Don’t presume that a food product is a healthy option just because it implies it to be on the packet...
From time to time I do online orders from websites that stock consumables and other health products that I can’t buy locally. My main objective for this particular shop was to buy some new large glass storage containers with air tight lids. Once I had found those and selected a few other kitchen items, I then proceeded to peruse the store’s selection of healthy snacks. I found some nice-looking baked potato chips and upon checking the ingredients, saw that they were purely potato, coconut oil and sea salt. I happily added them to my cart as a special lunchbox treat for the kids.
I then noticed another chip by the same company called, Baked Sweet Potato Fries followed with the descriptions of Lightly Salted and Made With Real Sweet Potatoes. Being that I was happy with the ingredients of the first packet of potato chips, I presumed that these ingredients would be the same; potato, coconut oil and salt. I quickly added them to my cart and checked out before I spent any more money!
Fast forward a few days and my order arrived via post. I always enjoy unpacking a delivery and quickly hopped into pulling each item from the newspapered depths of the big box. I got to the large bags of potato crisps and glanced over them. The pictures on the front of each pack looked great and I was happy with myself for finding something new to give the kids every now and then. I read the ingredients on the back of the first packet – the same three I’d read on the website – and then looked at the second bag, the sweet potato chips. Definitely not the same three ingredients! Not three ingredients at all – but ten! Regardless of what they are, ten ingredients for a natural potato chip? Ludicrous.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the following ingredient list:
Corn meal, sunflower oil, sweet potato powder, evaporated cane sugar, sea salt, rice flour, molasses powder, natural flavours, extractive of paprika and calcium carbonate.
What the? Why aren’t sweet potato chips just sweet potato? Why do food companies have to mess around with perfectly good ingredients resulting in a much less nutritious end product? This particular creation would be more accurately named “Corn Meal Stick Thingies Covered In Sunflower Oil With A Hint Of Sweet Potato Powder”. And what the hell is sweet potato powder anyway? Dried sweet spud, ground into a powder? Lord, give me strength!
There may be some people reading this and thinking, ‘those ingredients aren’t so bad, what’s the problem?’ Well, here’s my lowdown on each one:
Corn meal: In itself, not really that bad I guess. The packet states that all ingredients are non GMO. Genetically modified crops can be the concern with some corn, but apparently not in this instance. While it’s a fairly natural product on its own, combined with the other ingredients and fashioned into a chip shape, it’s a whole lot more processed than if they logically and simply sliced sweet potato into lengths. When trying to eat a diet consisting of as many wholefoods as possible, it’s not ideal.
Sunflower oil: Most vegetable oils are chemically extracted using solvents and other nasties to make the production process quick, cheap and the yield higher. The oil is then washed in chemicals during the refining process and finally, bleached to make it an attractive colour for bottling. How often do you see on the ingredients list of a packaged item, cold-pressed olive oil? Not very often. This is due to the fact that sunflower and other vegetable oils such as canola and soybean can be manufactured at a fraction of the cost of quality cold-pressed, health-giving oil, due to this unnatural processing. Here is a link to a YouTube clip showing the production of canola oil if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cfk2IXlZdbI
There are a number of good articles on the subject too if you just Google ‘vegetable oil solvent extraction’.
Vegetable oils can often also be subject to hydrogenation. This is a chemical process which the oil undergoes so that it will be solid or partially solid at room temperature, instead of a liquid. This changes the natural configuration of the oil’s fat molecules to a state that is never found naturally in food. It results in the creation of TFA’s (trans fatty acids) or trans fats as you may heard them referred to. TFA’s have been linked to heart disease and cancer and many other problems within the human body.
Sweet potato powder: Upon researching this phenomenon, I discovered that there are a number of companies marketing SPP as a healthy complex carbohydrate for pre and post workout consumption. I also came across a method for making it at home as a way of using up excess sweet potatoes and preserving them for use later on in recipes. All well and good I suppose, and providing there’s not a whole heap of additives included in the production process, I guess this is a good concept. But for me it just comes back to the whole over-processing issue again. It’s just not logic to make a ‘sweet potato fry’ out of corn meal and then lace it with a vegetable powder rather than making it with potato to begin with. It’s a perfect example of how we have lost our way when it comes to the consumption of natural wholefoods.
Evaporated cane sugar: ECS is a just a fancy way to say sugar. I won’t go into the ills of refined sugars being added to our foods. There is plenty of information available on this topic and I’m sure you have read it and heard it all before. It’s just unnecessary for the sugar to be added. Maybe if whole sweet potatoes were used in the first place, there wouldn’t be a lack of flavour and sweetness resulting in the need for the added the sugar? Not really rocket science. I regularly make sweet potato wedges at home by simply adding olive or coconut oil and a little salt and they taste perfect. Whole, nutritious and perfect.
Sea salt: I haven’t got a problem with this ingredient. The actual amount included at 540mg per 100grams is probably on the high side but as this is a snack item to be eaten in small amounts on an irregular basis, it’s not really a problem for me.
Rice flour: I use rice flour in my home cooking from time to time. It’s a good gluten-free flour and is easy to use. I just wouldn’t expect to see it in a sweet potato chip. Again there would be no need for it if wholefoods were used.
Molasses powder: Another processed ingredient which I presume brings flavour and sweetness to the fries. There are worse ingredients out there, but again it seems an unnecessary inclusion and also raises the question in my mind as to what the ingredients of the molasses powder itself are? If a company buys in an ingredient to use in the production of their product, they aren’t legally required to list the components of that purchased ingredient on their own product’s ingredients list. I have read and heard of people calling companies to question them after reacting to a product which didn’t list their usual allergen on the ingredients list. After much probing, they have discovered that a purchased ingredient used in the production process contained their allergen but as it’s not a legal requirement, it wasn’t listed on the end product.
Natural flavours: This is an interesting ingredient to analyse and one that shocked me when I first learnt about it. We see the statement ‘No artificial flavours’ stamped proudly on the front of a lot of products as a way for the marketing gurus to give us some peace of mind that their product is natural and healthy. Right? Wrong.
‘Natural flavours’ are so close to their artificial cousins, there’s not much difference at all. Most of the time the only variance between artificial and natural strawberry flavour for example, is that the natural one started out with an actual strawberry somewhere in the mix before it was processed and had chemicals added to it, whereas the artificial flavour just never had the strawberry in there to begin with!
Added flavours, natural or artificial, can contain between 50 and 100 ingredients, most of which are man-made substances and chemicals with names beyond the easy pronunciation of the layperson. And yet we are led to believe that this is ok. How did adding synthetic substances to our foods, that our bodies can’t recognise, ever become acceptable? Here is a link to a good fact sheet on food additives including flavourings if you’d like to know more: http://fedup.com.au/factsheets/additive-and-natural-chemical-factsheets/flavours-natural-or-artificial
Again if the product wasn’t so highly processed, the delicious naturally occurring flavours wouldn’t be depleted requiring a replacement. And the other point screaming to be made is, if the natural flavour is so bloody natural, why not just list the natural fruit, spice, vegetable etc that it was derived from as the ingredient? It’s wrong that the chemicals used in the place of a real food item can be called natural.
Extractive of paprika: Why not just plain old paprika? Extractive of paprika is an oil/resin type substance of the plant, usually extracted using chemical solvents.
Calcium carbonate: A mineral extracted from the ground, calcium carbonate serves many different purposes in our foods - as a preserver, colour retainer and anti-caking agent. It is also largely what makes up the calcium supplements we purchase from the chemist. The jury is still out as to whether it is completely safe for human consumption with many health experts suggesting that it isn’t absorbed or utilized as well as the calcium that occurs naturally in our foods, resulting in negative side-effects.
So there you go. Bit of an eye opener hey! When purchasing from a website with the word ‘Naturally’ in its name, a product containing ‘Authentic ’ within its name, in my opinion, one shouldn’t have to question the naturalness of the product. It should be a given that it is pure, natural and healthy. But that’s the world we live in. Food terms such as natural, fresh, organic and real are used far too loosely in this day and age and we suffer the consequences with our health.
I guess it comes back to eating as much real, fresh and unprocessed food as possible to avoid the trickery that goes on with the marketing of a lot of packaged goods. Keep it real with lots of fruit and veg, homemade snacks, fresh meat and quality dairy. Then when we do want to purchase some packaged items for the sake of convenience and fun, it’s important we go in with our eyes wide open and know exactly what’s in those products. Be informed and be aware.
We owe it to ourselves and our kids.