Eartha Steward: Skipping preservatives this season
December 19, 2012
Great food is my favorite holiday tradition. I was curious if there are any food additives to avoid when I have to take that shortcut from work to the grocery store and onto the party?
– Laurie, Frisco
Homemade meals, made from whole foods, are often the best. They are fresh in flavor and rich in tradition. By contrast, purchasing premade/packaged foods will introduce more additives into your diet. These sweeteners, preservatives, fillers, etc. are often used to maintain the taste and quality. However, there are a few food additives that pose a risk to your health.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration describes a food additive as ‘any substance added to food’ either during production, processing, treatment, packaging, transportation or storage. Directly or indirectly, the additive alters the characteristics of the food. The FDA explains that direct food additives serve a specific purpose and most are identified on the ingredient label. An example is xanthan gum used to add texture in salad dressings, chocolate milk, bakery fillings, etc. Indirect additives become part of the food in trace amounts due to its packaging, storage, or handling. Manufacturers must prove to the FDA that all materials in contact with the food are safe.
“Top 10 Food Additives to Avoid” (Foodmatters.tv/) lists the most notorious additives. Aspartame, aka Nutrasweet, is the artificial sweetener used in ‘diet’ and ‘sugar free’ foods. According to MedicinNet.com, the controversy surrounding aspartame stems from ‘conflicts of interest in the studies performed and the way in which its approval was obtained.’ Dr. Robert Walton has surveyed 166 studies on the health risks of aspartame. Of the 74 studies funded by the Nutrasweet industry, 100 percent confirmed the product’s safety. However, 92 percent of the independently funded research revealed causes for concern when consuming aspartame. Headaches, depression, and cancer are a few of the listed side effects. It’s also worth noting that as recently as October, NPR posted an article stating that data linking aspartame to cancer is ‘weak.’ Contradicting opinions aside, if you are trying to cut calories to avoid the excess holiday weight gain, exercise caution or eat whole foods without aspartame and exercise.
Another artificial sweetener that can leave a sour taste in your mouth is High Fructose Corn Syrup. HFCS is found in most processed foods, is considered the ‘number one source of calories in America,’ it increases bad cholesterol and contributes to the development of diabetes. WebMD.com describes a study conducted in 43 different countries comparing exposure to HFCS and rates of diabetes. Half of the countries featured in the study had limited to no HFCS in their diet. While the other half of the study was regularly exposed to HFCS, i.e. the United States, where an average citizen may consume up to 55 pounds of the artificial sweetener in a single year! The study revealed that the countries with more HFCS had a 20 percent higher rate of diabetes.
Researchers say that there was no difference between the countries’ consumption of sugars and calories, just High Fructose Corn Syrup. While Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, argues “Just because an ingredient is available in a nation’s diet does not mean it is uniquely the cause of a disease.” And too much of any sugar can be bad for you.
I enjoy using agave nectar as a natural sweetener. You’ll only need 1/3 cup of agave to substitute for a full cup of white sugar. Agave has a lower glycemic index, meaning that your blood sugar will not rise as much after consuming agave compared to HFCS and other sugars. You can use agave nectar in your candies, cakes and cookies during the holiday season.
Another one of my favorite foods is guacamole. Unfortunately the meat of the avocado turns brown when exposed to oxygen. Antioxidants can be added to these foods to prevent spoiling. I have also developed a cheat when it comes to bring guacamole to a party. You just chop up the vegetables (peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, etc.) and cilantro in advance. They store well in the fridge for a few days and will keep in the freezer. You can bring the thawed mix, lemon/lime juice, and ripe avocados to a party. If you really catch yourself in a bind for time, Wholly Guacamole is a delicious store-bought brand. The company uses a ‘high pressure processing technology’ to preserve their 100 percent all-natural, fresh-tasting product. Hopefully we’ve provided a little more info on additives and some solutions to eat just a little healthier this holiday season.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.