By René Eastin, MTI Contributor
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) it is “economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.” These defects are defined as “expected contaminants” and include maggot and insect fragments, hair, animal feces, parasitic cysts, and all other rot such as mold. In addition to these defects, manufacturers are using more synthetics to aid the mass production of food necessary to keep up with higher demands.
With the majority of the American diet coming from foods processed and created in factories it becomes increasingly important to educate ourselves on their ingredients. The following list of ingredients is just a small example and may surprise you.
Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO): a plant-derived triglyceride that has been bonded with bromine molecules. Originally patented as a flame retardant BVO is used to make furniture and plastics less flammable. It is also currently being used to keep artificial flavoring chemicals from separating from the rest of the liquids in some of our favorite beverages. While chemical components for the two types of BVOs differ slightly it is currently banned from use in food products in Europe and Japan due to its high toxicity level. Despite still being allowed by the FDA Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both removed BVO from their ingredients lists in 2014 except for Mountain Dew where it remained until 2020. It can still be found in Mountain Dew Throwback formulas as well as many generic brand sodas; more specifically throughout citrus flavors.
Carnauba Wax: a plant derived wax from the carnauba tree found only in Brazil. Thought of as the queen of waxes it is known for durability and a shine synthetic products have been unable to duplicate. It is the key ingredient of many furniture, leather, and shoe polishes, car waxes, and cosmetics. With a higher melting point than other waxes it is also what gives some of your favorite foods their appealing texture and shine. From fruit snacks and gummy candies to fruits and vegetables carnauba wax provides stability and protection during shipping. It is the coating on dental floss and many of our pharmaceutical pills but more importantly you now know why M&Ms melt in your mouth and not in your hand.
Cellulose: a polysaccharide that makes up the cellular wall of plants. Used to make paper, plastic and various fabric materials this fiber is the byproduct of adding sulfurous acid and limestone to “wood pulp” or sawdust. This insoluble fiber is used by food manufacturers as a filler, an emulsifier, and an anticaking agent. Bread manufacturers use it to increase fiber content without increasing calories, ice cream manufacturers use it to make their products creamier without using cream, and cheese manufacturers use it to keep shredded cheese from sticking together. By using real wood companies are able to advertise these less than whole food products as completely natural and organic.
Dimethylpolysiloxane: a polymeric compound more commonly known as silicon. Due to its flexible nature this compound is used to make cosmetics, shampoos, lubricants, breast implants and Silly Putty. This flexible thickener can also be found in a variety of chewing gums, gelatin dessert mixes, and jellies. In addition dimethylpolysiloxane is an antifoaming agent which makes it the perfect inexpensive addition for bottled fruit and vegetable beverages, canned soups, and broths. Many fast food restaurants use it in their frying oils to keep splatters to a minimum.
Titanium Dioxide: a component of titanium; a mined element often contaminated with toxic lead. It is used in the production of paints, plastics, papers, and ceramics. It is also a key ingredient of many cosmetics, toothpastes, soaps, and sunscreens. Its purpose is pigmentation; to make things appear whiter than white. It can also be found as an ingredient in many of your favorite white colored foods. Manufacturers use it to make overly processed items like milk, cheese, ice cream, and salad dressing appear fresher and more appealing. It is now being used in an array of plant based “chicken” products as well to make them look more like chicken.
Blattodea parts and rodentia hair and droppings: a collection of body parts and eggs from cockroaches and termites and rodent hair and feces. With the majority of our food being produced and processed in large industrial facilities no number of traps can keep all the bugs and rodents from finding their way into the finished products. Well aware of the issue the FDA limits and monitors these known contaminates on an individual food and weight based scale. Chocolate has an allotment of 60 insect fragments and 1 rodent hair per 100 grams. Many common spices are allowed upwards of 500 insect fragments, as many as 9 rodent hairs, and 3 milligrams of feces for every 10 grams. Other highly affected foods include noodle products, coffee, peanuts, and peanut butter; for an extensive list of guidelines for what the FDA finds to be acceptable check out the Food and Defect Action Level Handbook.
Lucilia sericata larvae and acari parts: a collection of fly larvae (maggots) and body parts or eggs from mites. More examples of the hazards of having food manufactured in warehouses with processed fruits and vegetables being the hardest hit. 20 grams of maggots are allowed per 100 grams of canned mushrooms. 10 fly eggs per 500 grams of canned tomatoes. 60 mites per 100 grams of frozen broccoli. Other highly affected foods include olives and sauerkraut. Again, for an extensive list of guidelines for what the FDA finds to be acceptable check out the Food and Defect Action Level Handbook.
Castoreum: a thick yellowish brown excrete that comes from the castor sacs, located near the anal glands, of both male and female beavers. When combined with the beaver’s urine it is how they mark their territory. Used as a calming agent in folk medicine it is now primarily used as a flavoring agent. The beaver’s diet of bark and leaves gives castoreum a strong musky odor resembling vanilla. The FDA allows it to be used in food and, because it comes from a beaver, it can be found on ingredient lists simply as “natural flavoring”. Due to the expense of pure vanilla most vanilla flavored foods are made with synthetic vanilla flavoring and a few drops of castoreum to intensify a seemingly real vanilla flavor. It is primarily found in beverages, frozen dairy products such as ice cream, candy, baked goods, gelatins, and puddings.
Deactylopius coccus: an African beetle-like insect. Once used to dye fabrics by Native Americans it is now used to dye many of the foods we eat. Listed a number of ways on ingredient labels such as carmine, carminic acid, cochineal, and natural red #4 this bright red food colorant comes from the crushed female abdomen of these tiny insects. It can be found in most red candies, yogurt, gelatin, red tinted fruit juices and even some highly processed meat products like sausage.
L-Cysteine: one of twenty amino acids known as the building blocks of protein. Naturally found in foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, and legumes L-Cysteine reduces the effects of aging on skin, aids in hair growth, and makes up 80% of each strand of human hair. Considered a waste product, human hair has long been used as stuffing for furniture and coats, to make wigs and ropes, and as thread for both embroidery and medicinal purposes but few know it has also found it’s way into our food. While L-Cysteine can be derived through a fermentation process using plant starches most is manufactured by extracting the amino acid directly out of human hair or feathers from ducks and geese. Manufacturers use it to condition and improve the texture of breads and baked goods.
Should we avoid these additives and “defects”? Can we avoid them completely?
Many of the above examples are considered natural coming from plants and animals. Not knowing what they are on ingredients lists poses the biggest problem for those following specific dietary guidelines; vegetarians, vegans, and those with religious restrictions such as halal and kosher.
Growing up I spent my summers at my grandparent’s farm in the small town of Willard, Ohio. They hunted in the woods on their property, raised several different kinds of animals, had a pond full of fish, grew a variety of fruit trees, and had a garden the size of a football field. Our meals consisted only of the foods we shot, butchered, caught, picked, or traded neighbors for. It wasn’t uncommon to find a hidden BB in some wild game, a feather left unplucked on a fresh chicken, a missed bone in a freshly fileted fish, a rotten spot on a vegetable left in the garden too long, or even some bugs that chose the very apple I did. For most of us, times have changed.
We do the best we can. We focus on diets containing whole foods. We opt for more organic choices. We buy local and we plant patio gardens in pots. While fresh is always the best option complete avoidance is nearly impossible so knowledge is key.
René is a personal trainer and nutrition coach in Nevada.
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