We all know we shouldn’t indulge in processed foods. But many of us might not know why we shouldn’t. Did you know that there are thousands of hidden food additives that are allowed to slip through the cracks of the FDA? Currently, there are about 10,000 food additives and chemicals swirling around in the US food supply. Some of the more dangerous food additives that have been gaining more and more attention lately are mono- and di-glycerides, which belong to a class of emulsifiers. These have been increasingly circulating within our food systems as a way around the trans-fat problem. Trans-fats have been removed from ingredient lists across the country due to the increased understanding of the health problems to which they have been linked. However, this elimination has been performed in name only as trace amounts of trans-fats are still allowed to be added to foods. Not to mention that the introduction of these emulsifiers (the mono- and di-glycerides) has allowed them to basically act as artificial trans-fats, and they have been shown to be related to causing coronary heart disease as well as have been linked by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to nearly 50,000 fatal heart attacks a year.
That’s a problem! Again, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has noted that gram-for-gram, trans-fats are the most harmful fat. So in an effort to remove these harmful trans-fats, food companies decided to pump these mono- and di-glycerides into their foods. They’re found in everything from cookies to coffee creamers, nut butters, breads, and soft drinks. While mono- and di-glycerides are found naturally in a few nut and seed oils, the level at which they’re found in processed foods is alarming. Additionally, there is currently no way of knowing how much trans-fat is in a product that contains mono- and/or di-glycerides.
That being said, food products that contain these elements tend to be highly processed and contain other less desirable additives like refined sugar and flours. Additionally, these elements are added to food for the sole purpose of extending shelf-life, and have no interest in improving quality or level of nutrition. Altogether, this means that these products are highly refined, oxidative, definitely not fresh, and pro-inflammatory, not to mention that they can very easily be linked to heart disease.
So, how can we do to avoid these foods? Before you sit down for a meal or snack, ask yourself if you know every single ingredient that’s found in your food. If it sounds like a list for a chemical reaction, it’s most likely highly processed and will often be devoid of real nutritional value. You can also try to see if you can picture where all the ingredients come from. Was your snack grown on an organic farm or was it sprayed with pesticides, picked unripe, shipped long distances, stored (for who knows how long), and then sprayed with more chemicals to artificially ripen? Can your snack sit on a grocery store shelf for a few months to a year and be just fine? Then it’s probably not real food.
In the words of Michael Pollan, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
I’ll admit, I love snack foods just as much as anyone and I’ll definitely find myself with an impulse Goldfish purchase or two. But the key is to find healthier alternatives to these items and to have them outweigh our processed item shopping list. Pretty soon, you’ll definitely notice a difference in how you feel when eating a predominately non-processed diet, and finding a way around the processed problem will be easy and you won’t even want them!