Twinkies Deconstructed

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Steve Ettlinger is like most Americans and eats processed foods.  When his daughter asked him what polysorbate 60 was, he decided it was time to find out.

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats was the result.

Steve takes you though the whole jungle of food ingredients that are added to processed foods, and explains why. As the title belies, he deconstructs the ingredients of the common Twinkie.

You too can find out what polysorbate 60 really is, when you read it on the label, and a whole host of other dubious looking things too.

Sodium Levels in Processed Food

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There have been some huge spikes in the sodium content of some processed foods.  A 2008 study published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) shows that the average sodium content of over 500 processed and restaurant foods stayed around the same between 2005 and 2008.

On the other hand over 100 products increased sodium content by 5% or more and nearly 30 products increased by 30% or more.

Hardee’s French Fries tripled the amount of sodium in those three years; Walmart Cream Cheese almost doubled.

Sodium content in over 110 products declined in the same period.

The American Medical Association has asked the food industry to try and reduce sodium content by 50% over ten years. It is estimated that alone could saveup to 150,000 lives annually, or 1.5 million over ten years!

Only about 10% of the salt in processed foods is there naturally on average. The rest (90%) is added by the manufacturers. Most is common salt, but there is also MSG, and Sodium Nitrite.

Processed Food

Another good reason to avoid processed food?

A lack of magnesium.

It’s lost in the processes used in refining.

A diet low in magnesium has been linked to asthma and other respiratory ailments. One recent study found that four out of ten asthma sufferers had a magnesium deficient diet.

To get more magnesium in your diet, eat more leaf green vegetables, beans, and prunes, and of course, cut back on processed foodstuffs.

Processed Food Facts

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In the United States, 90% of the nation’s food budget is spent on processed food. A recent government report says that over 40% of the food products found in the average supermarket contains trans fats, and there is no safe recommended limit for trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oil.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest estimates that banning trans fats from all foods would save at least 30,000 lives each year in the US alone.

Again, you need to become a keen label reader. The more ingredients on a label that you don’t recognize, the more chance is that it’s some chemical junk. If in doubt, look it up, and check what effects it might have. Isn’t a few minutes taken now, better than losing years later due to illness, that could have been avoided?

First Lady Sets A Good Example

Michelle Obama has been championing healthy living, since  ditching processed junk a couple of years ago, on the advice of her pediatrician, when the kids started getting a bit chubby.

She has been extolling the virtues of community vegetable gardens, and has opened the White House kitchen to cameras.

It’s a good example to set to other Americans, many of who eat way too much high fat, high sugar, high fat containing processed foods.

Processed Food

We at TGFC shy away from much processed food.

However, not all processed food is bad by any means.

After all, when we cook food at home, we’re processing it. When we make our own sauces, gravies, and dips we’re processing food.

Artichoke Relish

What we mean at TGFC, of course, is food that is highly processed, usually on an industrial scale. This kind of processed food often contains extra sodium to make it taste better; added colors to make it look better, and chemical preservatives to make it last longer.

While we don’t want everything to go bad in five minutes, if we prepare food as we need it, that’s not going to happen in any case. Of course, we can also prepare dishes in advance and refrigerate or freeze them. That way, we don’t need to add extra preservatives anyway!

Some good examples of home produced processed food:

  • Ketchup
  • Sausage
  • Salad Dressings
  • Pickles
  • Jams
  • Bread

Much can be made from locally sourced fresh produce too, often organic. Food that’s in season is often less expensive, and tastes better. You’re also helping the environment by not buying something that has been transported half way around the world, and you’re helping your own local economy at the same time!

Retraining Your Palate

Our recent ancestors didn’t have to worry about all the processed food on offer these days. It didn’t exist.

Produce Stall

We’re told we eat too much meat. Our grandparents or great-grandparents were more likely to eat a lot more vegetables than us, and possibly not eat meat every day. It was considered a luxury. Modern farming methods have bought the cost of meat down a huge amount in real terms.

Nowadays many people tend to base a meal around the meat, and the vegetables are a very poor sideline.

Hoppin' John

The average chain restaurant will often serve up a 12, or 16 ounce steak, that is done to perfection, and the sides are a limp unappetizing microwaved previously frozen dish of carrots or green beans, pretty much devoid of taste. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Aiming for your dinner plate to consist of 2/3rds of vegetables and one third meat would really be a healthier option, and less expensive too.

Apples

Try different vegetables, and different ways to cook them. It’s easy nowadays to find recipes online to cook just about anything, and it doesn’t have to be expensive gourmet cooking either. Sometimes the simple methods are some of the best. For example, try boiling rutabaga, and then mashing it up, with a little butter and black pepper. It’s quite delicious, and you can use the water as vegetable stock for gravy, of even recycle it on your plants.

You can retrain your taste buds.

Switch from white rice to whole grain rice; from white bread to whole wheat bread. We did just that at TGFC. Whole grain rice took a little getting used to, but now, if we have white rice, it seems tasteless and bland.

That’s another plus point with unprocessed foods. They often have more natural flavor, so you don’t need to add all that extra salt or sugar in any case, so you’re not only getting the extra goodness from the unprocessed product, but also less salt and sugar, which is always a good thing.