My wife had a blog for a while trying to explain what is in the prepared foods we seem to be obsessed with. She is a Chemical Engineer, and a mom of three. Trying to dissect what is on that “ingredient” list is a unique challenge. This one came to thought this morning for a variety of reasons and I still very interesting reading. The kids are now 8, 6 and 4 but everything else is as accurate today as when it was originally written.
Written by Jean Imholt
As a mom of three children, ages 5, 4, and 2, I constantly think about what my children are eating. Let’s face it, the little people eat all the time – breakfast (sometimes second breakfast if the first one was not sufficient), morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner (followed by dessert on occasion). It is a never ending cycle of thinking about what to feed them, what is for dinner, what staple item is running out in our pantry and fridge, and what to pack for their lunch at school. Life is hectic as is and we tend to reach for the easy quick solutions to satisfy their never ceasing appetite. Thankfully I am a stay at home mom now and I should have more time than those who work in addition to taking care of their family. It is an incredibly hard balancing act trying to fit everything in one day’s time and often we don’t or can’t put enough thought and preparation into what we eat… so we opt for ready to eat, processed, fast food, or restaurant food.
I recently saw a documentary entitled Fed Up and it opened my eyes to the dangers of everyday normal foods we purchase at the grocery store and some restaurants. The rising epidemic of childhood obesity and other related metabolic diseases was astounding and downright scary. I have heard and read about the unhealthful nature of many processed foods but now I was acutely curious about what is really in them. I feel that my formal training in chemical engineering with the research background equips me well in this investigation that will hopefully educate myself and my family as well as many others that are concerned about eating healthier. For my very first analysis, I chose Pop-tarts. I can’t remember the last time I ate one of these – probably when I was in high school. Several weeks ago, my husband picked up a box of Pop-tarts at the grocery store, thinking perhaps the kids might like them.
He thought he could also eat them for breakfast on the run. I remember making a face. Well, here is the nutritional facts printed on the box. The serving size is one pastry but when you open the box, two pastries are wrapped together, suggesting we should eat two. I for one, would not be satisfied with eating just one for breakfast. So if you are going to eat two, you have to double everything you see on this nutrition facts. Therefore you will be consuming 12 g of total fat and 28 g of sugar, among other things. What is 28 g of sugar? One teaspoon of granulated sugar is 4 g of sugar. In other words, 28 g of sugar is equivalent to 7 teaspoons of sugar. What is the recommended daily dose of sugar for adults? There are two different standards – one by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the other, the American Heart Association. The former recommends 6 teaspoons of sugar per day, while the latter recommends 6 for women and 9 for men per day. Regardless of which guideline you follow, you’ve already blown your sugar intake for the day if you eat two pastries of Pop-tart for breakfast. Yikes. Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, but from a sugar perspective you are now done. Now let’s take a closer look at what else is lurking in this portable quick and easy breakfast pastry. Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose are all various forms of sugar, depending on where they come from and their molecular structure. But once ingested, they all are seen as refined sugar in our body and turns to fat until it is burned off. This is why refined sugar without the fiber (unlike in fruit) is very bad, for it is stored as fat mostly in our midsection. I also noticed several different colorants or food dyes – caramel color, red 40, yellow 6. The most glaring one is Red 40, which is the most widely used food coloring. It is chemically derived from petroleum and is known to cause symptoms of hypersensitivity in some people, as well as hives and swelling in the mouth, According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Yellow 6 contains known carcinogens (cancer causing agents) and other contaminants that increase hyperactivity and allergic reaction in some children. Recent analysis and studies found some compelling evidence linking these food dyes to hyperactivity, restlessness, and attention deficit problems in children with ADHD. Further, the same studies claims that removing these food dyes from their diet was 25-50% as effective in reducing the symptoms as the drugs usually prescribed for ADHD. These artificial dyes are literally everywhere in snack foods to cereal to entice our children. Other ingredients that stick out because they are hard to pronounce include Niacinamide, citric acid, soy lecithin, xanthan gum, and vitamin a palmitate. Niacinamide is vitamin B3 (also used a lot in cosmetic products), citric acid is a natural preservative that also adds sour taste to the food, soy lecithin is an oily substance derived from soy that is used as an emulsifier (making things stay mixed and not separate), xanthan gum is produced via fermentation of glucose, sucrose, or lactose (forms of sugar) and used as a thickening agent, and vitamin A palmitate is synthetically produced and used to fortify foods but it has been found that high doses were shown to accelerate cancer in lab animals. Vitamin A palmitate is also found in eye lubricant and sun screen.
There are other vitamins listed on the ingredients, all synthetically produced. Why? Because most of the naturally occurring vitamins are stripped away during the milling of breads and refining of flour for cereals. In order to make up for the loss of nutrients during processing, the synthetic vitamins and minerals are added, which are not as healthy as their natural counterparts. The analysis of the Pop-tart ingredients shows the shear amount of sugar and numerous chemicals that are not from nature. This is just one example of processed food. You have to wonder what the long term cumulative effects of these chemicals in your body might be if you eat this kind of food on a daily basis.