Category Archives: ingredients


Titanium Dioxide: What Is It? And Is It Safe?

What is Titanium Dioxide?

Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring compound used as a coloring agent in cosmetics, personal care products, supplements, and processed foods.

It whitens and brightens as well as prevents discoloration. Titanium dioxide also blocks ultraviolet (UV) rays, which is why it’s found in many sunscreens.

The compound used in manufacturing is chemically processed to remove impurities. And it’s supplied in a powder form.

Powdered titanium dioxide generally appears to be safe. However, the widespread use of titanium dioxide “nanoparticles” has raised some concern.

What are Nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles form when titanium dioxide powder is further ground into microscopic particles. And while these microscopic particles are chemically identical to their larger counterparts, their behavior and reactivity may differ due to an increase in surface area.

Further, their minuscule size may increase absorption and circulation within the bloodstream.

What are the Potential Risks?

Research has shown that titanium dioxide nanoparticles have the potential to cause free radical damage (a.k.a. oxidative stress), which results in cell damage, DNA mutations, inflammation, and immune system activation.

When inhaled, these particles have the capacity to travel directly to the lungs and brain. As a result, neurological damage is highly possible. This is why it’s never a good idea to use spray sunscreens, especially on the face.

Further, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified titanium dioxide nanoparticles as “possible carcinogenic to humans” according to animal inhalation studies.

These nanoparticles are also considered an “occupational carcinogen” by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Human studies using sunscreens have shown that titanium dioxide nanoparticles don’t substantially penetrate the skin. However, long term safety studies have yet to be performed. In addition, the potential risks of oxidation caused by sun exposure are unknown.

Titanium Dioxide in Food

Titanium dioxide is found in the largest concentrations in candy and chewing gum. But it’s also found in cottage cheese, yogurt, condiments, processed meats, and snack foods.

However, it’s worth noting that only one third of the titanium dioxide used in food is in the nanoparticle form.

Nevertheless, we still don’t fully understand how titanium dioxide is absorbed, distributed, and excreted by the body. Thus, we couldn’t possibly understand its toxicity when consumed orally.

Although, one study found that oral consumption of titanium dioxide nanoparticles contributed to gut inflammation in those with inflammatory bowel disease.

How to Reduce Your Exposure

Unfortunately, food producers can use up to 1% titanium dioxide (food grade) without declaring it on the label. Or, it may be hidden behind terms such as “natural color” or “natural coloring agent.”  

Thus, the best way to avoid titanium dioxide in your food is to consume more whole foods and to choose organic whenever possible. Interestingly enough, titanium dioxide is not approved for use in organic foods. 

When it comes to medications there is little you can do. However, you can opt for supplements without added colors as well as sunscreens with non-nanoparticle zinc oxide only.

When it comes to cosmetics and personal care products, always read ingredient labels. And if you’re not sure, you can always check the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database.

In conclusion

The information we have thus far on titanium dioxide and more importantly its nanoparticles is concerning. And a lack of data in some regards doesn’t imply safety.

Thus, I recommend applying the precautionary principle and avoiding exposure whenever possible.

References
– Evans, S. M., Ashwood, P., Warley, A., Berisha, F., Thompson, R. P., & Powell, J. J. (2002). The role of dietary microparticles and calcium in apoptosis and
   interleukin-1β release of intestinal macrophages. Gastroenterology,123(5), 1543-1553. doi:10.1053/gast.2002.36554
– Skocaj, M., Filipic, M., Petkovic, J., & Novak, S. (2011). Titanium dioxide in our everyday life; is it safe? Radiology and Oncology, 45(4), 227–247.
   http://doi.org/10.2478/v10019-011-0037-0
– Weir, A., Westerhoff, P., Fabricius, L., & von Goetz, N. (2012). Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products. Environmental
   Science & Technology
, 46(4), 2242–2250. http://doi.org/10.1021/es204168d
sugar health war

The War On Sugar

As consumers start to pay attention to sugar consumption and more organizations and communities begin to tax excess sugar, industry giants are trying to fight back. The most recent effort is Coca-Cola’s funding of a study that claims lack of exercise and excessive screen time is to blame for the obesity crisis.  The study further states ‘more work need[s] to be done’ when looking at the influence of diet on obesity. 

The sugar misdirection

While exercise is definitely important and needs to be part of a healthy life, this study is very deceptive. It seeks to shift attention away from diet and from what’s in our food (added sugars are astronomically high in our diet at this point). It redirects the issue in a way that absolutely infuriates me.

Corporate interest is in making money. They do that by spending tens of millions of dollars to figure out how to make a product that is addictive and nearly irresistible. Then they spend even more money to figure out the psychology behind how you buy and to entice you to purchase their product. The outrageous part is when they then claim they have no impact on your health; it’s completely up to you to make the choice not to consume their product. When they take it one step further by funding studies that support the sale of their products and influence reported results that distance them from any responsibility for the impact on health? That’s unconscionable.

While I agree it is a personal responsibility to watch what you eat, I maintain that it’s very overwhelming for the consumer who is surrounded by this sort of corporate deception and manipulation.  In the case of this most recent study, leaked emails reveal that, despite stated claims to the contrary, Coca-Cola contributed funding to the study and had a big hand in helping to design it. 

It’s happened before

This is not the first time corporate funding has co-opted research. Last year Coca-Cola and Pepsi were found to have funded a controversial study that claimed diet drinks were better than water for weight loss. But it doesn’t stop there. Coca-Cola clearly and openly funds many major health organizations such as The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, The American Cancer Society, and The American Academy of Pediatrics. When they fund the research these organizations do there is bound to be some sort of a bias in their favor. If, as it appears in this recent case, they have a hand in designing the study as well as funding it, that makes the results even more questionable.

There is a war on. When it comes to your health and the information you need to make informed, educated decisions you can’t rely on headlines. The news media is looking for soundbytes. They’re relying on our inattentive, 3-second-goldfish-mind, to just run news blurbs past us and then move on to the next thing. 

We have to go deeper than the headline news ticker. You need to know who funded the study, who designed it, was there any potential for influence for corporate gain, and is it solid science. This is not the first time this has happened in the war on sugar. It’s not even the first time that there’s been an all-out assault on convincing consumers that an ingredient which is bad for them is actually not so bad.  I’d like to take you on a small journey to the past; looking at a different ingredient war.

What’s wrong with HFCS

At this point we know that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is bad for us. It’s damaging to our liver, contributes to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Invented in the 1970’s it was approved for use in food by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1983. It was seen as a safe sweetener and began to find it’s way into a wide variety of foodstuffs, juices, desserts, baked goods, and more. HFCS as an ingredient sometimes appeared in on the front of the label.

Over the decades evidence began to show up revealing that HFCS was not as benign as we had been lead to believe. As more consumers began to stop consuming HFCS the Corn Refiners Association began to push back. They started an ad campaign, “What’s wrong with High Fructose Corn Syrup.” You know those commercials. Someone offers another person a popsicle and the person it’s being offered to says, “No thank you, that has high fructose corn syrup in it.” The person offering it says, “So? What’s wrong with that?” The other person then stands there looking stupid as if they have nothing to say. Unfortunately we now know that there is a lot wrong with HFCS and it should not be part of our diet. But they put it in everything. And even with consumer backlash HFCS is still being used. It’s in sweet things like jams and applesauce. It’s in savory things like condiments. It even appears in some commercial vitamins.

When the ad campaign was not as effective as they hoped the Corn Refiners Association pushed to have the name changed to Corn Sugar. Their thinking was that this would seem more benign that HFCS and be more acceptable to consumers. As I wrote in The Pantry Principle, that effort failed and they were forced to keep the name High Fructose Corn Syrup. HFCS is still the occasional subject of articles that claim it’s not any worse for you than sugar. But now the ads have all but disappeared. The front of package labels say No HFCS in bold letters. 

Fighting back

It took over 40 years to get to where we are now with HFCS. There’s no telling how long it will take with sugar.

I promise you it’s a war; one that the manufacturers will defend as vigorously and as long as they can. Sugar taxes and clear labeling cuts into their profit margins. That’s enough to make them misdirect and engage in morally questionable practices like funding misleading study results.

Don’t be fooled by the headlines. You can make a change for yourself and choose health. Read the labels. Be aware of how much sugar you’re consuming and where that sugar comes from. The more you learn about the different types of sugar and it’s effect on the body the more you will be able to look past the manufacturer manipulation and misdirection. And the more you will be able to eat well to be well.

Related Links
Channel 4 dispatches: Secrets of Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets
Coca-Cola ‘spends millions on research to prove that fizzy drinks don’t make you fat’
Consumption of high fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in obesity
The role of high fructose corn syrup in metabolic syndrome and hypertension
High-fructose corn syrup-55 consumption alters hepatic lipid metabolism and promotes triglyceride accumulation

 

Jell-O Simply Good (or Still Just As Bad?)

Kraft recently released a new line of “Jell-O Simply Good” products. According to them, they are “delightfully honest” and “made with the good stuff.”

However, I found several questionable ingredients still lurking inside. Let’s take a look…

A Closer Look at the Ingredients in Jell-O Simply Good

Cane sugar is the most abundant ingredient in this product (19 grams per 1/2 cup serving to be exact). And it’s most likely made from genetically modified and pesticide laden sugar cane.

Gelatin gives Jell-O its gel like consistency. And it can be a health promoting ingredient if sourced from grass-fed and pastured raised cows. However, in this case, the source of gelatin is unknown.

Dried strawberry juice provides a “natural” flavoring. But, it doesn’t add any nutritional value. In fact, it only adds more sugar.

Adipic acid gives Jell-O a bit of tartness. While it is an organic compound, adipic acid is the precursor of nylon. And it rarely occurs in nature.

Disodium phosphate helps control acidity. Scientists synthesize it by combining phosphoric acid with a sodium compound. According to the Environmental Working Group, sodium phosphates may increase one’s risk of heart and/or kidney disease when consumed in excess.

Sodium citrate also controls acidity. And it is generally considered safe in small doses. However, it’s most likely made from genetically modified corn. Thus, those with corn allergies should avoid products with sodium citrate.

Natural flavor additives lead consumers to believe the flavor is all natural. However, this is far from the truth. While the final product is derived from something found in nature, chemical solvents are used to manufacture them. Further, food companies are not required to disclose the actual contents of natural flavors. Thus, we’ll never really know!

It’s also worth noting that Jell-O Simply Good truly gets its flavor from these “natural” flavors as opposed to strawberry juice. Juice is actually quite bland and its flavor diminishes over time. On the other hand, scientists specifically design natural flavors to be potent and shelf-stable.

Fumaric acid is another additive used for tartness. In general, small quantities are considered safe.

Turmeric oleoresin is supposedly a “natural” coloring agent made from turmeric. However, volatile chemical solvents are used to make it. And when fed to rats and mice in this study, it had carcinogenic effects.

According to the same study, consumption of turmeric oleoresin was also associated with a higher incidence of stomach ulcers and inflammation of digestive organs.

And in case you’re wondering, human safety studies don’t exist. They wouldn’t be ethical. And this is true for most food additives.

Vegetable juice is used for coloring in this product. And it’s relatively benign. However, the type of vegetable juice used is unknown. And the vegetables are most likely grown with pesticides.

Jell-O Simply Good versus Original Jell-O Mixes

The main difference between Jell-O Simply Good and the original Jell-O mixes is the removal of artificial flavors and dyes. This is a step in the right direction. But, far from “simply good” or “delightfully honest” in my opinion.

Other than the flavors and colors, the products are almost identical. Both have questionable additives, zero nutritional value, and an abundance of refined sugar.

A Healthy Alternative

real gelatin peach gummiesAs previously mentioned, gelatin can be a nutritious addition to your diet. However, quality matters. I recommend using a clean, no additive gelatin made from grass-fed and pastured raised cows.  My preferred brand is Vital Proteins.

Here is a fun recipe you can use to make homemade “jello” gummies with fresh juice and natural sweeteners.

Do you already use gelatin? If so, what are your favorite ways to incorporate it into your diet?

Ingredients Based On Corn

 

Corn is one of the most highly genetically modified (GM) ingredients in the United States.  For that reason I encourage people to eat organic corn in order to avoid the GM contamination as well as the high levels of pesticide that are one of the results of genetic modification.  

There are six forms of corn – dent corn, flint corn, flour corn, popcorn, sweet corn, and zein. Most people don’t think about the different forms when they’re buying fresh, frozen, or canned corn at the grocery store.  Those are easy to identify.  And corn, corn flour, corn starch, or corn syrup are easy to identify by reading the label.  The challenge however is that corn can be turned into a rather startling variety of ingredients that make an appearance in every single food category at the grocery store.

For those trying to avoid GM corn, or those who have a food sensitivity to corn, it’s not always easy to know which ingredients got their start from corn.  Use this list as a resource to help you know which products to buy organic or, in the case of a food sensitivity to corn, avoid.

Corn-based ingredients

  • Ascorbic Acid – also sometimes listed as vitamin C
  • Baking Powder – this may contain corn starch
  • Brown Sugar – made from white sugar with caramel coloring added 
  • Calcium Citrate – also known as ‘calcium salt of citric acid’ 
  • Caramel – coloring agent frequently used in soft drinks.  Can be made from cane sugar but most commonly made from corn; a known carcinogen
  • Cellulose – a form of plant fiber (note: this ingredient can also be made from wood) 
  • Citrate – this sour flavor enhancer comes in several different forms: Calcium Citrate, Magnesium Citrate, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, etc. 
  • Citric Acid – made by adding the mold Aspergillus niger to a base of corn steep liquor, molasses, hydrolyzed corn starch, or other cheap sweet solutions
  • Corn
  • Corn Meal – as well as being used for cooking, corn meal can be used for dusting baked items
  • Corn Starch – may be found in OTC tablets
  • Corn Syrup – may be found in liquid OTC medications such as cough syrup
  • Decyl Glucoside – often found in shampoo and other personal care products
  • Dextrin, Maltodextrin – used as a  thickening agent for condiments, frozen confections, and other foods
  • Dextrose (glucose) – found in sweets, may also be present in processed meats
  • Ferrous Gluconate – an ingredient found in black olives
  • Flavoring – Artificial or “Natural Flavors” may be corn based
  • Golden Syrup 
  • Honey – HFCS is sometimes fed to bees causing their honey to then have corn in it
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
  • Iodized Salt – Dextrose may be added to iodized salt to help stabilize the iodine 
  • Lactic Acid 
  • Magnesium Citrate – Magnesium salt of citric acid
  • Magnesium Stearate
  • Malic Acid
  • Malt/Malt Flavoring
  • Maltitol – a sugar alcohol made by hydrogenating maltose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Mannitol – This sugar alcohol is often blended with corn-based sugars
  • Methyl Gluceth – a cosmetic emollient
  • Modified Food Starch
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – MSG can be made from corn
  • Polydextrose
  • Polysorbates (i.e. Polysorbate 80)
  • Potassium Citrate 
  • Powdered Sugar – may contain corn starch
  • Saccharin
  • Sodium Citrate 
  • Sodium Erythorbate – may be made from beets, corn, or sugar cane
  • Sodium Starch Glycolate – may be made from corn, rice, or potatoes
  • Sorbitan – made by dehydrating sorbitol  
  • Sorbitan Monostearate – may be found in various types of yeast (baking, brewing)  
  • Sorbitol – this sugar alcohol often appears in diet candies or gum, can also be in oral care products
  • Starch – unless otherwise specified (such as potato starch) this is probably corn starch
  • Sucralose – Splenda is often made with dextrose or maltodextrin 
  • Sweet’N Low – made with dextrin 
  • Vanilla Extract – may be made with corn syrup 
  • Vinegar, Distilled White 
  • Xanthan Gum – often grown on a base of corn or corn sugar 
  • Xylitol – can be made from birch or corn, in the US it is frequently corn
  • Zein – used in time-release medications

 

 

What’s Really In Sport Drinks?

I’m going to be blunt. Under no circumstances would I recommend commercial sport drinks. Period.  Well, maybe if you are dehydrated (literally) and no other liquid exists for miles. 

Sadly commercial sport drinks such as Gatorade and Vitamin Water are nothing but liquid sugar and chemical additives. The cons far outweigh any benefit. Most young children simply need water. Teenage and adult athletes may need extra support, but there are much healthier alternatives. And I guarantee professional athletes are not drinking Gatorade despite the advertisements you see on TV.

A Closer Look at the Ingredients in Sport Drinks

While there are minor differences in different sport drinks, many of them have the similar ingredients. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients in Gatorade…

Gatorade sport drinks nutrition label

Water: Good!

Sugar: And lots of it! An entire 16-ounce bottle contains a little more than 13 teaspoons of sugar. It’s counterproductive to encourage our kids to play sports to be healthy, but then load them up with sugar. Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the primary source of added sugars in the standard American diet. And several studies have linked SSBs to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease [1].

Dextrose: Just another form of sugar. Unfortunately this form of sugar is made from corn and therefore most likely to be genetically modified (GM).

Citric Acid: A flavoring and a preservative. It may seem harmless because it is naturally found in fruit, but the citric acid found in foods and beverages is chemically produced from black mold secretions.  It’s also another product that comes from corn and another source of GM contamination.

Natural Flavor: Don’t let the name fool you. The “fruit punch” does not get its flavor from real fruit. These are flavors made in a laboratory. And no one really knows how or what is used to make them.

Salt: Salt is one of the electrolytes (the other major electrolytes are calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and phosphate) however sea salt would be a better option here because it actually provides minerals. 

Sodium Citrate: A “sodium salt of citric acid” this chemically processed food additive is used to regulate acidity. It has a potential to cause allergic reactions, dizziness, or restlessness. 

Monopotassium Phosphate: This ingredient is a potassium salt that has the potential to cause abdominal discomfort. It’s a common food additive as well as a fertilizer and fungicide. 

Modified Food Starch: Another chemically processed food stabilizer.

Red 40: Artificial dyes are linked to behavior disorders and hyperactivity in children. Some kids are more sensitive than others. For those that are sensitive, it can be disastrous for them and their families. These dyes are made from petroleum and coal tar and are banned in several other countries. [2]

Glycerol Ester of Rosin: A food additive designed to keep oils suspended or evenly mixed in water. It is produced from pine tree wood rosin using a long list of chemicals.

Caramel Color: Another artificial coloring additive. Unfortunately it contains 4-methylimidazole which has been linked to cancer.

Unfortunately the “zero-calorie” options typically contain the exact same ingredients. However instead of sugar, they use artificial sweeteners. While many people turn to artificial sweeteners to consume fewer calories, studies have actually linked them to weight gain. [3]

Healthy alternatives

There are more “natural” brands on the market today, but they’re mostly made of concentrated fruit juice (another form of liquid sugar). And they still have a few unnecessary additives. Therefore, why buy over-sugared drinks when water is a much healthier, and cheaper, option.

And from an environmental standpoint, we’d use much less plastic if every team player brought a reusable water bottle filled from home. Further, you’ll also your reduce exposure to the harmful aspects of plastic by using a glass or stainless steel container.

While one sport drink won’t cause permanent harm, drinking them routinely is another story.

When you or your children truly need a source of electrolytes after an intense or prolonged period of physical activity, try one of these options instead:

  • Make your own electrolyte drink by combining water, lemon, raw honey and sea salt
  • Make an agua fresca
  • Choose coconut water, a well balanced electrolyte beverage (but, be sure to read the label and avoid harmful additives)

 

Containers

One other issue with sports drinks and vitamin waters is that they come in a plastic container. This is a problem due to the BPA (to learn more watch my interview with Lara Adler, The Environmental Toxins Nerd). Bring your own drinks with you and use glass or stainless steel containers as your healthiest option. My personal favorite is Glasstic, a shatterproof plastic cylinder around a glass center cylinder. Easy to take apart and wash in the dishwasher, the company claims these are the last water bottle you’ll ever need. I bought three over a year ago and they’re still going strong. Get 10% off with this link.

* * * * * * 

Resources:

[1] Sugar Sweetened Beverages: Over time, too much liquid sugar can lead to serious disease
[2] Food additives and hyperactive behavior in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-0ld children 
[3] Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings 

 

Clean Label Starches: Better For You Or Just Another Bait & Switch?

Are clean label starches a healthy choice? Well, the answer depends on whom you ask. If you ask the food manufacturers, clean label starches are definitely a better choice over more traditional modified food starches. Not because clean label starches are actually better for you, but because they allow processed foods to have a cleaner looking list of ingredients.

What are Food Starches?

Both starch additives are derived from ingredients such as corn, potato, tapioca and wheat. Both are modified from their original native state to withstand extreme food processing conditions, such as ultra high heat and homogenization.

So what’s the difference? It all comes down to HOW the starches are modified.

Modified versus Clean Label Starches

Chemicals (usually acids) are used to make modified food starches. As a result, the FDA requires them to be labeled as “modified” food starches.

On the other hand, clean label starches are produced by physical means, such as purification and heat treatment. Since no chemicals are used, a clean label starch may simply be referred to as “starch.”

Why use Food Starches?

Modified food starches and clean label starches both act as thickening agents, emulsifiers and stabilizers in many processed foods. Both are added to improve “mouth-feel” as well as maintain a desired texture and taste.

clean label starch in yogurtModified food starches are found in a wide variety of foods.  One example is yogurt. Take a look at the list of ingredients of this popular brand of fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt:

INGREDIENTS: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Cane Sugar, Non-GMO Corn Starch, Organic Natural Vanilla Flavor, Organic Carob Bean Gum, Organic Vanilla Bean Specks, Gellan Gum

One of the biggest hurdles manufacturers face with fat-free products is texture. This is where starch additives come to the rescue. They produce a thick and creamy yogurt in the absence of fat.

“Corn starch” sounds cleaner and more natural than “modified corn starch.” But from a health standpoint, clean label starches are no better than their chemically treated counterparts. Clean label starches are just another bait and switch in my opinion.

Potential Health Concerns

Both starches are nutritionally void. And it’s not always clear what ingredient the starch was originally derived from. In most cases it’s genetically modified corn, but not always.

There are also concerns regarding cross-contamination during the manufacturing process. So be extra careful if you have any food allergies and/or sensitivities.

Some argue modified starches are difficult to digest and there is some scientific evidence to support this. Scientists in this study found certain modifications decreased the rate of digestion in vitro. However, they put a positive spin on it. They suggest modified starches may act as a good source of resistant starch.

The truth is resistant starches aren’t all bad. Our bodies can’t digest them, but they do feed the good bacteria in our digestive tract. And a healthy gut flora is essential to optimal health. However, moderation is still necessary, especially for those with digestive conditions. And most importantly, there are much healthier sources of resistant starch available, such as whole grains, legumes, seeds and cooked then cooled potatoes.

Other Potential Hidden Ingredients

Lastly, there’s buzz about modified starches containing up to 10% maltodextrin, a complex sugar and a common hiding place for monosodium glutamate (MSG). But without access to industry formulations, we’ll never really know!

Healthy Alternatives

When it comes to Greek yogurt, there are several truly clean options available. But, only if you buy it “plain” and spice it up at home.  Or you can make your own Greek style yogurt by straining 32 ounces of plain, organic, whole milk yogurt in a lined colander overnight.

For a treat, top your yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. If a little sweetness is needed, add a drizzle of raw honey or pure maple syrup. A little bit goes a long way!

In Conclusion…

As always, you need to read the ingredient lists to know what’s in your food. But even then manufacturers keep coming up with new ways to trick consumers. When it comes to food starches, both the chemically modified and clean label versions are nothing more than highly processed additives manufacturers use to make foods highly palatable.

To stay in the know about other clean label ingredients food manufacturers are using, sign-up for Mira’s newsletter today! As a thank you, you’ll receive a free copy of Mira’s eBook “Eating Out, Eating Healthy”. It’s packed with tips for making healthy choices when eating out.

Cream Of Whatever Soup

It’s winCream of mushroom soup - Campbellstertime and meal planning seems to turn to soups, stews, and casseroles.  For a lot of people that includes taking a shortcut by using some kind of creamy soup as one of the ingredients in their recipe.  Unfortunately while this seems to save time it’s actually not a great idea.

What’s in that soup can?

When it comes to canned products there are number of ingredients that are used in order to make the product more shelf stable. Or they’re added because they’re cheaper, easier to source, and more convenient for the producer.

For a lot of people using cream of potato/mushroom/onion/whatever in a recipe is something that they have a difficult time giving up.  Just adding milk to the recipe doesn’t really seem to work out too well as it’s too much liquid.  So they make a lot of changes but hold on to their creamy condensed soup-in-a-can.

I’m not only talking about Campbell’s here.  All of the canned soup companies use these types of ingredients in them.  This just happens to be the one that I’m talking about for the purposes of this article.  Remember, if you’re going to buy canned soups you must read the label and avoid negative ingredients.

Luckily you don’t need to rely on the can.  But let’s start by looking at what’s in that can and then I’ll share my favorite cream of whatever soup mix recipe.

Ingredient breakdown

Cream of mushroom soup ingredients - Campbells

  • Funny enough even though it’s condensed soup the first ingredient is still water.  That means you’re paying a lot for all of these ingredients but mostly water
  • The vegetable oils include corn, canola, and soy, three of the most genetically modified foods on the face of the planet.  GMO foods are not a great choice for health, you can read a brief blurb about it here
  • Modified food starch is often made with corn (making is a GMO) and can be more difficult for your digestive tract to process
  • Monosodium glutamate can cause a wide range of health issues.  In this particular can it’s there as monosodium glutamate, but may also be present as part of the “yeast extract”
  • Soy protein concentrate is obviously made from soy and is therefore a probable GMO ingredient. Extracted from defatted soy flour there may be a concern about pesticide accumulation during the concentration process as GMO crops tend to be heavily sprayed with glyphosate
  • Dehydrated cream is most likely to be from cows treated with rBGH, an artificial hormone linked to increased risk for diabetes, cancer, and several other heath issues.  It’s also been shown that cows treated with rBGH have a higher risk for mastitis and infertility
  • Flavoring is a very generic term and we don’t really know what it includes

Homemade alternative

Instead of reaching for the can, consider making your own cream of whatever soup mix.  Because it’s a powder it is shelf stable for quite some time and you can make enough to always have on hand for your favorite recipes

Cream of Whatever Soup Mix
Print
Ingredients
  1. 2 cups powdered organic milk
  2. 3/4 cup organic cornstarch
  3. 1/4 cup organic bouillon powder or organic bone broth powder
  4. 2 tbsp dried onion flakes
  5. 1 tsp dried basil
  6. 1 tsp dried thyme
  7. 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. To use simply mix 1/3 cup of dry mix with 1 1/4 cups of cold water in a saucepan
  2. Cook and stir until thickened
  3. If desired add 1/2 cup of additional items such as diced mushrooms
  4. Can also add directly to a casserole calling for cream of soup
Notes
  1. Store in an airtight glass jar
  2. Keeps well for 3-4 months
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy http://www.theingredientguru.com/
 
Enjoy using this and be sure to share your favorite recipes that call for cream of whatever soup mix below

Top 10 Ingredients To Avoid

I’m often asked which ingredients we should avoid in our food.  There really isn’t a simple answer for that.  I could say all of the fake ones, but that leaves you to decide which ones are fake.  And truthfully some of them aren’t “fake”, meaning they’re not entirely from chemicals.  They’re just highly modified.  Either because they’ve been through some sort of a chemical process to invert, alter, or manipulate their chemical structure to change them significantly from their original form. 

An overview of Splenda (TM)

A perfect example of manipulation is Splenda.  It started out as sugar (which some could argue is highly processed, stripped of all minerals and therefore not a great choice to begin with).  In processing it becomes modified by the addition of sucralose which is made by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen atoms and inserting three chlorine atoms in their place. Because it contains less than 5 calories per serving it’s labeled as having no calories.  (A single packet, weighing 1 gram, actually provides 3.36 calories — a miniscule amount, however this is still misleading labeling).

Unfortunately Splenda (TM) is far from the harmless non-nutritive sweetener that it’s advertised to be.  It has been shown to alter intestinal pH and reduces intestinal microflora.  We need a balanced pH for good health.  We also require beneficial levels of bacteria to help support good digestive health.

According to one report published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, there seems to be some evidence that Splenda (TM) may not be as biologically inert as advertised.  It also appears that exposure to high temperatures can cause it to break down into a toxic substance.

Ingredient Overview

While I frequently write about what ingredients are, where they appear, and other information you need to be aware of in the newsletter, I also recognize that it’s helpful to have a “cheat sheet” of sorts to give you an overview and help you break it down a little bit further.  So I’ve created the infographic below.  These are my top ten “baddies” and the ones that you really want to watch out for.  Print it out, write it down, whatever you need to do to be able to bring this information with you to the grocery store. 

top-10-ingredients-to-avoid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re looking for more in-depth information about ingredients your best resource is The Pantry Principle:  how to read the label and understand what’s really in your food. 

For regular, weekly updates on what’s going on in the world of food manufacturing and processing be sure to check out my newsletter, Food News You Can Use.

 

 

The Myth Of Weight Loss Programs

A new book is out that accuses Weight Watchers of targeting and tricking women.  (This blog post is not meant to be a dismissal of Weight Watchers alone.  It’s more of an observation of the industry as a whole.) In the article the author of the book shares a couple of sobering thoughts:

“I would boldly stand by the claim that health food, today’s health food is worse for you than junk food. It’s usually the same thing; the difference is that no one eats Fritos or Papa John’s thinking it’s good for them.”

“The whole game is about distracting people. It’s kind of like a magic trick. If we’re pointing out to you, “Hey, look over here because it’s low fat!” it’s because we’re distracting you from the fact that it’s high sugar.”

The article essentially boils down to a couple of truths.

  1. Crutch foods don’t teach you how to eat real food – if you’re being taught how to lose weight because you’re buying snacks, meals, and foods from a particular company and you can only buy their products, chances are once you go off that you will gain weight again.  This is because you get stuck in their system, you’re not learning how to nourish your body independent of their products.
  2. You MUST read and understand the label – the article actually encourages people to avoid reading the label. I believe that’s the wrong approach.  Yes, you can be easily mis-lead and manufacturers do manipulate in a number of different ways.  However I believe that if you understand the label and know what you’re looking at, this is your best option to be able to make informed, intelligent decisions about your food.

I know a lot of people who have successfully lost weight with Weight Watchers. Unfortunately I also know a lot of people who have lifetime memberships. If you’ve lost weight that’s wonderful and I’m happy for you. Really I am. But if you’re yoyo-ing and you think it’s your fault I want to tell you you’re really not to blame.  The truth is even though you lost weight on the program, you still haven’t learned how to eat real food.

Another truth? Not everyone who eats real food is super skinny. Thin does NOT equal healthy.  In some cases thin is unhealthy.  That’s counter to what the beauty industry, all those glamor magazines, and the weight loss industry would have you believe.  But I promise you there are people out there who are thin and unhealthy.  What’s more important is to be nourished.  To learn to avoid crappy ingredients, to be healthy in body and mind, and to eat real food.

What’s That Flavor?

what's that flavor

Food manufacturers are always looking for new ways to keep consumers engaged with their brands.  They’re also looking for new ways to encourage you to eat, or a new flavor to tempt you with.  After all, the more you eat, the more profitable their product is.  Unfortunately this has turned us into a nation of snackers.

We’ve been so effectively marketed to that we think we have to have snacks.  Even more than that, when we say the word snack most people think chips, pretzels, granola bars, or other high carbohydrate foods which deliver a lot of calories and little to no actual nutrition.  

a snack is not a meal

Unfortunately the more we snack the less hungry we are when meal time comes around.  So perhaps we don’t eat a real meal.  And then a couple of hours later we’re hungry again and it’s time for another snack.  By the time you get to the end of the day it’s possible that you’ve simply snacked for the entire day.  You go to bed, wake up, and do it all over again. The challenge is that you’re just making yourself hungrier and hungrier.  Your belly may be full, but your body is not nourished.

Snacking is not meant to replace mealtime.  It’s a mini-meal.  A little something to keep you going if you’re hungry in between regular, nourishing meals.  Preferably something that has a little protein and a healthy fat.  Healthy snacking can help to keep your blood sugar stable.  All day snacking, especially with high carbohydrate snack foods can put you in the front row seat of the blood sugar rollercoaster.

manufacturer manipulation

As part of their effort to keep you snack-engaged, food manufacturers sometimes run campaigns designed to get consumer feedback on flavors.  One example is the Pepsi Co. “Do Us A Flavor” campaign which they’ve been running since 2012.  [I’m deliberately not linking to it because I don’t want to participate in bringing attention to it — you’ll see why in just a minute]  Thanks to this campaign they’ve come up with different, unusual flavors of potato chips such as Korean Barbeque or Smoked Gouda and Chives.  Some manufacturers are looking to build brand excitement by “retiring” flavors or creating “limited editions” in an effort to create a scarcity effect.

By creating these campaigns the manufacturers are hoping to build further brand engagement.  To hook you a little bit more closely to the brand.  They don’t need to guess at developing new products.  Consumers tell them exactly what they want so the manufacturer can make it.  It allows them to save money and tempt you to eat more snacks.

All of these flavors, however, don’t add up to good nutrition.  They simply add up to more chemicals and more calories. 

new flavors

 

resources

If you’re looking for a healthy snack check out this article on protein snacks to boost energy.

Want to know more about flavors and how they’re used in food?  

When you’re looking for a snack, remember, a snack is not a meal.  Choose a little something with some protein in it and have just enough to get through your day to your next meal.  You’ll feel better and your metabolism will be more balanced because of it.