Many people begin each New Year with a resolution that is geared towards lifestyle and health. Diets and healthy eating are usually at the top of this list. But what is considered healthy eating can significantly vary from person to person. There are many tricks used in the food industry to make food more appealing, as well as profitable, but whether these tricks are really all that bad is left up to the individual to decide. Whether you are after the all-natural diet or just want to eat healthier, here’s some handy advice for understanding industry tricks and to help you make informed purchasing decisions.
Wax coatings and gas flushes
Many of the fruits and vegetables we eat travel great distances to get to our table, and have either a food grade wax coating on them (apples and cucumbers, for example) or are flushed with a gas (Co2) to extend their life in both travel and storage. Bananas are always picked green and then flushed with a gas (ethylene) when they are ready to be shipped out to a store to make them start to ripen. Washing your fruits and vegetables before consumption will remove any coatings or residues but I suggest washing just before consumption, not when you bring it home. This will allow the product to last longer in your fridge.
Many foods are dyed to look more appealing and healthy. Caramel color for example is used in many things from bread (to make them look like they contain more wheat) to deli meats like black forest ham. Other dyes are added to everything from powdered drinks to sauces and relish. Some even find their way into meat like in the case of farm salmon. If you ever notice, farmed salmon usually appears to be more red, where wild salmon has a grey tint, it’s because the farmed salmon quite often is fed pigment pellets in with its food pellets to make the flesh look more red. It’s tough to avoid coloring unless you are eating raw foods.
Yes, all your poultry goes through a water and sanitizer (chlorine, for example) bath during processing in mass production plants. Removing the feathers and sanitizing is usually done in tumblers full of this solution in plants which mass produce. Meats that are vacuum packed and/or frozen, often have a salt water brine injected into them. The idea is it enhances the flavor and you aren’t left eating a dried out meat product but you are left with a high sodium content and in the end, you are paying for salt water as well as meat. Check the label on these products. If it is 100% meat, it will say so. If it lists a percentage of meat protein and/or salt, then its possible up to 25% of the weight of that product may not be meat.
The serving size shell game
This is used often to get around labeling rules. For example, “O grams of trans fat”. If a food contains 0.5 grams or less of transfat per serving, it can claim to be trans-fat “free” or to have “0 grams of trans fats.” However, many people eat double, triple or more of the recommended serving size of foods, which means you may be ingesting 1 gram or more of transfat per serving, even if it claims to be trans-fat free. Know your serving sizes when buying products with certain claims.
Labelling or wording
Wording is used all the time to entice consumers to believe they are getting something more healthy, more humane or better for the environment. Understanding what these actually mean can help you weed through the confusion to your personal goal. Free run or free range for example with regards to poultry and eggs leave many confused. Free run means the poultry wasn’t confined to a tiny cage but can move around in a relatively crowded barn. They don’t necessarily have access to the outside world. Free range means their feet could touch the ground, and they could see sunlight. Beyond that, each farm can be run differently and there is no certification required for either.
“Natural” is a word that can mean very little although in Canada, they have tightened the use. The CFIA restricts the use of "natural" to foods that have not been significantly altered by processing and gives examples of processes that do or do not significantly alter food. In the USA, there is no definition or ruling what so ever. “Made with” is another label claim to keep an eye on. “Made with whole grains” and “Made with real fruit” are probably the most common uses of this trick though what percent of what you are buying actually contains these things can drastically vary.
It is important to note that what has been mentioned here has been approved by our government agencies. In Canada, we do have stricter rules than the USA on such topics, and all of this is believed to be perfectly fine for the consumer. Reading the labels on products and a little knowledge is your key to your diet goals. If any of this is even of slight concern for you, fear not. Many issues are solved by eating less processed food and more natural foods (aka slow food) grown closer to home. Remember Roosters buys as much produce as possible from as close to home as possible year round and your own personal garden is one of the safest places for you to control what you eat. Good luck in all your goals for 2015 and see you at Roosters!