Monday, August 22, 2011

What the hell am I eating?

Since my last post, I have been reading, cooking, and investigating- alot! I have learned a tremendous amount of information about the food that is available to us. 99.9% of the food we buy is garbage. Even the brands and restaurants that claim "ALL NATURAL" or "HEALTHY" are full of chemicals (literally). I will break it down in future posts, but everyday I learn something new, and today I learned about the vegetable sandwich that I ate for lunch. 

Not actual sandwich, but close

I didn't bring my lunch, and only had a short time to eat. I thought 'what is the healthiest place I can eat within 5 minutes of my office?' PANERA! I got my typical Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich (with an apple). As I was eating it I was looking at what was in it- red onion, cucumbers, tomatoes, red peppers, feta cheese, pesto, and lettuce on bread. Looks healthy, tastes good! There was a spicy something in it that I couldn't recognize so I went to Panera's website. 

Well, on Panera's website you can pick each item to get its nutritional information and ingredients. I have learned that in order to be "eating healthy" an item really should not have more ingredients than I can count on one hand OR ingredients that I cannot pronounce (which goes hand in hand with not knowing what the hell it is). 

Here is the list of items (and brief description of what they are) that I either could not pronounce or didn't know what they were in my VEGETABLE sandwich:

**All information about the ingredients was found on

- Phosphoric acid  is used to acidify foods and beverages such as various colas, but not without controversy regarding its health effects. It provides a tangy or sour taste and, being a mass-produced chemical, is available cheaply and in large quantities. 

- Sodium Benzoate  is a preservative. In combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C, E300), sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate form benzene, a known carcinogen. Wonderful! because this sandwich has ascorbic acid in it!

- Potassium Sorbate is a preservative used to inhibit molds and yeasts in many foods, such as cheese, wine, yogurt, dried meats, apple cider, soft drinks and fruit drinks, and baked goods. Potassium sorbate is considered to be safe because of its long term safety record and non-toxic profile. Potassium sorbate is non-irritating and non-sensitizing. Allergic reactions are rare, and it is well tolerated when administered internally. 

- Malted Flour is a process applied to cereal grains, in which the grains are made to germinate by soaking in water and are then quickly halted from germinating further by drying with hot air.

- Ferrous Sulfate Together with other iron compounds, ferrous sulfate is used to fortify foods and to treat iron-deficiency anemia. Constipation is a frequent and uncomfortable side effect associated with the administration of oral iron supplements. Stool softeners often are prescribed to prevent constipation. Panera should serve a stool softener as a side to my sandwich.

- Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1) is found in a wide variety of foods at low concentrations. In general, cereal grains are the most important dietary sources of thiamine, by virtue of their ubiquity. Of these, whole grains contain more thiamine than refined grains, as thiamine is found mostly in the outer layers of the grain and in the germ (which are removed during the refining process). For example, 100 g of whole-wheat flour contains 0.55 mg of thiamine, while 100 g of white flour contains only 0.06 mg of thiamine. In the US, processed flour must be enriched with thiamine mononitrate (along with niacin, ferrous iron, riboflavin, and folic acid) to replace that lost in processing. So if food manufacturers used whole grains instead of white refined flours there would be no need to fortify them with all of these vitamins. 

- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) Riboflavin is yellow or yellow-orange in color and in addition to being used as a food coloring, it is also used to fortify some foods. The milling of cereals results in considerable loss (up to 60%) of vitamin B2, so white flour is enriched in some countries such as USA by addition of the vitamin. The enrichment of bread and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals contributes significantly to the dietary supply of vitamin B2.

Folic Acid (Vitamin B9) is essential to numerous bodily functions. The human body needs folate to synthesize DNA, repair DNA, and methylate DNA as well as to act as a cofactor in biological reactions involving folate. It is especially important in aiding rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and pregnancy, as well as in "feeding" some cancers. While a normal diet also high in natural folates may decrease the risk of cancer, there is diverse evidence that high folate intake from supplementation may actually promote some cancers as well as precancerous tumors and lesions. AMAZING! So when you think you are getting necessary vitamins from all of these enriched foods, you are actually increasing your risk of developing cancer. FYI.... spinach, asparagus, beans, peas, lentils, egg yolks, bakers yeast, and sunflower seeds are all sufficient sources of naturally occurring folate. 

- Natural Flavor according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations a "natural flavorant" is the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose primary function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. So when I order my veggie sandwich I could actually be eating parts of an animal or fish. Good news for vegetarians and vegans because natural flavoring is in many more foods than you would think!

- Artificial Flavor Flavoring substances not identified in a natural product intended for human consumption, whether or not the product is processed. These are typically produced by fractional distillation and additional chemical manipulation naturally sourced chemicals or from crude oil or coal tar. Although they are chemically different, in sensory characteristics are the same as natural ones. I don't know about you but I love eating chemically manipulated substances that come from crude oil or tar.

- Monoglycerides & Diglycerides are commonly added to commercial food products in small quantities. They act as emulsifiers, helping to mix ingredients such as oil and water that would not otherwise blend well. The commercial source may be either animal (cow- or hog-derived) or vegetable (soy- which is a whole other topic), and they may be synthetically made as well. There are natural emulsifiers such as honey or egg yolks which do not come from unspecified animal parts. 

- Citric Acid is a weak organic acid. It is a natural preservative and is also used to add an acidic, or sour, taste to foods and soft drinks. It is obtainable from lemons and limes. However, most citric acid in the food industry is not extracted from citrus fruit, but fermented by Aspergillus niger mold from scrap molasses, waste starch hydrolysates and phosphoric acid. 

- Polysorbate 60 is one of a class of emulsifiers used in some pharmaceuticals and food preparation. CHEMICAL!

- Glycerin (Glycerol) serves as a humectant, solvent and sweetener, and may help preserve foods. It is also used as filler in commercially prepared low-fat foods, and as a thickening agent in liqueurs. As a sugar substitute, it has approximately 27 calories per teaspoon and is 60 percent as sweet as sucrose. Although it has about the same food energy as table sugar, it does not raise blood sugar levels, nor does it feed the bacteria that form plaques and cause dental cavities. 

- Caramel Color is a soluble food coloring. It is made by a carefully controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates, generally in the presence of acids, alkalis, or salts, in a process called caramelization. Caramel color is one of the oldest and most widely-used food colorings. 

- Potatoe Maltodextrin is used as a food additive. It is produced from starch by partial hydrolysis (very bad for you) and is usually found as a creamy-white spray dried powder. Maltodextrin is easily digestible, being absorbed as rapidly as glucose, and might be either moderately sweet or almost flavorless. 

- Ascorbic Acid is a sugar acid with antioxidant properties. One form of ascorbic acid is commonly known as Vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is commonly used as antioxidant food additives. These compounds are water-soluble and thus cannot protect fats from oxidation: For this purpose, the fat-soluble esters of ascorbic acid with long-chain fatty acids (ascorbyl palmitate or ascorbyl stearate) can be used as food antioxidants. Eighty percent of the world's supply of ascorbic acid is produced in China. 

- Tocopherols are a class of chemical compounds of which many have vitamin E activity. Recent studies have found that increased intake of vitamin E, especially among smokers may be responsible for an increase in the incidence of lung cancer, with one study finding an increase in the incidence of lung cancer by 7% for each 100 IU of vitamin E taken daily. Synthetic mixtures of Vitamin E isomers are not bio-equivalent to natural mixtures, yet are widely used academically and commercially. Beware of Vitamin E that has been added to foods. If it shows up in the ingredient list, it is not naturally occurring in the food and has been shown to be VERY harmful to our bodies. If you are worried about cancer, as I am, I would urge you to stay far away from foods with Vitamin E derivatives in them. 

- Tara Gum (Caesalpinia spinosa), commonly known as tara, is a small leguminous tree or thorny shrub native to Peru. Tara gum has been deemed safe for human consumption as a food additive. It is used as a thickening agent and stabilizer in a number of food applications. 

- Carrageenan is a vegetarian and vegan alternative to gelatin extracted from red seaweed.

- Phosphoric Acid is a mineral (inorganic) acid. Food-grade phosphoric acid is used to acidify foods and beverages, but not without controversy regarding its health effects. It provides a tangy or sour taste and, being a mass-produced chemical, is available cheaply and in large quantities. The low cost and bulk availability is unlike more expensive seasonings that give comparable flavors, such as citric acid. 

- Malic Acid is the active ingredient in many sour or tart foods. Malic acid is found mostly in unripe fruits, and is the source of extreme tartness in candy. It is also used with or in place of the less sour citric acid in sour sweets and Salt & Vinegar-flavor potato chips. These sweets are sometimes labeled with a warning stating that excessive consumption can cause irritation of the mouth.

- Calcium Chloride is used in canned vegetables, in firming soy bean curds into tofu and in producing a caviar substitute from vegetable or fruit juices. It is commonly used as an electrolyte in sports drinks and other beverages including Smartwater and Nestle bottled water. The extremely salty taste of calcium chloride is used to flavor pickles while not increasing the food's sodium content. 

- Microcrystalline Cellulose is a term for refined wood pulp and is used as a texturizer, a anti-caking agent, a fat substitute, an emulsifier, an extender, and a bulking agent in foods. I wasn't aware that wood pulp was actually an acceptable food for humans? 

Now I know that there are probably trace amounts of these substances in this sandwich, but think about all of the (over) processed/frozen/packaged food that consumes our diets. Some of these substances are put in food so that it has a longer shelf life. That means that the food can sit in a warehouse and then on a shelf for months if not years. And the trace amounts that show up in this sandwich, when multiplied by every single meal that the average American eats (which is complete crap!), turn into a significant amount of garbage that we are putting into our bodies. 

No wonder cancer is everywhere, obesity is everywhere, and people generally look and feel like shit. Take a look around when you are out in a public place and take notice of all of the overweight, frumpy shleps and ask yourself how many fruits and vegetables are they eating? You could probably count on 2 hands the pieces of fruit and/or vegetables that they have eaten in one month (not in a day like it should to be). And the lettuce on their foot-long, over-stuffed Italian sub doesn't count.

Until next time....start eating more fruits and veggies (and not the one's in Panera's Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich)!

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