How processed foods affect our health

And they know you’re reading the label, so they’re sneaky about the forms they take. Anything that ends in “ose” is a kind of sugar, and sodium even if it’s listed as sodium this or sodium that is still sodium.

Then there are the additives that are probably bad for you in any quantity, like trans fats, which also masquerade under other aliases, like” hydrogenated” something, and the nitrites in processed meat that have been proven to increase risk of certain cancers and tumors. The very common corn and soy, which are cheap for manufacturers to use, don’t agree with everyone’s system and so are camouflaged.

Some things, like pink slime, are just plain gross psychologically, although their harmful effects may not be as bad as excessive sugar and salt. For example, castoreum is an extract that comes from the glands of beavers’ nether regions, and is used sometimes in berry flavorings. Shiny candy like jelly beans can be shellacked with a confectioner’s glaze that contains insect secretions. Wood pulp, or cellulose, cheaply thickens salad dressings and shredded cheese and lowers calories and increases fiber in breads. A kind of sand called silicon diozide, “improves” the texture of some ground meat-based fast food items like chili or taco filling. A nitrogen salt compound and fertilizer called ammonium sulfate is added to fast food buns and breads to neutralize acidity. Titanium dioxide lightens the color of foods like skim milk, frosting, coffee creamer and salad dressing. Various food dyes cause anything from a mild allergic reaction to a serious health risk; some are banned in other countries but okay here. More dangerous chemicals like 3-MCPD and the preservative BHA are toxic and have been accused of raising cancer risk.

Often there are even more additives in a product than what appears on the label; groups of chemicals often come under a catch-all like “natural and artificial flavors.”

It’s not always about what is added but what is removed in food processing. The vitamins, minerals and healthy fiber in wheat berries, wheat germ and bran, and the outer parts of rice, are eliminated when the grain is converted from healthy whole grain to refined white pap.

Going to extremes and always avoiding all processed meats, baked goods, and such may be very difficult for some of us, after lifetime habits, but it’s wise to just be aware, to learn the language of processed foods, to read labels and see what’s really in there, to know it has MSG and sugar masquerading as soy protein isolate or natural flavor, as barley malt or xylose, for example. Look at the ingredients in a frozen pizza or in ready-to-microwave eggs and ham, miles long and full of chemicals. Knowledge is power.

And if you want to control what you eat, make it yourself when time allows. I used to use a lot of frozen dinners and canned soups; they were easy and convenient to heat up, even without a microwave. But I’ve found it’s just as easy to run a plastic tub of home-frozen homemade soup under hot water to loosen it and toss it into a saucepan at low heat. And it’s much healthier, and to me, much tastier, too, although I began the practice to save money. When it’s snack time, instead of a snack cake or Slim Jim, eat fruit, nuts or cut up veggies with bean dip or vinaigrette. But you know that already.

When food is processed to preserve it a while (a year or less) or to improve its texture or palatability (cheese, coffee), it’s one thing, but it’s not right that the big manufacturers add chemicals to bleach it or dry it out, or salts, sugars and fats to replace the real flavor lost in processing. You can control what you consume.

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