The rise of processed foods
Much of our food departed from its natural state when we started to demand convenience. This is an over simplistic view and forgive me. From the late 60’s and early 70’s the role of stay-at-home-mum, the traditional family nurturer and house keeper began to loose its charm and with it women entered the work force in droves. With mum working and keeping house something had to change: hello fast food chains, hello convenience food.
She demanded food that was affordable, tasty and lasted so she didn’t have to shop every day. Food Manufacturers took care of that: they buy the ingredients, mince them up, make them uniform, extend with fillers, add lots of cheap salt or sugar a bit of flavor and there you have it. Targets are achieved: cost, yield, consistency, colour, moisture retention, mouth feel, nutrition profile and ingredients to match the packaging, preservatives to keep it longer - at ambient because it is cheaper to store and ship…..you get the picture. Again simplistic but it gave birth to the world of Additives – the whole 300+ of them we know today.
They are not all bad but alarmingly, the rates of diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, autism, depression, asthma and ADHD have also increased dramatically over this time. Every year, Australians consume over 5kg of food additives each, yet how many of us really know what these additives do, which ones are safe and which ones are known to be harmful?
Not all food additives are bad and I know a fair bit about them having studied food science and working in New Product Development at Kitchens of Sara Lee. Two years doing bench top develop development straight from university – yes the early 90’s! According to Julie Eady of Additives Alert †œAt least 60 food additives used in our foods are at best questionable in terms of safety, or at worse, known to be harmful…most of them are safe, well tested and pose no problem for most people.†
There is a constant battle between the food manufacturing industry and food regulatory body Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) with consumers + lobbying groups. See ACA Choice’s review How additives are regulated.
The bottom line is processed or packaged foods and additive go hand in hand. The more highly processed a food is the more additive you consume. The easiest way to avoid them is eating †˜real’ food or minimally processed (clean) foods that don’t need additives. Eg canned tomatoes or frozen peas but then we still need to have wits about ourselves to watch for toxic packaging materials or elevated salt levels or hydrogenated fats which are not covered by the Food Additives code.
Have I lost you yet?
Ultimately it’s the consumer who speaks the loudest …with their wallet. We are in an interesting time of change again when women have said enough is enough. They are choosing to work less hours or from home and they are concerned about what they are feeding their bodies and family. Women are making better choices, they are trying to find balance with work, with caring for their family, with nurturing themselves.
What to do:
1. Don't eat foods with these numbers
- Anything artificially coloured + some natural colours (codes numbers in the 100 range)
- Preservatives (200 range)
- Antioxidants (300 range)
- Artificial Sweeteners (900 range + sorbitol 420)
- Flavour Enhancers (mostly in the 620-640 range)
2. Avoid most foods with these numbers
- Mineral salts and anti-caking agents (500-585)
- Thickeners, Emulsifiers & Stabilisers (mostly 400 range) – there are some ok ones like locust bean gum, agar agar etc but generally avoid.
3. Checking for numbers
Here are your options
a) Download the App Chemical Maze – Complete edition by Bill Statham. Aust. It’s your goto guide for food additives and cosmetics ingredients in Australia. Be mindful however of what I classify as the worst culprits tho
b) or Buy this Julie’s guide http://www.additivealert.com.au/
She covers what food additives are, what’s safe and not, how additives are linked to health problems, how to read and understand a label, what’s considered unsafe but still used in Australia
c) Take a look at Tanya’s Additive free pantry http://www.additivefreepantry.com/
d) Research online, educate yourself.
e) Source, eat and cook beautiful, simple, fresh and wholefoods. Your skin, body and family will love you. It takes time but it is a life long investment.