Corn Syrup For President
Maltodextrin/Modified food starch: See explanation above.
Xanthan gum is a food additive produced through a process of fermenting glucose or sucrose and is used to increase the viscosity of liquids. In salad dressing it makes it thick enough at rest in the bottle to keep the mixture fairly homogeneous, but the shear forces generated by shaking and pouring thins it so it can be easily poured. When it exits the bottle, the shear forces are removed and it thickens back up so it clings to the salad.
Soy lecithin is a food additive used as an emulsifier, which aids in keeping the ingredients from separating.
Monoglyceride: See explanation above.
Monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG, is a food additive most commonly used as a flavor enhancer. MSG has been the target of much controversy over the past 30 years due to reports of adverse reactions in some people who have consumed the additive. Click here for more information on the FDA’s stance on MSG.
Phosphoric acid is a food additive used to acidify foods and beverages, which gives the food a tangy or sour taste. Being a mass-produced chemical, it is available cheaply and in large quantities. Phosphoric acid is not without controversy, as some studies suggest that it may promote lower bone density, however later studies have disproved these findings. See this study on low bone density and this study on carbonated beverages and urinary calcium excretion for more details.
Disodium phosphate: See explanation above.
Potassium sorbate is a food preservative used to inhibit the growth of mold and yeasts in foods. It is used in quantities at which there are no known adverse health effects.
Sodium benzoate is a preservative uses to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi under acidic conditions. It is also used in fireworks as a fuel in whistle mix, a powder which imparts a whistling noise when compressed into a tube and ignited. In combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate may form benzene, which is a known carcinogen. Heat, light, and shelf life can affect the rate at which benzene is formed.
TBHQ, or tert-Butylhydroquinone, is a preservative that is used to enhance shelf life with unsaturated vegetable oils and many edible animal fats. It is also used in perfumery, as a fixative to lower the evaporation rate and improve stability. In addition, TBHQ is added to varnishes, lacquers, resins, and oil field additives. Some studies link TBHQ to cancer in high doses.
Again, this is one laundry list of ingredients, with a few of them linked to possible serious health related issues. Now, keep in mind, the studies indicated above cite “in large doses” and 2 tbsp of salad dressing would not be considered a “large dose”, so I am not including this information as scare tactics by any means. I am only looking to give you a clear picture of what you are consuming in the various products.
Make your own by whisking together the following ingredients:
- 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise (real is best)
- 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice (fresh is best)
- 1 tablespoon chives, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Refrigerate for an hour or so to let flavors meld. Enjoy!
Its really a lot easier to make salad dressing at home than you may think. You can throw together a nice vinaigrette in as little as two minutes.
More to come. Let us know if you have a specific product you would like to discuss.