I have been feverishly working away on a new design for my blog (and I’m not being metaphorical about the fever as I have been sick, sick, sick). After debating long and hard over the course of this little blog’s life (three years and three months to be exact), I’ve finally decided to include a section on my new site where I can share recipes and write posts on food topics I’m passionate about. (So, basically, everything – as I love all the foods.) The reason I hesitated for so long over including recipes and such on this blog is because it seems like the interwebs is absolutely dripping with recipes. Seriously, it’s like food and porn and that’s it.
Then I started thinking – many of my own recipes were initially inspired by something I found online. I may have heavily adapted them to my specific likings, but where would I be without the initial inspirations and the people who took the time to share them? Salut to sharing!
The primary reason for my recipe adaptations is that a few years ago I started reading food labels. I’m not talking about the little white nutrition box printed on all packaged foods (though I do still take a peek at that info every so often). I’m talking about ingredients, baby.
Have you ever found yourself wondering “what is maltodextrin and why is it in my crackers?” Or, “I wonder if azodicarbonamide is a kind of sprouted grain?” What about “how come I can only pronounce three of the seventeen ingredients in this delicious nougette-y granola bar?”
If so, then you and I are now best friends. If not, then I encourage you to keep reading because things are about to get real.
Here’s a “taste” (oh yeah, I went there) of things to come on the new and improved Of Houses and Trees with a list of food additives that’ll make your skin crawl. Let’s hope that this time I am being only metaphorical… (I’ve also included a few of the products I buy in order to avoid potential crawliness.)
It says it right in the name – I mean, who wants something “artificial” going down the gullet and into the gut? But it happens all day, every day, because many popular foods are jam packed with fun-sounding ingredients like Yellow 5 and Citrus Red 2. Cereal, taco chips, canned frosting, frozen pizza, juice crystals and, my favourite, pickles (more on that delectable topic below). Now, I don’t think any of us buy these foods because we expect them to be “healthy” choices, but once you know these artificial colours have been linked to ADHD and cancer, well… they stop sounding so fun.
Also known as the “yoga mat compound,” because – you guessed it – it’s found in yoga mats as well as materials such as shoe soles and foam insulation. Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a common additive in bread, pizza dough, tortillas and other carbolicious food items. It’s used to bleach flour and make dough more dough-y.
When I first started researching ADA a couple years ago I learned that it’s been banned in Australia, but not in Canada or the United States. And why has it been banned down under you may be wondering, as I certainly was? Well, according to this Forbes article it’s known to increase the risk of allergies, asthma and skin problems. The article then goes on to mention several companies that sell food containing ADA and also links to this report by the Environmental Working Group that lists hundreds of food items containing ADA, including items from “healthy choice” companies such as Weight Watchers and several breads that tout themselves as “100% Whole Grain.”
High Fructose Corn Syrup (and other Refined Sugars)
I feel almost silly including this. I mean, we all know good ol’ HFCS is actually bad, right? And yet it’s still a common ingredient in a whole schwack of food items. If only staying away from chocolate bars and pop was the answer, but bread, cereal, juice, nutrition bars, salad dressing, yogurt – they’re all swimming in the sticky stuff. And while the other additives on my list have been linked to health problems you may not expect from every day foods (behavioural, heart, respiratory, etc.), HFCS’s main problem is it makes food taste so damn good it leads to the very thing we all know is a possibility when overindulging – weight gain.
However, there is controversy over whether HFCS is even more problematic than regular refined sugar with some experts essentially stating “sugar is sugar – if you eat too much of it you’ll get fat,” while others in the know argue that HFCS is even more of a concern because it contains chemicals such as mercury.
Unlike the much maligned HFCS, maltodextrin is a bit more of a slippery additive to pin down. It’s usually derived from plants such as corn, potatoes and rice – and plants are good… right? (I’m sure by now you know where I’m heading with this.) Maltodextrin (also known as modified corn starch) is used as a thickener or filler and is found in canned fruits, dressings, protein shakes, sauces and so much more (including beer!). Aside from it being highly processed and as high in carbohydrates as table sugar, it also has been linked to disrupting gut bacteria by feeding the bad guys and helping them adhere to the intestinal wall, in turn causing inflammation. (Gut health is a current obsession of mine ever since watching a fascinating episode of The Nature of Things called “It Takes Guts,” which you can watch here.)
This one really burns me (and perhaps it literally could as it has been labelled as “slightly flammable”) because of pickles. You could honestly say, without being remotely overly dramatic, that pickles are the love of my life. But I don’t love the fact that the brand I used to buy (Bick’s Dill Pickle Garlic), as well as many other brands, include the “defoaming” agent polysorbate 80 (also known as “tween 80,” which sounds like an event for twelve year old girls that I definitely would not want to attend).
According to this website, it has been linked to the development of intestinal issues (particularly for those predispositioned to colitis and Crohn’s), blood clots, stroke, heart problems and potential tumour regrowth in cancer patients. It took me quite awhile, but I finally was able to find a brand of pickles sold in my hometown (well, technically one town over), that has no crazy bowel-aggravating additives nor any refined sugar (which is another food topic I’m going to be talking about in my “Real Life Food” series… a lot).
Do you read ingredient labels before you buy food? Are there any specific additives that you try and avoid? Are any of the ones listed above new to you or have you heard of them all before? I love you and your comments… and you can return this love by commenting some more!
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Posted on February 11, 2016