Smorgasbord Health Column – Processed foods vs. Industrially manufactured foods.

Over the last four years, those of you who regularly read the health posts will know that I am very keen on the ‘cook from scratch’ with ‘fresh produce’ approach to eating.

I have been on that mind for over 20 years, even though I do enjoy buying the odd thing that is manufactured such as crisps (potato chips) cereals, bread, they are nearly always from the in house bakery, own brands fresh sauces or organic brands.

But even then, when you see bread displayed without packaging and oddly shaped, it may have been created from frozen dough from thousands of miles away, defrosted, formed into loaves and baked in the ovens.

I came across the following article back in 2015 and I have the link in a special folder of those that I want to keep and reread from time to time. This particular post lays bare some of the behind the scenes manufacturing processes that go into the foods that are packaged and that are bought by millions to feed their families.

There are certain foods that we eat daily that are processed, such as dairy products and certainly milk is pasturised for safety reasons. (There is a new movement towards raw milk that I am not quite sure about for the time being).

We eat a lot of cheese and we assume that is completely natural… but did you know that in the making of this delicious fatty and salty product various additives are used.  These include Cheese colouring to add either a lovely creamy finish or a red cheese. Some colourants are made from natural plant sources such as the Annatto tree but the product itself contains potassium hydroxide and castor oil. Whilst the consumption of castor oil in these small quantities present in cheese making might not be classified as harmful, it is commonly used for constipation and in some people can cause an allergic reaction.  If you have ever wondered why eating too much cheese causes you to have a stomach upset, it may be due to the additives rather than the dairy content. And the yellower your piece of cheddar is the more colourant it contains. The whiter the cheese the more natural. You will also find calcium chloride (for a nice thick curd and is an E number 509) Lipase to give your cheese a more cheesy flavour and citric acid for some of the soft cheeses such as mozzarella.

Then of course there is the mold that is added to certain cheeses that look very pretty with their blue veins running through them.

Penicillium Roqueforti (blue mold) is used to ripen and give flavor to Blue, Gorgonzola, and Stilton cheeses. This mold gives an intense blue-green marbled interior, piquant aroma and creamy consistency.”

Changes that occur in cheese with the fermenting and “ripening” process include the production of a toxic alkaloid called roquefortine, a neurotoxin which can cause mice to have convulsive seizures. Probably, all blue cheese contains roquefortine. The alkaloid is produced by the mold Penicillium roqueforti.

Milk, produced by mammary glands that are actually modified sweat glands, is naturally high in salt. Cheese shares in this high salt content. A high salt intake increases one’s likelihood of having high blood pressure.

The rennet for the curdling process in cheese-making is commonly obtained from calves’ stomachs. A combination of rennin and pepsin is sometimes used, or plant enzymes derived from fungus. The pepsin is obtained principally from fresh hog stomachs. Many processed cheeses have preservatives, emulsifying agents, and other chemicals added to them that can have a harmful effect on the body. The putrefactive process through which milk goes to produce cheese reduces the vitamin content. Cheese is almost completely devoid of water soluble vitamins. Losses of both vitamins and minerals occur with the loss of whey.

Am I suggesting that you give up cheese?  No, I actually eat cheese myself from time to time although in recent years I can no longer indulge in a cheese platter with lots of butter and crackers. But like most high fat and salty foods, moderation is definitely the key with cheese.

So that is the processed foods that we assume are natural…

Now a look at what happens when the food industry gets hold of a natural ingredient and then transforms it into a pre-prepared meal for the family, cakes, biscuits, bread, yogurts, desserts, pies etc.

Here are some extracts from the article that I keep in my file as a reminder of why I rarely buy industrially manufactured foods.

“Read this and you’ll never eat a ready meal again: JOANNA BLYTHMAN spent months probing Britain’s convenience food industry. Her findings will turn your stomach

  • More than three billion ready meals were eaten in Britain in 2012
  • They make up the biggest sector of the UK’s £70 billion a year food budget
  • Food manufacturers carry out little or no preparation of raw ingredients
  • They buy treated ingredients, mainly frozen or dried, from other companies
  • Meat, fish and vegetables are kept at sub-zero temperatures for months
  • But when the food is thawed and cooked it can be marketed as ‘fresh’
  • A ready-meal factory can churn out 250,000 portions a day using 70 different ingredients

Finding out the truth about what we are really eating eventually became my career, as a food journalist.

Most people love ready meals, however; three billion were eaten in Britain in 2012 and they make up the biggest sector of the country’s £70 billion annual retail food budget.

Processed food is everywhere, despite numerous news stories warning of the dangers.

In the past few days headlines, taken from my book, highlighted the risks of eating bagged salad: the greenery can be as much as ten days old and have been submerged up to eight hours in tap water heavy with chlorine, to inhibit bacteria.

Citric, tartaric and other fruit acids are also painted on to the leaves to keep them looking fresh. It sounds revolting but it does not stop millions from buying bagged leaves”

And in another section of the article

“When an ITV investigation on the Tonight programme analysed a typical supermarket ‘British lamb hotpot’ ready meal, it discovered the ingredients were from ten countries and included New Zealand lamb, Israeli carrots, Argentine beef bones and Majorcan potatoes.

Irish authorities were equally shocked to discover that a pizza bearing the label ‘country of origin Ireland’ in fact contained 35 ingredients that had passed through 60 countries during preparation and packaging.

Most of the meat, vegetables and fish in our convenience food has been transported and stored while frozen.

Typically, it is kept at sub-zero temperatures for months, even years, but when it is thawed and cooked, it can be marketed as ‘fresh’.

Eggs are supplied to food manufacturers in many forms but almost never in their shells.

Instead, they come as powders, with added sugar, as products made just from albumen (egg white) or they come hard-boiled in a long cylinder so that, when cut, every slice of egg is identical.”

Anyway – for those of you who are not taken in by the food industries marketing… this will confirm why you ‘cook from scratch’ and I do suggest that you read the entire piece for yourself.

Thanks for dropping in today. It is not my intention to be the food police as I would be arrested frequently. However, I do think that particularly when we are responsible for the health of our children as well as ourselves, it is a good idea to think about the long term effects of using a high percentage of industrially manufactured foods in our diet.