If you can’t read it, should you eat it?
By Niva Sandhu
Have you ever wondered why the taste of fast-food French fries is so good and why you just can’t make them the same at home? Or how strawberry flavoured syrup for an ice cream sundae from Burger King is so red and flavourful? The fast-food industry must have top of the line chefs creating such delicious recipes, you may wonder. Well, I’m here to burst your bubble and tell you, fast food is far from real food; in fact, the aromas and flavours of these foods are created in laboratories using test tubes and an array of chemicals. The strawberry syrup is bright red from the dye they used. And the strawberry flavour is not real fruit but a synthetic imitation. Doesn’t seem so appealing now does it? I recently had the pleasure of reading Eric Schlosser’s best-selling book Fast Food Nation which talks about the harsh realities of processed foods created by the flavour industry. Schlosser’s in-depth research into the $1.4 billion flavour industry informs readers about the highly addictive and artificial foods we are buying and consuming. In today’s fast-paced lives, what we are really eating is often overlooked.
How many people these days can enjoy the natural taste of a fresh carrot on its own without any high sodium sauces? We are so used to eating highly processed and artificially flavoured foods that most of us no longer enjoy the natural flavours of fresh fruits and vegetables. Probably because some of us are so used to eating a fruit cup that is loaded with artificial sugary syrup. Did you know many of the foods we purchase at fast-food restaurants are made up of synthetic flavours? In 2011, Taco Bell faced a class-action lawsuit from an Alabama firm that argued the restaurant chain was using only 88 % meat and 12% fillers. The fillers included ingredients such as cellulose, trehalose, oats, artificial flavour, potassium chloride, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, torula yeast, modified corn starch, sodium phosphates, citric acid, caramel colour and lactic acid. All these preservatives are used to give the meat an enhanced taste, colour and texture, so customers keep coming back for more. But what customers don’t realize is that the meat they are eating is not 100% meat but partially stuffed with artificial ingredients. Fast food is not the only food that can be deceiving to the public.
Do you ever walk down the cereal aisle and pick up a box of cereal that claims to use real fruit? Pictures of fruit shown on the box may be misleading. Captain Crunch All Berries cereal contains no real fruit whatsoever. If you check the ingredient list, it is made up of corn starch, sugar and artificial dyes. The only natural ingredient this cereal contains is a little bit of strawberry juice concentrate. Shredded Wheat advertises one of its breakfast cereal as mixed berry, however, the ingredient list clearly states that the blueberry and pomegranate bits in the cereal are made up of dextrose, palm oil, cornflour, citric acid and colour extracts. There is no actual fruit in this cereal. Amanda Carvey, a dietician based in Toronto, asks her patients to rid their cupboards of sugary and artificially flavoured cereals. “The synthetic flavours and dyes are not only damaging to for the body but is the number one cause of diabetes, obesity and low attention span.” She suggests replacing such breakfast cereals with oatmeal, fresh fruit of your choice and some honey or brown sugar. This choice of breakfast is full in fibre, vitamins and minerals and will keep you full of energy over a longer period of time.
However, many people find it extremely tough to make changes in their food choices. Several investigative journalists who have done in-depth research in the flavour industry claim the industry uses addictive flavouring agents, especially in fast food meals. One example of an addictive flavouring agent is MSG, an excitotoxin which stimulates the pleasure centre of the brain making it think the food we are actually eating is tastier than it really is. Investigative journalist J.D. Heyes argues fast-food giants such as KFC and Burger King are the worst MSG offenders in the industry. This addictive flavour enhancer is what keeps its customers coming back for more. So the next time you sit down to eat a processed or fast food meal, think about how it was made, where the ingredients came from and their toll on our health.
Perhaps it will make you reconsider that fresh carrot?