The Processed Food Industry

The processed food industry (PFI) is mentioned frequently on this site and it is never complimentary. We’re now going to take a closer look at this monument to corporate greed and corruption and, in the process, show quite clearly just what a horror story the PFI really is.

It is no exaggeration to say that much of the food they con us into buying is, quite literally, nothing less than poison. This ranges in level of severity from merely making us feel a bit poorly to actually killing us. In-between, these foods cause diseases and conditions that ruin millions of people’s lives.

Bereft of conscience, morality and lacking any scruples whatsoever, the PFI exists purely to make money – nothing else concerns it. Shockingly, the PFI’s lies, deceit and complete disregard for its customers is all condoned by the very laws and lawmakers that are supposed to protect them.

Given their way of doing business is sharp practice at best, and totally illegal at worst, you may well wonder how the big corporations that comprise the processed food industry manage to deceive their customers and disregard the laws that exist to protect those customers.

Secrecy is their main strategy. Very few people have any conception, either of what’s in the processed food they eat, or of the ways the industry ensures they don’t. Which is just the way the PFI like it. Make enquiries, as we have, and you hit a brick wall every time. Truly, this industry could be the blueprint for a country’s secret service!

After a number of requests for interviews with various food corporations had been brusquely refused, we managed to trick our way into one by offering fake credentials. However, even though they thought they were talking with one of their own, we found they were still very guarded in what they said. What answers you do get from these people are phrased in bland corporate speak that gives away as little as possible.

Ask them what’s in a particular product and they simply refuse to tell you – commercial confidentiality is the usual excuse, i.e. we don’t want our competitors to know. Ask to look around one of their factories and you’ll get the old health and safety excuse, i.e. factories are dangerous places.

In reality, it’s neither competition or our health they’re worried about – their only concern is preventing the public from finding out what they’re doing. Take a look at the websites of these companies and you will quickly see that there is nothing remotely informative or illuminating. There’ll be plenty of press releases, advertizing, company statistics and so on, but no hard facts about what goes into their products.

Another favorite strategy is deception. Often, it doesn’t take long for the public to become aware of suspect additives – E numbers being a typical example. Social media and the Internet ensure these suspicions spread quickly and sales of the product in question drop as a result. The PFI’s solution is to just replace the additive with something virtually identical but with a different name – one that sounds reassuringly healthy. We’ll see more on this tactic later.

When necessary, the PFI resorts to the oldest strategy of all – corruption. Most countries have food standards bodies and agencies to ensure the public is protected from food companies selling dangerous products. Having no intention of being dictated to by anyone, however, the PFI has two ways of dealing with these bodies.

The first is to have their own people on them and thus rig things in their favor. The second is to use their corporate power and financial muscle to simply buy their way out of trouble when necessary. This same method is also used to bribe government officials at the highest levels. Nothing is beyond them!

We’re now going to take a more detailed look at the processed food industry by examining the seven sub-industries of which it is essentially comprised. Each of them handles a specific element of processed food production.

Ingredients
Modern-day processed food is mass-produced by huge corporations operating out of factories that are every bit as industrial and mechanized as, say, a car factory. The production process is similar as well. They buy the ingredients (often unrecognizable as food) and then turn them into something that looks, feels, smells and tastes enough like food to fool the public.

These ingredients are supplied by smaller food companies that work in much the same way as the corporations they supply. Some provide the base ingredients for products, usually by taking healthy whole foods and processing much of the color, taste, texture and smell out of them. They do this because uniformity is key in the processed food industry – every one of a batch of products has to be exactly the same. Needless to say, the food’s nutrient value is largely refined out as well.

Other companies specialize in additives that put the color, taste, texture and smell back into the sludge the industrialized processing produces. These supply manufacturers are essentially an industry within an industry. And it’s one that the general public knows virtually nothing about and will rarely, if ever, come into contact with. They market their products to the big corporations by means of food trade exhibitions that are strictly invitation only – the general public are not welcome.

This paranoid need for secrecy from all sides of the industry is as instructive as anything with regard to the quality and safety of the food they produce and sell.

Freshness
Virtually all supermarkets these days have ‘in-store bakeries’. Walk past one and you will see rows of crisp looking loaves and smell the enticing aroma of newly baked bread. At the rear, you’ll see large stainless steel ovens and staff busily taking out the freshly baked loaves and putting them on the shelves – it’s all very convincing.

However, it’s a setup and the customers are being conned. What they’re actually buying is bread made somewhere else and which has then been frozen – probably for months. The supermarket shoves it in an oven, warms it up and then presents it to the customer as freshly made bread – it’s actually just the opposite!

It’s not just bread either. All dough-based foods such as cakes, doughnuts, pastries, croissants, etc, that are presented as being fresh, are given the same treatment. Most high street bakeries and delicatessens work in exactly the same way. Furthermore, because these products have been manufactured with no intention of being sold immediately, they are also adulterated with the usual array of chemical preservatives.

Continue your walk around the supermarket and you will come across the fresh fish counter. Here, you will see all manner of fish species enticingly laid out on beds of ice. As with the ‘bakery’, the setup is designed to create the impression of freshness – in this case that of freshly caught fish. Once again, though, it’s a con.

If you’re very lucky, you may get some fish that actually is fresh. The reality though, is you’re much more likely to end up with something that is days old – and maybe even on the point of going rotten.

A recent article in a British newspaper described how a reporter observed fish from several English supermarkets being tested. Of the twelve samples, four failed to meet even the minimum level of acceptability (ten days since being caught). Basically, they were on the verge of rotting. Six were on the borderline. Shockingly, only two samples out of the twelve were found to score above it.

Appearance
As we have just seen, whether the food they sell is fresh or not is immaterial to the PFI. Their only concern is that the food looks fresh and appetizing – it’s a matter of perception. If it doesn’t look good, people won’t buy it.

However, the tricky bit for them is that not only does it have to look good, it has to stay looking good – and for as long as possible. This is where we encounter food preservatives. As with all additives, these are substances that either contain chemical compounds not found in natural foods, are chemically enhanced or are produced by chemical processes.

Their sole purpose is to keep food looking good long after it shouldn’t do – a function that is of prime importance to the PFI. The actual quality of the food is secondary – nutritionally, it’s of no importance to them whatsoever.

The ‘edible film’ con is another deception. This is a chemical substance that coats food with an edible film that is invisible, odorless and tasteless. The purpose of the film is to keep the food looking fresh and it works by keeping air away from it. The person eating the food has no idea they are eating something that could well be weeks old, nor that they are also eating a laboratory-inspired chemical cocktail.

Yet another technique employed by the PFI in its eternal quest for ‘perceived freshness’ is the use of enzymes. This is potentially quite scary stuff as it employs genetic modification techniques. While nobody can say it is dangerous with any degree of certainty, nor can anyone say it isn’t? Do you want to be the one who finds out?

What these techniques (and others still in the pipeline) do is blur the boundaries. Nobody in their right mind would eat a chicken more than a couple of days old. The processed food industry, however, has no trouble in getting us to eat chicken that is much older because we perceive it as being fresh.

Taste
If the perceived freshness of a product ranks number one on the PFI’s scale of importance, flavor runs it a close second. Having conned a customer into buying something that looks good, it then has to taste fairly good as well. If it doesn’t, a repeat sale isn’t likely.

The positively brutal techniques employed in industrial food processing – heat, centrifugation, deodorizing, sterilization and pasteurization to name just some – inevitably results in loss of taste. So it has to be put back into the soggy, tasteless gunk that comes out the other side of the production line.

To this end, there is a range of additives known as flavorings – currently, there are some three thousand of them. They aren’t there just to add flavor, however. The manufacturing process can impart unpleasant smells and flavors of its own, often from chemical solvents and contaminants such as heavy metals. To deal with these, dual-role flavorings have come into being – not only do they provide the desired flavor, they also mask unwanted ones.

Another reason flavorings are so important to the PFI is that they are a lot cheaper than the real thing. For example, an orange flavoring additive costs much less than real oranges. For the PFI therefore, the use of flavoring additives is a no-brainer. The consumer, though, may see it rather differently. No matter how hard their makers try, it’s a fact that no artificial flavoring will ever taste as good as the real thing.

Older people who have been brought up with unprocessed food, and so have a benchmark, will immediately taste the difference between lemon squash made with lemons and artificially flavored lemon squash. Younger people, most of whom have never tried the real thing, won’t.

More important than the unnatural taste left by these flavoring additives, however, is the fact that many of them are positively dangerous to our health. For example, solvents such as butane and propane are used in many food production processes, and it is a fact that some remain in the finished product. The PFI’s stance on this is that the amounts involved are so minute that they pose no risk to our health. If that’s true, how do they explain away the fact that workers in factories producing potato chips, pretzels and the like, have a much increased risk of respiratory diseases due to inhaling the flavoring additives. This being the case, what do they do to us when we eat them?

Then we have sugar, the most common flavoring additive of all. This substance has been the cause of more health issues than any other and yet the PFI puts it into everything. Just one of the many reasons they do so is in response to the current ‘fat is bad’ mantra. Jolted into action by falling sales, the PFI has had to drastically cut the amount of fat in its products. And as most of the flavor in food comes from the fat, they have had to find something to replace it with. The old standby of sugar is their chosen option. However, as they were already using plenty of it, this has resulted in virtually all processed food being positively rammed with the stuff.

For example, one can of soup can contain five teaspoons of sugar, a can of soda up to nine teaspoons, a bottle of cooking sauce up to ten teaspoons. It’s also the reason that foods marketed as being ‘low fat’ and ‘healthy’ are often anything but. The problem with this high intake of sugar (particularly the refined fructose favored by the PFI) is the fact that our livers have a limited capacity to absorb and use it. We can actually only metabolize about six teaspoons of sugar per day – anything over and above is turned into fat. When you consider that the average westerner consumes about twenty teaspoons a day (and rising), the reason for the current obesity epidemic becomes clear.

As we have pointed out repeatedly, excess weight leads to a number of chronic illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia. The PFI is well aware of all this but couldn’t care less.

A particularly underhand trick they use is to put caffeine and salt in soda drinks. Caffeine is a diuretic that makes us urinate, and salt makes us thirsty – the two, in combination, keep us feeling unnaturally thirsty and so needing to buy more. To hide the taste of the salt, the PFI turns to its old standby – sugar – copious amounts of it! They also go to enormous lengths to conceal the amount of sugar they use. The simplest is just giving it a different name – there are over sixty alternative names for sugar!

Another method takes advantage of the fact that ingredients are listed by weight on the packaging with the main ingredients listed first. This means that the more of something there is in a food, the higher up on the list it appears. To make their products appear more healthy, they use small amounts of three or four different types of sugar in them so that they appear down the list. These small amounts add up to a large amount, though!

Texture
Another attribute that’s extremely important to the PFI is texture. The food must not only look and taste good, it must feel good as well. This is as important a factor as any in convincing people that what they’re eating is proper food. Unfortunately for the PFI, the processing procedures churn out food that is totally lacking in this respect.

Once again, food additives come to the rescue; one of the main ones here being starch. Cheap, tasteless, odor-free, a neutral-white in color and bulky, starch has little nutritional content and so offers virtually nothing to the consumer.

To the PFI, however, it is quite literally worth its weight in gold due to the myriad uses to which it can be put. It gives texture and bulk to bread, it adds crunch to biscuits, it makes potato chips crispy, it adds creaminess to mayonnaise, plus a hundred and one other things.

Needless to say this isn’t a simple starch, such as the cornflour commonly used in households up and down the land. No, the PFI have their own versions, called ‘modified starches’, and they bear little resemblance to the household variety. Production methods for these starches include treatment with chemicals, enzymes, acid and even electrical charging.

Predictably, the PFI claims modified starches are safe to eat but, given the fact they refuse to give exact details of how they make them, these claims have to be regarded with a degree of suspicion. However, regardless of whether they are safe to eat or not, it is indisputable that these modified starches cheat the customer. This is because the PFI uses them as a substitute for more expensive ingredients, such as oils, eggs, cheese and butter.

This reduces their costs considerably which wouldn’t be so bad if some of it was passed on to the consumer. Needless to say, it never is. Furthermore, these modified starches, processed as they are, are totally devoid of any nutritional content. So, in far too many cases, consumers are getting little or nothing for their money.

A final kick-in-the-teeth is the fact that starch has a high carbohydrate content. This means that not only is food that contains it low in nutrients, it’s high in calories. So, being a main ingredient in virtually all processed food, starch contributes highly to the obesity levels that are rocketing all over the world.

We now come to another of the PFI’s favourite additives – water, and for the same reasons. This liquid is cheap and is also an ideal bulking agent for making food portions look bigger than they actually are. This is very handy with expensive foods like meat and seafood.

However, there is an inherent problem with getting meat and fish to absorb water. With meat that has been minced, such as burgers, sausages and meatballs, it’s easy enough. But with solid pieces – ham, steak, chicken breasts, prawns, etc, special equipment is required. This is a machine through which the meat is passed and which pierces the meat with rows of fine needles that inject water into its tissues.

Meat treated in this way can be anything up to 50 percent water. Furthermore, this is PFI water we’re talking about – not nice, clean tap water. Known in the trade as brine, this is water that has been treated with chemicals to give it ‘added properties’. This brine is used to provide texture and feel to a range of processed foods, as well as for bulking.

Packaging
All processed food is packaged. It’s not done for the customers benefit but because it has to be, and for several reasons:

The first is marketing. Look at the picture on a box showing the ready-made meal it contains and you will see a professionally photographed image portraying tender cuts of meat and crisp, perfectly cooked vegetables. When you open the box though, you will almost certainly see something rather different!

Packaging provides another way of extending shelf life. For example, the inside of tin cans are commonly lined with epoxy resins (also used in glues) to stop the metal reacting with the can’s contents. Displayed meats are placed on chemically-treated mats that absorb blood. When used with fruit, these same mats can be supplied treated with fungicides. Clear plastic containers have a chemical coating on the inside to stop them ‘fogging up’.

Thousands, quite literally, of toxic chemicals are used in the packaging of processed foods. These include carbon monoxide, ammonia, paraffin and formaldehyde to name just some. Many are known to be the cause of serious health problems. Just one example of this is a group of chemicals called phthalates. These are used to make the type of plastic found in fast food containers.

A recent study has shown that people who eat this type of food regularly have dangerous levels of phthalates in their body. Take it from us – these chemicals are something you definitely don’t want in your system! When pressed on this issue, the PFI’s response is depressingly familiar. There’s no need to worry, they say, as the quantities of chemicals used are so infinitesimal, they can’t possibly have any ill effects.

As the one at the sharp end, however, you may wonder at the cumulative effects of long-term intake of these substances.

Aware of the growing awareness and dislike of chemical additives, the PFI is continually on the lookout for new ways to deceive the public. A method they have recently begun using is a food packaging system known as Modified Air Packaging (MAP). This works by replacing the air in packaged food with a blend of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. 

Without going into the details, it keeps food looking much fresher than it actually is – meat stays red, cheese doesn’t go mouldy, etc, etc. The shelf life of food packaged in this way can be doubled – great for the PFI but not so great for the consumer who is buying food that can quite literally be weeks old.

Who on earth wants to be eating three-week old fish? What’s more, as soon as the MAP packaged product is opened, it rapidly assumes the state it would naturally be in at such an age – limp and discolored. It doesn’t matter to the PFI though; it has just made another sale.

Labeling
For years now, the PFI has relied on additives to give their bland, tasteless base products the flavors, odors and colors destroyed by the industrial processing that produces them. Chemical-based preservatives increase shelf life, while thickeners, binders, emulsifiers, foaming agents, gelling agents, glazing agents and many more, are used to create texture and an appetizing appearance.

The public, meanwhile, has had little or no idea they’ve been doing this. It was only with the introduction of new rules that compelled the PFI to label all a product’s ingredients on the packaging that this changed.

Unable to do so honestly as it would kill sales, they have resorted to deceiving the public with a ploy that has been given the misnomer ‘clean labeling’. This involves replacing all suspicious sounding ingredients on a product’s nutrition information label with ones that sound natural, i.e. not out of a chemistry lab – as indeed many of them are!

An example of clean labeling is an additive called oregano extract. This is commonly added to processed meats such as salami. However, it is not there to provide the meat with a fragrant aroma. It’s there because it’s a very effective preservative that reduces the rate at which the meat goes off. Previously, the manufacturer would have used a less than user-friendly sounding additive, such as butylhydroxyanisole – also known as E300-21. Oregano extract sounds much nicer!

Now you may ask what’s so bad about using oregano as a preservative? – it’s a natural herb after all, with no chemical associations. The answer to this reveals the deception that lies behind the concept of clean labeling. Forget any notion of a nice-smelling fresh herb being sprinkled into the meat. Oregano extract is a powder produced by an industrial process that uses chemical solvents to strip out all the smell and taste (and nutrients) from the oregano. It may sound much more appealing but, in reality, is little better than the chemical preservatives it has replaced.

A product’s label can be used to deceive the public in other ways as well. For example, to persuade them that a product has been made in a traditional manner by using phrases such as ‘free of preservatives’ and ‘additive-free’.

Another ploy is to try and persuade the public that a product is a health food. To this end, phrases such as ‘low-fat’ are used.

The Bottom Line
To sum up, our advice is to be very wary of eating anything that comes out of a packet, can, box or tube; or is served up in a fast food outlet. If you do, you will all too often be eating a concoction largely made up of starch, chemicals, air and water. If you are lucky, you may get something that is slightly nutritious!

Sugar

Sugar is available in many forms. These include granulated white table sugar, brown sugar, demerara sugar, cane sugar, caster sugar and muscovado sugar. Then there are the sugars available in liquid form, such as corn syrup, agave syrup, rice syrup, molasses, maple syrup and honey. We take a closer look at all these sugars here.

There also exists a range of artificial (man-made) sugars. These are basically food additives that provide a sweet taste (much more intense than real sugar) while containing significantly less calories. Some are produced naturally and some synthetically – see here for more information on artificial sweeteners.

No matter what of type of sugar we eat though, or in what form, our bodies break it down into glucose which is then used as fuel. As long as we don’t eat too much sugar, and so create more fuel than our bodies need, there isn’t a problem. However, when we do, we potentially open ourselves up to a number of diseases and ailments.

This is surprising as there can’t be many people these days who don’t know that a high consumption of sugar is bad for their health. And yet most of these same people, particularly in the western nations, are still eating far too much of it. Indeed, on average, we are each consuming about 20 teaspoons a day. The recommended amount, however, is just 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.

The reason for this is that most people either simply aren’t aware how much sugar is in the foods they are eating, or that they contain sugar at all. They may know that foods like candy, cakes, doughnuts, etc, are high in sugar but don’t know that even savory foods, such as bread, tomato sauce, canned soup, etc, contain sugar. As a result, it’s all too easy to eat more of the stuff than is healthy and not even be aware that you’re doing so.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the processed food manufacturers go to great lengths to hide the fact that their products contain sugar. Instead of just saying sugar on the nutrition information labels, they will use one of the many alternative names for sugar. For example, corn syrup, agave nectar, cane juice and sucrose. However, they’re all one and the same thing and too much of it can affect peoples health in numerous ways.

Lets take a look at the most common problems caused by a surfeit of sugar:

Weight Gain
Obesity rates are rising all over the world and sugar, particularly from sugar-sweetened drinks, is one of the main causes. Sugary drinks like sodas, juices and energy drinks contain a high proportion of fructose – just one of many types of sugar. Probably the most pernicious effect of fructose is that it increases our desire to eat – much more than other sugars do. Furthermore, excessive consumption of fructose can create a resistance to leptin. This is an important regulatory hormone that controls the hunger signals sent out by the body, i.e. it tells us when to stop eating.

Research has shown quite clearly that people who frequently drink highly sugared beverages weigh more than people who don’t. They are also far more likely to have an unhealthy amount of visceral fat – a type of deep belly fat that is associated with serious conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Acne
A diet high in refined carbohydrates which invariably includes a high amount of sugary foods and drinks, has been shown to  create a higher than normal risk of developing acne. This is because highly sugared foods cause a rapid increase in blood sugar and insulin levels. These in turn, result in increased levels of androgen secretion, and also inflammation. Both play a major role in the development of this unpleasant condition.

Studies have shown that in rural parts of the world, where processed foods are rarely eaten, acne is almost non-existent.

Diabetes
Across the world, cases of diabetes has more than doubled over the past 30 years. However, it is important to be aware that there are actually two types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2.

In type 1 diabetes, insulin producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the immune system. The amount of sugar in a person’s diet, or indeed anything in their lifestyle, has nothing to do with it. The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown to us – some unlucky people get it, the lucky ones don’t.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is much more likely to occur in people who are overweight. This, of course, is where sugar comes into the equation. Being the main cause of people putting on weight, it is thus the main cause of type 2 diabetes. It has to be said though, that this type of diabetes is a complex disease and an excessive amount of sugar is not always the reason a person develops it.

Cancer
Sugar does not directly cause cancer. However, there is an indirect link between the two and, yet again, it comes down to weight. Excessive consumption of sugar usually causes people to gain weight and scientific evidence shows that being overweight increases the risk of getting no less than 13 different types of cancer. So obesity, and thus sugar to a very large degree, is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer.

Furthermore, people with diets high in sugar subject their bodies to increased levels of inflammation. High-sugar diets can also be the cause of insulin resistance. In both cases, just one of the attendant risks is the development of cancer.

Mental Health
A number of studies have demonstrated the negative effects sugar can have on mood, temperament and general quality of life. Quite apart from making us fat, it is a major factor in a number of mental health issues.

Depression is a good example of this. An excessive consumption of sugar is known to increase the risk of depression in people unfortunate enough to be afflicted with schizophrenia. It also plays a significant role in chronic inflammation which has a negative impact on the immune system, the brain and other systems in the body. Inflammation can also cause pain in the joints and considerably increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Another is that sugar can be addictive. Drugs, and to a lesser extent sugar, flood the brain with a feel-good chemical known as dopamine. In a study done at Yale University, the sight of a milkshake activated the same type of response in people who have a high intake of sugar as cocaine does with drug addicts. Another study has shown that rats fed sugar-rich foods demonstrate all the symptoms of addiction.

Then there is anxiety. The standard western diet, packed as it is with sugar and unhealthy fats, while not necessarily causing this, does appear to exacerbate it. People who are susceptible to panic attacks, for example, tend to be always on the alert for signals of potential danger. Just some of the effects an excess of sugar is known to cause include brain fog (difficulty in thinking), blurred vision and fatigue. In people of a nervous disposition, these can all be the cause of a panic attack.

Yet another pernicious effect of sugar on mental health is that it can compromise cognitive abilities such as learning and memory. A diet high in sugar causes insulin resistance which in turn damages communication between brain cells that handle learning and memory. A study done on rats showed that after several weeks of a high-sugar diet, they were unable to find their way out of a maze, whereas rats that ate a nutritious diet were able to do so.

Aging of the Skin
High-sugar diets are known to damage elastin and collagen molecules in the skin. This is a major cause of wrinkles and sagging of the skin. Studies have demonstrated that Advanced Glycation End Products (AGE’s) – a class of compounds created by certain combinations of proteins and sugars – accelerate the effects of aging. Excessive levels of blood sugar are a known cause of AGE’s.

Fatty Liver Disease
We mentioned fructose at the beginning of this article. This is a type of sugar that is known to increase the risk of fatty liver disease. Unlike glucose and other types of sugar which are taken up by various types of cell throughout the body, fructose is almost exclusively broken down by the liver. It is then converted into energy or stored as glycogen.

However, the liver can only store so much glycogen. When it has reached its limit, any further amounts are turned into fat and stored in the liver. This leads to a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Studies have shown that people who eat excessive amounts of sugar have an approximately 50 percent greater chance of developing NAFLD than people who do not.

Tooth Rot
Our mouths are not just full of teeth – they are also full of bacteria, many types of which are actually beneficial. Some, however, depend on the sugars we eat for their existence. The latter type create acids that destroy tooth enamel – the protective outer layer of the tooth.

When this happens, a cavity, or hole, is formed in the tooth. If left untreated, these cavities can progress past the enamel and into the deeper layers of the tooth, causing pain and eventually the loss  of the tooth.

 

 

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are low-calorie, or calorie-free chemical substances, that are used instead of sugar to sweeten foods, drinks and a multitude of other products. Most are synthetic, i.e. man-made but others are derived from naturally occurring substances, such as herbs or even sugar itself.

The most common types are:

  • acesulfame K
  • saccharin
  • sorbitol
  • sucralose
  • stevia
  • xylitol
  • aspartame

Typically, these sweeteners are some 200 times sweeter than sugar, with sucralose being 650 times sweeter.

What are they good for though; what’s the point of them? Well from the food manufacturers perspective, the big advantage of artificial sweeteners is that they are much cheaper than sugar and sugar-based sweeteners. Then there’s the fact they are literally hundreds of times sweeter – this means in terms of bulk they are much smaller, and thus easier and cheaper to transport. Yet another plus for the manufacturers is the fact these sweeteners are virtually calorie free. This enables them to produce foods for the health market and quite truthfully advertize them as low-sugar products. Whether they are actually healthy though is another question and depends on what else is in them!

For the consumer, artificial sweeteners are useful alternatives to sugar because they add virtually no calories to a person’s diet. Also, because of their intense sweetness, only a fraction of artificial sweetener is needed compared with sugar. This makes them tailor-made for people who are trying to lose weight. They are also a godsend for people with diabetes as they provide sweetness without the attendant rise in blood sugar levels found with sugar.

Now we come to the big question – the one to which no one seems able to give a definitive answer. This is, of course, are artificial sweeteners safe to eat? And the reason no one can answer it is that no one really knows for sure. Government bodies across the world swear they are, as do the food manufacturers (predictably). For example, the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA) have both approved the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar as a means of combating obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. These are all well known risk factors for heart disease.

However, many experts are not so sure. One concern is that people who use artificial sweeteners may simply replace the calories they have thus lost with calories from other sources, so negating any weight loss or health benefits. They may think because they’ve stopped eating doughnuts, it’s ok to drink Pepsi.

Another concern is that artificial sweeteners can change the way we taste food because they are so much more potent. It is thought that frequent consumption of them can overstimulate our sugar receptors and, in so doing, reduce our tolerance for more complex tastes. This can cause people who routinely eat these artificial sweeteners to start finding less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, positively unpalatable. 

In other words, over-use of artificial sweeteners can make people shun healthy nutritious foods in favor of artificially flavored foods that have much lower nutritional value.

And there’s more. Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can prevent people from associating sweetness with calorie intake. This makes them deliberately choose to eat sweet, nutrient-deficient food rather than savory and more nutritious food – the result of course is an increase in weight.

The above makes it clear that artificial sweeteners in themselves do not cause health issues. At least not as far as we know – don’t forget that many of them haven’t been around long enough for their long-term effects to be have been fully evaluated. What is beyond dispute, however, is the way they can affect the way some people think about food, actually change how they react to the taste of food, and can trick them into thinking they are eating more healthily than they actually are.

The problem for those of us concerned about the safety aspect of eating artificial sweeteners, is the fact that in todays world it is extremely difficult not to – they are in virtually every foodstuff we eat. They’re also in everyday products that you would never expect – toothpaste being a typical example.

All we can really do is to limit the amount of these sweeteners we eat as much as possible.

Salt

Also called sodium chloride, salt is a crystalline compound that consists of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Some varieties may also contain trace amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. In its natural form, it is known as rock salt. 

Salt is a substance essential for life – so essential, in fact, it has been the cause of numerous wars and conflicts over the centuries. In some countries it is even used in religious ceremonies.

Where does it come from?
There are two main sources of salt. The first is salt mines from which it is excavated – the Khewra salt mine in Pakistan for example. This is one of the largest salt mines in the world and is where pink himalayan salt comes from.

The other main source is the sea which contains vast quantities – no less than 3.5 percent of seawater is salt. It is separated from the water by the simple technique of evaporation.

Less important sources are mineral-rich waters found in shallow pools inland. It is also present in most natural foods, such as fruit and vegetables, albeit in very small quantities.

Regardless of where it comes from, however, all salt is very similar in taste, color (with the exception of pink himalayan salt), structure and nutrient content.

What is it used for?
A common use for salt is as a seasoning. There can’t be many households around the world that don’t have a salt cellar on the dinner table. In this capacity it ranks alongside sugar as one of the most common food flavorings. However, many people will be surprised to learn that of the some 200 million tons of salt that is produced every year, only 7 percent or so is eaten by us.

The rest is used in industrial processes, such as the production of plastics, paper, leather and a whole host of other products. Salt is used in the manufacture of butter and cheese. Prior to the advent of refrigeration, salting was one of the main methods of preserving foods. In this function, it works by preventing the growth of bacteria that cause food to go bad. Large quantities are required for this to be effective though – hence foods such as herring (also known as kippers in the UK) having such a high salt content.

Just as it does with sugar, the processed food industry also uses enormous quantities of salt, adding it to canned foods, meats such as bacon and fish, pickled foods, snack foods such as potato chips, sauces, bread, and breakfast cereals to name just a few. In fact, it is estimated that some 75 percent of the salt in the western diet comes from processed food. Only 25 percent occurs naturally in foods, or is added during cooking or at the table.

Salt and our health
Salt is an essential part of the human diet. Our bodies use it to maintain fluid levels, prevent low blood pressure, and regulate body functions such as heart rate, digestion and respiration. Salt also affects brain activity and lack of it can make people feel sluggish and lethargic. They may also experience seizures, loss of consciousness, comas and, ultimately, death. If salt levels fall quickly, all this can happen very rapidly.

Adult humans need about 6 grams (1 teaspoon) of salt a day to remain healthy. If  we eat more than this on a regular basis however, problems such as osteoporosis, kidney disease and high blood pressure begin to appear. If left untreated, the latter can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke.

The reason for this is that an excess of salt increases the amount of water in the blood and, as a consequence, the heart has to work harder to pump it around the body. In time, this can stretch the walls of the blood vessels making them more susceptible to damage. High blood pressure also contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, leading to a greater risk of stroke and heart disease, amongst other problems.

Of the two – too much salt or too little salt, the former is by far the most common in the western diet. It is thought that, currently, we are eating 50 percent more than we should be. Very few of us eat too little salt actually.

For people who are eating too much, the easiest way to address the problem is to simply cut down on the amount of processed food they consume. This means restaurant meals, burger bars, takeaways, packaged snacks, etc, should all be taboo or just occasional.

Omega-6 Fats

We’ll begin this article by stating that fat is an absolutely essential part of the human diet – this is an indisputable fact. Not only does it provide our bodies with energy and support for cell growth, it helps protect our organs, keeps our skin and hair healthy, and stops us getting cold (by placing a layer of insulation directly under the skin). Fat helps us absorb nutrients, and much of a food’s flavor comes from the fat it contains.

Fat comes in many different types, the main ones of which we looked at here.  However, to get the benefits mentioned above, we need to eat the right types and in the right proportions. Get either, or both, wrong and it can actually be extremely bad for us. This applies particularly to a type called omega-6.

What are omega-6 fats?
Omega-6 fats, and a related type called omega-3, are a type of polyunsaturated fat – one that our bodies can’t make. This means we have to get them through our diet. However,  a crucial factor here is getting them in the right proportion. This should be approximately 4 of omega-6 to 1 of omega-3. If we eat them in this 4:1 proportion, in conjunction, they play a crucial role in the maintenance of good health.

If we don’t though, we leave ourselves open to a range of diseases and illnesses. Too much omega-3 isn’t a problem. The danger comes when an excess of omega-6 is eaten. As we have seen, the recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1 or less. Unfortunately, in the western diet, it is currently anywhere between 10:1 and 50:1.

Why are omega-6 fats dangerous?
The answer to this question can be summed up with just one word – inflammation. Omega-6 fats increase the risk of inflammation dramatically. When this happens to a person, their body’s response can eventually damage healthy cells, tissues and organs. Over time, this can lead to the following conditions, to name just some:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
  • macular degeneration
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • asthma
  • cancer
  • psychiatric disorders
  • autoimmune diseases

Furthermore, some of them can lead to more dangerous conditions. For example, obese people are very likely to end up with type 2 diabetes.

Which foods are high in omega-6 fats?
Another very easy question to answer – processed foods and deep fried foods. A very good example is the diet commonly eaten in the southern United States of America. This is rich in deeply fried foods, and people who eat it regularly have a 40 percent higher risk of stroke than those who don’t.

The processed food industry use unhealthy vegetable oils in virtually all their products for the simple reason they are the cheapest and most convenient available. Furthermore, the processing these already unhealthy oils are subjected to makes them even less healthy. The oils we are talking about are soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and corn oil.

How to optimize your omega ratio
One of the most effective measures is to eliminate all foods that contain the above-mentioned oils. To do this, simply examine product labels. Be warned though – these oils are present in virtually all processed food and so this will radically change your diet. Don’t be concerned about foods that contain coconut oil or olive oil though – these are both very good for you.

Another is to eat foods that are high in omega-3 fats. One of the best of which is meat, both red and white. One issue to be aware of here though, is that much of the meat in the supermarkets has been raised on a grain-based diet that usually contains soy and corn. This does reduce their content of omega-3. Therefore, meat from free-range, grass-fed sources is a much better choice – if available, If it isn’t though, even conventionally raised meat is good, as long as it is not highly processed as found in sausages, bacon and the like.

It’s also a good idea to eat free-range eggs which are higher in omega-3 fats than eggs from hens raised on grain-based feeds.

Eat seafood once or twice a week. Fatty fish like salmon (as long as they are not farmed) are particularly good sources. Alternatively, take a fish oil supplement such as cod liver oil.

There are also some plant sources of omega-3 fats – flax and chia seeds are two. However, these do contain a less effective type of omega-3 called ALA which our bodies cannot utilize as well as omega-3 from meat. For this reason, animal sources are usually better choices. However, vegan-friendly supplements containing EPA and DHA from algae are available.

It’s important to realize that benefiting from a diet low in omega-6 fats is a long-term process that will require permanent lifestyle changes. This is because most people have an immense amount of omega-6 in their body fat, and so it can take some time to get rid of it.

Bottom Line
The importance of correct omega-3 to omega-6 balance simply cannot be overstated. For people who want to increase their overall health and energy level, and prevent conditions like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s,  arthritis, diabetes, and a host of other diseases, one of the most important strategies at their disposal is to increase their intake of omega-3 fats and reduce their intake of omega-6 fats.

Trans-fats

For the first time in its history, the World Health Organisation has asked that countries get together and completely banish a specific ingredient from the food chain by 2023. This ingredient is trans-fats. Denmark has already done so but other countries have been very slow to follow suit. Indeed, in most countries, particularly Asia, Africa and the Middle East, trans-fats are still commonly used, both in the home and by street vendors, for frying and baking.

In the western nations, although promises have been made and legislation has even been passed in the USA, the use of trans-fats is still rampant and will be for years to come. Remember, these fats are very important to the processed food industry so they will try every trick in the book to convince us they are complying while, in reality, doing everything but.

What are trans-fats?
So what exactly are these trans-fats? Well, there are actually two types – natural and unnatural. The former is made by bacteria that live in the fore-stomach (or rumen) of cattle, sheep, goats and deer. This means that they occur naturally in meats such as beef, lamb, goat and venison, as well as dairy products that come from these animals, such as milk, cheese, butter and cream. This type exists in such low amounts, it does us no harm at all.

The same, however, cannot be said of unnatural trans-fats. These are a type of fat made from vegetable oils in an industrial process known as hydrogenation. This involves adding hydrogen to vegetable oil which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature. The benefit it offers the food companies is that it doesn’t go off as quickly as natural oil does. As a result, foods made with it have a much longer shelf life.

Plus, they are ideal for deep frying because they don’t have to be changed as often as natural oils do. They are also easy to use and inexpensive to produce. For these reasons, trans-fats are commonly used in restaurants and fast food outlets.

What do they do to us?
Just one of the problems with trans-fats is that they cause calcification in our veins and arteries. This narrows them, thus decreasing the space available for blood to flow. If an affected person then has a blood clot, particularly in one of the coronary arteries, a stroke, or even death, can be the result. Furthermore, studies have shown that excessive trans-fat consumption can also cause Alzheimer’s disease, prostate and breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, liver dysfunction, infertility and depression.

Studies have found that some types of fast food, such as kebabs and Indian takeaways, can contain more than the recommended daily intake of trans-fats in just one serving. It is estimated that for every percent of energy in a person’s diet that comes from trans-fats, their risk of heart disease rises by up to 15 percent.

What foods contain trans-fats?
As already mentioned, all meat products contain a very small amount of natural trans-fats. These are harmless though due to the minimal quantities involved. The foods in the list below, however, all contain very high amounts of trans-fats and so should be avoided like the plague.

  • Processed popcorn
  • Blended vegetable oils
  • Snack foods such as potato chips
  • Margarine
  • Crackers and biscuits
  • Baked goods – bread, cakes, muffins, etc
  • Pastries, such as doughnuts and croissants
  • Savory foods in pastry, such as pies and sausage rolls
  • Deep-fried fast food, such as fish, fries and chicken
  • Frozen foods that come in wraps or breadcrumbs, e.g. fish fingers

The foods in this list are the worst. There are many others though, albeit with a lower trans-fat content.

How to tell if a food contains trans-fats
In most countries, food manufacturers do not have to mention on the food information label if a product contains trans-fats. However, if a label mentions ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’, the food contains trans-fats.

It is also almost a certainty that any food served in a restaurant, cafe, bar or fast food outlet will be loaded with the stuff.

Yo-Yo Dieting

Diet, lose weight, regain weight, lose it again – and so on and so on. Yo-yo dieting is an all too common phenomenon as more and more of us try to lose weight and improve our health. However, even if we manage to succeed, most of us are not able to keep it off. Indeed, of those that do lose a significant amount, roughly eight in 10 will regain that weight within a year.

Why yo-yo dieting often fails
The very act of losing weight triggers a fight-back mechanism in the body – it sees that loss of weight as a threat. To counter the supposed threat, it sends out hunger signals to encourage eating and, at the same time, slows its metabolism so as to conserve fuel, i.e. it’s fat stores.

While this metabolic adaptation served our ancestors well during the long-ago years of feast and famine, it is not nearly as effective in today’s environment in which food is so plentiful. Rather, it actually encourages weight gain, particularly in people who are genetically predisposed to it. Repeated attempts at dieting do nothing to reduce this vulnerability.

Another reason is that restricting food increases its appeal which can lead to overeating, or even bingeing. The result, as ever, is an increase in weight – often more than was lost originally.

There’s a mental aspect to this as well. The more frequently someone goes through the gain – lose – gain – lose cycle, the less confident they will be in their ability to ever succeed. It just gets harder and harder.

What happens when it fails
What often happens is that dieters regain more fat than they originally lost. The theory behind this is that when dieting most people don’t just lose fat, they lose muscle as well due to lack of exercise. And when they lose muscle mass, their metabolic rate goes down.

When they have finished the diet, they go back to eating normally. However, because their metabolic rate is still low (and will remain so for some time), their body gains more fat than it would normally. This continues until the body has put back the muscle it lost during the diet and its metabolism has returned to normal.

A recently published study confirms the above by showing that when the body’s regular supply of food is interrupted (and it can’t differentiate between dieting and famine), it stores more fat each time a person’s eating returns to normal than it does overall when their food intake remains constant.

Conclusion
Yo-yo dieting is a cycle of short-term changes in eating and activity. The benefits are also short-term. It can actually be counter-productive and lead to the accumulation of more body fat than existed at the beginning of the cycle.

More dangerously, people with a body mass index at or below normal, who engage in yo-yo dieting, appear to have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

A much better way of going about losing weight is to make small, and thus easier to adhere to, dietary and lifestyle changes.

Crash Dieting

While a crash diet may help you lose some pounds in time for your holiday in Florida or the Christmas blowout, the loss of weight doesn’t usually last too long. Furthermore, it can play havoc with both your body and mind.

The following are just some of the undesirable side effects of crash dieting:

It lowers the metabolism
A high metabolism is extremely important with regard to losing weight. Unfortunately, crash dieting actually reduces it by restricting the body’s intake of essential nutrients. This has a number of effects, just one of which is the loss of muscle mass.

The problem this causes is that the less muscle we have, the lower our metabolic rate (the number of calories we burn while resting). Therefore, the more extreme the diet, the lower the body’s metabolism and the less amount of weight lost.

Crash dieting can actually make it more difficult to lose weight. Persisting with it will pay off eventually of course, but may be at the price of health issues down the line.

It weakens the immune system
As we mentioned above, an inevitable consequence of a crash diet is that the body will be deprived of essential minerals and vitamins. This is a sure-fire way of weakening its immune system. And the weaker a person’s immune system, the more likely they are to catch diseases, plus be more susceptible to a whole range of other undesirable conditions.

Most people’s idea of a crash diet is that they need to cut out as much fat as possible. While doing so is a good thing, it’s only so up to a point. This is because fat provides us with a range of minerals and vitamins, such as A, D, E and K. So by cutting too much fat out of their diet, these people are unwittingly weakening their bodies.

Hair and skin
The loss of essential nutrients caused by crash dieting can also have a noticeable and unwanted impact on a person’s physical appearance. It can cause their hair to look lacklustre and even fall out, their skin becomes dry and more likely to develop acne, and their nails are easily chipped. These are all signs of poor nutrition.

Furthermore, extreme diets can cause sleeplessness. And it’s mainly during sleep that the body repairs itself, including the hair and skin.

Ketone production
With diets extremely low in carbohydrates, as some crash diets are, the liver will start to break down fat in order to produce ketones. These are then used by muscles and other tissues as an alternative source of fuel to fat.

While weight will be lost as a result, these ketones do have unwanted side effects. For example, nausea, bad breath and, potentially, liver and kidney problems.

Dehydration
Typically, at the beginning of a crash diet, weight loss is rapid. Unfortunately, the dieter isn’t losing fat, he/she is simply losing water. What happens is that the body’s glycogen stores which are a source of energy that binds water, are depleted faster than the fat cells. The water is thus released.

Therefore, crash diets can be the cause of mild dehydration. Effects of this can be cramps, dizziness, headaches, dry skin and a craving for food – sweet food especially.

Heart problems
Crash dieting can have some positive effects. For example, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. But they can also have a potentially harmful effect on the heart. This is due to the fact that the fat lost can, potentially, clog up the heart and so reduce the efficiency with which it works.

Fortunately, this effect appears to be temporary for most people. Healthy people generally aren’t affected at all. Anyone who has heart problems  though, should talk to their doctor prior to embarking on a crash diet.

Bowel habits
As we have already seen, crash dieting causes the body’s metabolism to slow down. One of the many effects of this slowdown is a reduction in the efficiency with which it digests food passing through it. This can lead to constipation.

The solution is to increase the intake of fiber-rich foods, such as nuts, leafy vegetables and fruit.

Loss of energy
While crash diets do result in loss of weight if persisted with, this is unfortunately often accompanied by a loss in energy levels, even fatigue. This is due to the lack of B vitamins, iron and magnesium, which leaves the body unable to produce energy.

Grumpiness
Crash dieting can trigger the brain into releasing a hormone known as corticosterone. This hormone is known to be the cause of heightened stress levels, irritability and even depression.

It can also have a negative effect on concentration and can disturb our sleep which, of course, also causes grumpiness.

Bottom Line
A crash diet is, by its very nature, extreme. And the human body doesn’t like extremes. Therefore, it should not be undertaken lightly – this apples particularly to people who have health issues.

However, for those who are in reasonably good health, and who take care to include essential vitamins, minerals and fiber, a crash diet can be a very effective way of losing weight quickly. People do need to be careful when they go back to eating normally though – the more extreme a diet, the greater the temptation to overeat when the chance presents itself!