Ingredient Profile #6: Potassium Bromate

The flour you’re eating just may have more than flour inside of it.  Say hello to potassium bromate, the ingredient being profiled this week.  The processed food industry and the bakery aisle of your local supermarket have long been incorporating this food additive into the flour that they bake with for three main reasons (Aguayo):

  1.  Flour enriched with potassium bromate enables the actual baked good or bread product to expand more in the oven, and thus rise to its full potential (Aguayo).
  2. This additive alters the physical appearance of bread and baked goods by giving these foods a more appealing and appetizing coloration (Aguayo).
  3. When potassium bromate is coupled with flour, the dough of bread and baked goods become less fragile and delicate.  This results in a more consistent, well built dough for manufacturers to then bake (Aguayo).

Over a decade and a half ago, the International Agency for Research on cancer publicly announced it is likely and probable that potassium bromate leads to the acquisition of cancer.  Unfortunately, the usage of potassium bromate is still perfectly legal in the United States, unlike numerous places across the globe.  Interestingly, Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Brazil do not permit potassium bromate to be incorporated in their food products.  Research demonstrates that animals who consume potassium bromate are more likely to develop malignant tumors, particularly in their thyroid and kidneys (Aguayo).

The American processed food industry stands strong in their conviction that potassium bromate is altered and changes to potassium bromide (which does not lead to the acquisition of cancer) through exposure to heat during the baking process.  Nevertheless, the United Kingdom conducted extensive research in order to test this hypothesis, and they discovered that a food product’s exposure to heat during the baking process does not eliminate potassium bromate in totality.  For instance, all six of the unwrapped breads that the United Kingdom experimented with and approximately one third of the wrapped breads still contained a substantial amount of potassium bromate following the baking process.  Although no mandatory labeling laws have been enacted in the United States concerning potassium bromate, the state of California has taken it upon itself to create its own legislation surrounding this food additive.  The Californian Proposition 65 list includes potassium bromate, and as a result, all goods that are made with potassium bromate are required to have a cautionary message on the product, detailing information about its link to cancer.  For all of those that do not hail from the Golden State, the fastest and most foolproof way to determine whether or not the bread and baked goods you consume are created using potassium bromate is to check the ingredient label (Aguayo).

Time and time again, it appears as though the United States is far behind other countries in enacting legislation to promote and protect the health of its citizens and also appears somewhat unwilling to educate the public about the food that it consumes.  Why do you think that this is?  Who is responsible for the current lack of food legislation and food education in the USA: the government, the food industry, or the citizens who either don’t want to know or don’t do anything about it?  I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

Aguayo, Jose and Leiba, Nneka. “Potassium Bromate.” ewg. Environmental Working Group, 14 Oct. 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. <http://www.ewg.org/research/potassium-bromate>

Great Question!

I recently received a great question from one of my subscribers  in response to my blog post: “Ingredient Profile #5:  Carrageenan.”  I was asked “Does carrageenan have any of the same negative inflammatory side effects when eaten in it’s natural form of seaweed?”  The short answer to this question is “no.”  In order to create the carrageenan that’s found inside dairy products like ice-cream, polysaccharides are removed from seaweed, and are then processed by manufacturers from around the globe (Guiry).  To that end, the natural form of seaweed actually has multiple positive health effects, and contains many vitamins and minerals (Treasures).  For example, seaweed offers B-vitamin folate, antioxidants, magnesium, iron, and calcium in vast quantities (Treasures).  Interestingly, it has been noted by numerous scientists that in countries like Japan, where seaweed is a culinary staple, the society overall is less likely to have high rates of obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease (Treasures).  In America, I would venture to guess that the most common food that seaweed is found in is probably sushi, however, it’s very versatile and can add flavor to soups and salads as well.

I hope this helps to answer your question!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

Guiry Michael. Seaweed.  AlgaeBase,  2014.  Web.  3 Jan. 2014. <http://www.seaweed.ie/uses_general/carrageenans.php>

“Treasures of the Sea Yield Natural Cures.” Tidal Greens.  Oceanic Naturals, N.D. Web.  3 Jan. 2014. <http://www.tidalgreens.com/benefit.html>

Ingredient Profile #5: Carrageenan

In many cultures across the world, green and red seaweed are considered delicacies.  Found in sushi and salads, most people enjoy the flavor and taste of seaweed in certain types of food.  But I’d also venture to say that most people wouldn’t enjoy seaweed in their ice cream.  But that’s exactly what the processed food industry is currently serving up, by the gallon.  Interestingly, carrageenan is extracted from  red seaweed (Zerbe).  It’s been employed by the food industry for three main purposes:

1.  To create a more palatable consistency in certain dairy products (Zerbe).

2.  To make low-fat types of ice cream, milk, yogurt, etc. appear more plentiful (Zerbe).

3.  To keep the ingredients in certain beverages together, and prevent separation (Zerbe).

The problem with using carrageenan in such a hodgepodge of processed food items is that it irritates the digestive system.  Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, Joanne Tobacman, M.D. has done extensive research on the effects of carrageenan on the human body.  Tobacman reports “Carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding.”  In addition, she’s discovered a connection between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancer after conducting several experiments with lab animals (Zerbe).

Carrageenan can be found in a variety of different products, including, but not limited to: chocolate, yogurt, soy milk, milk products, milk replacements, frozen dinners, canned soups, broth, and ice cream (Zerbe).  The foolproof way to avoid it is by scanning the product’s ingredient label, but also, the Cornucopia Institute has compiled a Carrageenan Buying Guide that lists out the brands of foods that contain the ingredient and brands of food that don’t (Zerbe).  Here’s the link to the article I used for research on this week’s blog topic (it contains a link to the Cornucopia Institute Carrageenan Buying Guide):

http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/carrageenan-natural-ingredient-you-should-ban-your-diet

One of the things that really struck me in my research was the following fact:  Carrageenan could be eliminated from ALL beverages in the United States if food manufacturers replaced the ingredient with a simple reminder for consumers to shake their drinks well (Zerbe).  What do you think it says about the American food system and consumerism in this country that food companies would rather add this ingredient into their products to make them more aesthetically pleasing instead of focusing on the health of their customers?  What do you think this says about the customers?  Let me know!

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

Zerbe, Leah. “The Natural Ingredient You Should Ban From Your Diet.” Prevention. Rodale, Incorporated. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. <http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/carrageenan-natural-ingredient-you-should-ban-your-diet>

Ingredient Profile #4: Cellulose

Did you know that you have more than likely consumed wood if you’ve ever eaten  packaged shredded cheese?  Crazy, right?  Cellulose, an additive incorporated into various dairy products, as well as other foods,p is a filler or binder that mimics the effects of flour and oil, and is now being used by a growing number of processed food companies.  It’s a less costly, if chemical, way to thicken foods and reduce shipping costs while simultaneously increasing their fiber content.  In particular, cellulose is a member of the hydrocolloid family, and consists of wood pulp.  To create cellulose in the powdered form, manufacturers must first cook raw plant fiber (mostly wood) with an assortment of other chemicals in order to separate the cellulose.  After this occurs, the cellulose mixture is purified and then taken to the final stage of processing, where it interacts with acid to fully decompose any remaining plant fibers (Nassauer).

Some say that cellulose is absolutely fine to consume, as we consume it through a variety of other plant and grain sources from the Earth, but this is not the case.  The cellulose or plant fibers that enter your body after you eat a vegetable aren’t the same plant fibers that you’d be consuming after you finished a handful of shredded cheese or a dollop of sour cream with cellulose powder in the ingredient list.  In fact, the cellulose found in a majority of dairy products has been heavily processed.  It’s man-made from a scientific laboratory, instead of originating from the Earth.  Therefore, the bottom line is that not all cellulose is the same…you have to be careful about where you’re getting it from (Michaelis).

If the thought of eating processed wood pulp and plant fibers disgusts you, there are ways to limit, if not eradicate this additive from your diet.  As mentioned above, one of the most common places cellulose is found is in shredded cheeses.  Just as an aside, even companies like Organic Valley use it, so just because the product is organic doesn’t mean that it is additive-free (Michaelis).  Anyway, you can always opt to purchase an entire block of cheese at the supermarket and shred it yourself.  This will not only save you money, as the bigger blocks of cheese tend to be much cheaper than the bags of shredded cheese, but you will also be avoiding excess chemicals.  In addition, begin to purchase dairy products that are full fat, rather than the low/reduced fat or “skinny” replicas.  This may seem counterintuitive, but in actuality, when manufacturers extract fat out of normally fatty foods, the only option they are left with is to compensate with added fillers and man-made chemicals in order to provide a creamy mouth-feel (Michaelis).

Obviously, the FDA and our federal government allows cellulose to be added to certain food products, but I’d be interested in whether or not you feel the name of this additive is misleading.  Should ingredient labels boast “chemically processed wood pulp”  or “chemically processed plant fibers” in order for consumers to properly understand what they’re buying, or do you think that the naming of this ingredient is appropriate?  Let me know!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

M. Kristen. “Would You Like Some Wood Pulp In Your Shredded Cheese?” FoodRegenade. Food Regenade. 2013. Web. 28 May 2013. <http://www.foodrenegade.com/would-like-some-wood-pulp-your-shredded-cheese/>

Nassauer, Sarah. “Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier.” Wall Street Journal. 4 May 2011: Web. Dow Jones Company, Inc. 28 May 2013. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916>

Ingredient Profile #3: Brominated Vegetable Oil

I can honestly say that I never thought brominated vegetable oil and flame retardant were phrases that could ever appear in the same sentence.  However, all of this changed when I began to read about this type of oil, which is surprisingly used in roughly 10% of our nation’s sodas and energy drinks.  Turns out, brominated vegetable oil is a food additive that acts as an emulsifier to hold the contents of a beverage together.  For example, this oil is contained in Mountain Dew to ensure that the beverage is homogeneous throughout, so the citrus flavoring of the drink is bound evenly throughout the can.  In addition, this chemical also gives sodas (especially Mountain Dew) their cloudy look.

This substance is in fact banned in Europe and Japan, and it’s not difficult to see why:  this ingredient was first procured as a flame retardant.  These flame retardants have been added to countless everyday household objects, including:  children’s toys,  foam cushions in upholstered couches,  and the plastics in some electronics.  Therefore, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when scientists began to hypothesize that symptoms from exposure to brominated vegetable oil could be quite similar to the ones from brominated flame retardants.  The concern about brominated vegetable oil is its link to skin lesions, memory loss, and some nerve disorders.  Furthermore, it has been proven that the element bromine from the oil has the capacity to build up in your fatty tissues overtime, thus having a negative effect on your body.  Animal studies have also been conducted that indicate excess portions of foods that contain the chemical can cause reproductive problems.

However, the good news is that consumers have become more aware of the hazards and side effects associated with brominated vegetable oil and have begun to voice their opinions about how it should be taken out of beverage formulas.  For instance, Gatorade removed this oil from its products as a result of a petition begun by Sarah Kavanagh, from Hattiesburg Mississippi.  More than 200,000 people signed this document and it definitely caught the attention of PepsiCo Incorporated.  Currently, another petition has started with the hope of trying to convince Coca-Cola to remove brominated vegetable oil from Powerade.  With 49,000 signatures and counting,  signers are showing that they no longer want to accept chemical additives in the beverages that they consume.

It’s empowering to learn what other consumers are doing to raise the American standard for foods and beverages.  Keep in mind that producers will usually try to get away with as little as they can, nutritionally speaking, so it’s really awesome to see buyers standing up for their rights.  The wonderful thing about being a citizen of this country is our unlimited and numerous opportunities for communication with each other.  Together, we can all be the voice of change in the food industry.

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

P.S.  I am pleased to announce that you will receive an additional post this week by guest blogger, Elizabeth (my sister!).  As part of a Language Arts assignment, she has to publish a writing piece.  Elizabeth is as passionate about nutrition as I am, so I know you will enjoy it!  I’ll be back with my regular Tuesday post next week.

References

Environmental Health News and Israel, Brett. ScientificAmerican. Scientific American Incorporated. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Lopez, Ricardo. “After Gatorade Removes Controversial Ingredient BVO, Will Powerade?” Los Angeles Times 13 Feb. 2013: Web. Touch.LATimes. 20 Feb. 2013.

Ingredient Profile #2: Red 40

I hope that everyone enjoyed last week’s double post!  I was experimenting with the scheduling feature (it worked!)  and didn’t want to interfere with my usual Tuesday delivery.  

Ever wonder what Doritos, doughnuts with pink frosting, the outer shells of M&M’s and fruit roll-ups have in common?  They all contain Red 40, which is just one of the multiple synthetic dyes that lurk in our food.  In fact, giant food manufacturers and industrial corporations pour approximately 15 million pounds of these artificial chemicals into their products each year.  But why do they do it exactly?  Strictly as a means to make their products more enticing to Americans, thereby increasing their sales revenue.  There is absolutely no added nutritional value to Red 40, (or Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5 or Yellow 6 for that matter).  In fact, it has been scientifically proven that Red 40 is carcinogenic.  This declaration comes from the findings of the following contaminants in Red 40: aniline, benzidine, and p-cresidine.

Scrupulous research also indicates that the effects of Red 40 and other synthetic dyes is even more detrimental to children.  Due to the fact that their organs and organ systems aren’t fully grown, smaller amounts of these artificial chemicals lead to larger and more concerning health conflicts.  For example, Red 40 has been proven to cause aggressiveness, irritability, and learning impairments.  Furthermore, one of the most concerning side effects of the consumption of Red 40 is how it increases hyperactivity.  The more frequently a child consumes it, the more probable it is that they’ll suffer from restlessness and attention problems.  Interestingly, in a 2007 study conducted in Britain, children fed beverages with an array of these artificial chemicals portrayed wild and overactive behavior within an hour.  Thus, a few years back, the British government made a request that companies terminate the usage of such synthetic dyes in all of their products.  On July 20, 2010, the European Union demanded warning labels on dyed foods.  This is a portion of the warning that appears on the labels in Europe today: “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

You can purchase a McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae in both the continents of Europe and North America.  However, it fascinates me that in Massachusetts, the sundae you receive is colored with Red 40, while the sundae you receive in Britain is colored with strawberries.  Real strawberries…imagine that!  It’s baffling and sad that the standards and quality of ingredients used in the USA are often less than the standards and quality of ingredients used elsewhere.  This week, try to eliminate Red 40 and other synthetic dyes from your diet and let me know if you notice a difference in how you feel.  Also, remember that eating is sort of like voting.  If you want to change our food system or you’re tired of the “food” that isn’t really food, only purchase products that you believe are or should be the American standard.  It really does take one person at a time to make a difference!

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

References:

Bruso, Jessica. Livestrong. Demand Media Incorporated. 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2012.

—. Child-Behavior-Guide. Child-Behavior-Guide. 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2012.

—. CSPINET. Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2012.

Fulton, April. NPR. NPR. 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2012.

Shapley, David. TheDailyGreen. Hearst Communications Incorporated. 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2012.

Stokes, Milton. EatingWell. Meredith Corporation. 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2012.

Ingredient Profile #1: High Fructose Corn Syrup

The ingredient labels on the food that we purchase and then eat are so confusing.  You almost need a magnifying glass to read every single word on the label, and half of the ingredients are impossible to pronounce, super complicated and misleading.  I mean, who REALLY knows what xanthan gum is, what really makes an acid “citric” and I’m just throwing this out there…how can an ingredient be a color (RED 40!)?  Therefore, one of the goals of my blog is to shed some light on some of the most cunning and controversial ingredients out there.  Although I certainly don’t have all of the answers, I hope that you’ll find my research and knowledge helpful.  I love questions too, and I’m always willing to find an answer, so feel free to post comments about ingredients you’d like to know more about!

I thought that I’d start my Ingredient Profiles with the one and only, High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It constantly has its name in lights, whether it’s being showcased and debated in the newspaper, the radio, or the TV.  HFCS is genetically modified sugar and it’s almost unnerving as to how many foods it can be found in at the grocery store.  Literally, from hamburger buns to salad dressings to breakfast cereals to soda, HFCS is lurking.  In addition, it’s found in some candy, which is another reason that I thought writing about it would be fitting, because it’s almost Halloween.

HFCS is not a “whole” food and it cannot be found anywhere in nature.  At its core, HFCS is a sweetener that food manufacturers rely heavily on because it is cheap and makes their products more attractive.  Furthermore, on average, Americans consumed 58 pounds of it in 2006.  Due to the fact that it’s sugar, it does lead to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, but what I find most interesting about it is how it is absorbed into the body.  Unlike regular sugar, which consists of 50% fructose and 50% glucose, HFCS is made of up of 55% fructose and 45% glucose.  Unlike regular cane sugar, the fructose and glucose in HFCS is not chemically bonded together.  Consequently, the body doesn’t have to digest HFCS, which almost instantaneously finds its way into our bloodstream.  HFCS then slowly but surely deteriorates the liver, not to mention the enormous low blood sugar that can come quickly after consuming it in large amounts.  Lastly, HFCS is not purely HFCS, instead traces of contaminants have been found in it, the first and most important contaminant being mercury.  However, it is impossible to know the exact traces and amounts of contaminants, because, as a general rule, food companies don’t like this kind of information to be released.

I love love love (did I mention that I LOVE) Sir Francis Bacon’s quote, “Knowledge is power” and I think that it applies a great deal to making healthy food choices and being a proactive and empowered consumer.  While we can’t live in fear about what we’re eating and become paranoid about the ingredients that make up our food, it is beneficial to have a general understanding of some of the most common chemicals found in our food.  It’s unfair that food labels are so unclear, and I hope that in reading this blog, you feel compelled to find some answers to a daunting question, “What’s REALLY inside the food that we eat?”

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

🙂 Katie

References:

Bruso, Jessica. “Cane Sugar Vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup.” Livestrong. Demand Media Inc. 2011. Web. 27 Oct. 2012.

Hyman, Mark. “The Not-So-Sweet Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup.” HuffingtonPost. The Huffington Post. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2012.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. 375 Hudson St. New York, NY: The Penguin Group, 2009. Print.