In today’s fast-paced and modernised world, highly processed food takes a prominent place in our daily lives, and wouldn’t budge. In the process of ‘making’ food to feed the masses, and in the name of profit, numerous additives are included in almost all processed and packaged food. These additives are not natural, not supposed to be part of our diet. Ingesting them has proven to be problematic to our health, as allergies to food additives surface and are on the rise.
Nature intends for us to consume its fruits, vegetables and grains in their most wholesome and unaltered state. Any attempts to process these precious gifts to us already removes much of the nutrients, enzymes and other goodness.
On top of that, manufacturers want to prolong the shelf life of their products, hence preservatives; make the products taste awesome, hence flavour enhancers and other stuff that change the texture of the food; make the products look appealing to the eye, hence food colourings.
In this article, we will focus on the preservatives added to foods to prolong their shelf lives.
Trans fat exists naturally in animal fat and dairy, but the amount is nowhere near what is present in processed foods. Manufacturers in the food industry add hydrogen to oils (for instance, vegetable, sunflower, or olive) to make them more ‘solid’, without which the oils simply exist in the liquid state under room temperature. This allows for longer shelf life, as well as flavour and texture stability, as the oils will not melt so easily.
Unfortunately, this process of adding hydrogen produces trans fat, a big evil to our health: high cholesterol, high triglycerides, coronary heart disease, etc. It is present in many processed foods like cakes, cookies, biscuits, and crackers.
A rummage through my pantry turned up hydrogenated coconut oil in my instant milk green tea, as well as hydrogenated palm oil in my favourite milk red tea, my daily indulgence. Hmmmmm….
Even though some products may claim zero trans fat, it may not be truly so, as they are allowed to round down from half a gram to zero. Scrutinise the ingredients list, anything with ‘partially hydrogenated oil’, ‘hydrogenated oil’ or ‘shortening’ means it actually does contain trans fat.
BHA and BHT
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are chemical preservatives added to many processed foods like baked goods, potato chips, cereal, instant mashed potatoes, butter, preserved meat, chewing gum, etc. They are actually antioxidants, preventing oxygen from reacting with the fats and oils in foods to spoil them.
They are skin irritants to some sensitive people. In sufficiently large amounts, they have been found to be carcinogenic, and endocrine disruptors, as they can affect hormones.
Sulfur Dioxide and Sulfites
Sulfur dioxide and sulfites (e.g. sodium sulfite) are used mainly as preservatives in processed meats like sausages and burger meats, as well as dried fruits. They are able to keep the food looking good, and prevent spoilage through their antimicrobial properties.
At the same time, they are also allergens, and can cause reactions in some people, especially those prone to asthma. The reactions can range from mild, for example hives, to severe, like difficulty in breathing, or even anaphylactic shock.
So what do all these mean? No preservatives in our food, so do we leave them to go rancid and rot, or risk food poisoning after having stored our biscuits for just a few days? No, no… the answer is in the … …
Natural preservatives abound these days, so look for manufacturers who use these in their products: citric acid, grapeseed extract, rosemary extract, and vitamins (in the form of ascorbic acid and tocopherol). These are just a few of the many possibilities of using natural substances to preserve our food.
On a side note, anyone can be allergic to any substance, even naturally occurring ones. I’m sure we all know this, but I just want to put out this reminder here.
That is not to say if we are allergic to some natural preservative, then going back to synthetic ones are better for us. Even if they don’t give us any reaction, the fact is those chemicals are not supposed to be ingested. So no matter what, they will accumulate and add on to the toxic load of our body. When our internal garbage bin starts to overflow, that is when health issues start to show: rashes, hives, skin outbreaks, headache, fatigue, chronic pain, etc.
Here are our top 2 choices of convenient foods that are easy to have when you are on the go, without any synthetic preservatives. They are even gluten free, as my two eczema warriors are on a gluten free diet.
Alternatively, go for the freshest produce, adopt the mentality that foods that spoil the fastest are in fact the best for us. As opposed to foods that can sit on the shelf for eternity, are they even food anymore, or are they more similar to plastic?
You can make the choice today
As I rummaged through my pantry and refrigerator to look for ingredients lists of processed foods, for the purpose of writing this article, I realised that apart from a few items intended for just the grownups (instant milk tea, bread, some remnant packet drinks, and instant noodles), the food inventory in our home is mainly items in their raw and most original state, unprocessed: fruits and vegetables line the fridge; grains like brown rice, oats, quinoa, as well as some pasta, rice milk, vinegar and raw honey take up most of the pantry.
Our meals and our health now revolve around these, as there was a conscious overhaul to our food inventory at the start of this year, to eat as clean as possible. We did this for the sake of the two eczema warriors, but everyone else benefited from this overhaul too.
Remember, you have the choice. Load your body with clean and real food, and it will reward you with a healthy, bountiful life. Heal from the inside out. You are what you eat.