Sunday, March 30, 2008

You Are What You Eat?

As my regular readers know, I think about food all the time. ALL THE TIME. Not because I am obsessed with eating, but because everything I eat stands a chance of making me mildly to majorly sick. As such, I think about what's in my food more than anything else.

(Keep reading, there's an activity at the end)

As I have pondered just where the American diet has gone over the last 30-50 years, I've thought about my understanding of food as a kid vs. as an adult. All the way up until six years ago I ate food without ever reading a label, and thought I was eating really healthy. I didn't eat a lot of sweets and I did eat a lot of vegetables. As it turns out, what was in my food, the things I didn't see or know about were making me very sick.

Now, in recent days I've been thinking that, "Hey, most US consumers have no idea what's in their food". Some of them are good about reading to see about sugar, trans fat, and calories, but beyond that who really pays that close attention. Even if you did read every ingredient listed on the label, how would you even know what hydrolyzed vegetable protein really was while standing in your grocery store trying to decide if you really want to put that rice pilaf/peanut butter crackers/ranch dressing in your cart, if it's on sale, and how much to buy.

I want to challenge you all, every reader, including the lurkers. Not because I want to be on a soapbox about food, and not because I think you should all eat like me (I wouldn't wish that on anyone), but because I want to raise the level of consciousness about what exactly it is that you are eating. So here's the challenge:
  1. Take just one item out of your fridge/pantry/snacks/etc...
  2. Flip the item over to read the ingredients
  3. Google every single ingredient to see what it is (it will likely be chemical, preservative, or genetically modified food item derived from some basic food like corn, soy, or wheat) -- and taking an item like a fresh apple with the tiny sticker on it does not count
I'm just curious to see what you all find about your food and to see what you think about it. It may just surprise you. I've had my mom researching food additives in my oral drugs and have been quite surprised by some of the things in the pills. I've been studying my labels for six years, and so I've learned to compromise and live with some of the chemicals and additives, but most I can't eat. Chances are you CAN eat it, but wouldn't it be nice to know what it is, so that the next time you are in the grocery store picking food off the shelves, you can maybe also decide you'd like to eat less chemicals and additives, not more.

With food allergies and intolerances on the rise in this country (especially in children), I think it's good to at least be aware. And just in case some of you decide to panic, a good general rule while shopping is -- six ingredients or less, and your probably okay. For those of you who could care less (and that's just fine too), maybe this will just be a fun little research assignment for you just to see.

**Next time, strategies for grocery shopping without breaking the bank or standing in one aisle for three hours.


Hannah said...

That's a great idea...I'll have to start paying more attention. I think most of the stuff I buy isn't TOO bad, but like you said, I'm sure I'll be surprised. And you're right, I RARELY read the actual ingredients... I usually just check how many calories it is!

Karen B said...

I did my yogurt. I was ok with all the ingredients except agar. I don't have a problem with eating it. It just reminds me of high school biology. I can't imagine eating the contents of all those petri dishes.

Heather said...

I spend all my time reading the labels of my children's food (they have food allergies and dye allergies) and try to avoid preservatives but for me, I often stuff in whatever I can when I can :)

Pack of Nabs - Monosodium Glutimate (MSG):

Modern commercial MSG is produced by fermentation[1] of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses.

A 1995 FDA-commissioned report acknowledged that "An unknown percentage of the population may react to monosodium glutamate and develop monosodium glutamate symptom complex, a condition characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:
Burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest
Numbness in the back of the neck, radiating to the arms and back
Tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms
Facial pressure or tightness
Chest pain
Rapid heartbeat
Bronchospasm (difficulty breathing)

Here's to a healthier ME

Ali-kat said...

Most of that is pretty much the reaction I have to MSG and all wheat.

Heather said...

Ok, I couldn't just do one, Do I get extra credit?! In a lollipop I ate and alot of other candy too. Also used as a deoderizer in cat litter so that makes one feel great.

Titanium dioxide, also known as titanium(IV) oxide or titania, is the naturally occurring oxide of titanium, chemical formula TiO2. When used as a pigment, it is called titanium white, Pigment White 6, or CI 77891. It is noteworthy for its wide range of applications, from paint to sunscreen to food coloring.

where it is employed as a pigment to provide whiteness and opacity to products such as paints, coatings, plastics, papers, inks, foods, medicines (i.e. pills and tablets) as well as most toothpastes.

Ali-kat said...

Fascinating! I had no idea. I'm sure I eat all sorts of dyes all the time, unless it is caramel coloring, which I steer clear of. You totally get extra credit.

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