Preservatives, Additives, Hydrogenated Oils, Oh My!

While grocery shopping yesterday, I ventured over to the frozen food isle to see why it was so busy, what’s in those coolers that’s so darn good?  I was almost expecting to see a monster with 3 heads or a dancing monkey, but no such luck.  Of course I found the usual pizza, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, but also a whole range of stuff that was already made and just needed to be heated up in the oven.  Lots of items that make it incredibly convenient for a busy mom to feed her kids.  I get that, there is very little time in the day and it is important to make sure people in your family aren’t going hungry!  While I understand that frozen foods make life a lot easier, it may not be the best choice for the health of the family.  I’ve spent some time looking up information on processed food, so we can see what really goes into those processed foods that make life easier.

The meat used to make foods such as hot dogs, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and bologna comes from the scraping of animals bones after the main cuts of meat have been used.  The bones go through a sieve, forcing out the rest of the meat that is attached to the bone.  It looks like this:

I’m sure you notice that it looks nothing like chicken, or pork.  It looks like gobledy-gook.  At this point it is just ground up meat and fat, but not the good meat that you carve off the chicken first, the meat that you usually throw away because it looks less than appetizing.  Along with the meat is the fat that is left, and this isn’t organic, grass-fed chicken fat we’re dealing with, either.  And,  it doesn’t taste quite like chicken, yet.

Before they are shamelessly shaped into animals shapes and packed into a container stamped with the most popular cartoon label, this meat is  further processed with food colorings, preservatives, and flavorings.  These flavorings make it taste and feel more “like chicken,” and allow it to sit in your freezer or refrigerator for a longer period of time.  To give you a couple examples of the ingredient labels found on processed foods, I’ve found the label for Tyson Dinosaur Shaped Chicken Nuggets and of course, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

Tyson Dinosaur Shaped Chicken Nuggets:

Chicken breast with rib meat, water, dried whole eggs, seasoning (salt, onion powder, modified corn starch, natural flavor), and sodium phosphates. Breaded with: Enriched unbleached wheat flour (enriched with niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, dextrose, iodized salt, yellow corn flour, modified corn starch, dried whey, soy flour, sugar, spices, caramel color, garlic powder, methylcellulose, oleoresin paprika, spice extractive. Breading set in vegetable oil.

Let’s dissect this nugget.  I’m no chemist, so the ingredient list looks a little foreign to me, I had to look up a few of the ingredients on Wikipedia.

Sodium phosphates: commonly used as a food preservative; another form of sodium nitrate is the stuff they give a colonoscopy patient in preparation for their procedure in order to “clean them out.”  Yum.

Niacin is a nutrient, they have filled the flour they bread the nuggets in with nutrients, because otherwise flour has no nutritional value.

Ferrous sulfate: often used to fortify foods and treat iron deficiency anemia. “Ferrous sulfate can also be used to stain concrete and some limestones and sandstones a yellowish rust color.” Wikipedia   I just thought I’d throw that one in there.

Thiamine mononitrate: vitamin B1- more enriching of the flour

Riboflavin: more vitamin B

Dextrose: another form of sugar (anything ending in “ose” on a food label is probably sugar)

Methylcellulose: a thickener, also used in shampoo, toothpaste, liquid soap, paint,  and ice cream

Sugar: oh look, more sugar…in chicken????

Minus the colonoscopy and the concrete staining stuff, there wasn’t anything TOO scary in there, but let me ask you this: if your child came held up a bottle of Methylcellulose or Thiamine mononitrate, would you let them partake?  Or would you make a strange face and say “put that down, don’t touch that!”  How many times have you read the ingredients to the food in front of you and said “What’s that?” but ate it anyways?  I am guilty, I’ve done it! It’s really hard to know exactly what is in everything we eat, but it is easy to take an interest in it and begin really looking at things and contemplating whether it is something you or your family should eat.

Next up, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets–the most healthy part of the kid’s meal, right?

Chicken, water, salt, sodium phosphates. Battered and breaded with: bleached wheat flour, water, wheat flour, food starch-modified, salt, spices, wheat gluten, paprika, dextrose, yeast, garlic powder, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and cottonseed oil with mono -and diglycerides, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, ammonium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), natural flavor (plant source) with extractives of paprika. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane made of silicone[4] is added as an antifoaming agent.[5] The list may be slightly different outside of the United States.

This list looks a lot like the last one, many of the same ingredients: thickeners, sugar, preservatives and silicone….WHAT?   SILICONE?  Yes, the same agent used in Silly Putty is a food additive used in McNuggets.

Another ingredient of concern here is both recipe’s use of hydrogenated oil.  Hydrogenated oil is everywhere, but what is it?  Hydrogenated oil occurs when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, which makes it a trans fat.  Trans fat is especially dangerous for your heart, it lowers your good cholesterol and raises your bad cholesterol. Double whammy. (Mayo Clinic).

Cholesterol is only something adults have to worry about though, right?  According to the American Heart Association, no: “Compelling evidence shows that the atherosclerotic process (buildup of fatty plaque in arteries) begins in childhood and progresses slowly into adulthood. Then it often leads to coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.”

Hydrogenated oil is found in baked goods such as crackers, cookies, and cakes, as well as fried foods like doughnuts and in fast food, like french fries and chicken nuggets!  Go take a look at your pantry and see what you can find, are your favorite snacks and prepared foods filled with preservatives, additives, and hydrogenated oils?  How long is the ingredient label?  10, 20, 30 ingredients long?  When an ingredient list exceeds 5 ingredients, I start to wonder why it needs all of that extra stuff and start looking for something a little more natural, such as fruit and vegetables.  Take some of your day off and look at labels with your kids, if you need Wikipedia to understand them, it may not be worth eating!

PS-When I ran the spell check on this post, half of the ingredient list was underlined in red….the spell check didn’t even recognize that stuff!


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