When I started this blog, all about being a hippie mama, I felt like I was the most “crunchy” of all my friends. I breastfed my babies and wore them in slings and had recently started cloth diapering.
Little did I know the real world of true hippie-dom that I had yet to explore!
Doing a little research on a topic like, “making safe detergent for your cloth diapers,” led me to learn about parabens in personal products.
This happened to me every single time I wrote a new post.
I tell you… learn too much and you’ll begin to shudder with the fear that the big mean goblin made of pink slime and genetically engineered produce will jump out from behind the chemical-laden stacks of toilet paper in your local superstore and eat you for dinner!
I’m learning to process the information without totally losing my sanity, but it has affected my life more than I ever thought it would.
More than in any other area of life, my food choices have been affected.
I admit it… I still eat Red Baron pizzas and Eggos.
They’re just so EASY.
That said, I’ve become a compulsive label reader. I even read labels on items I have no intention of ever buying, just out of morbid curiosity.
You would think that this would be a simple process. Sugar is sugar, flour is flour, right?
So NOT the case!
I don’t know how it is for those of you in other countries (though I’m curious, so feel free to share!), but here in the good ol’ USA there are more than FIFTY names for “sugar” on a food label. Corn Syrup, Maltodextrin, Barly Malt, Evaporated Cane Juice, Fructose, Glucose, Dextrin….. sugar.
Wheat, Bulgar, Couscous, Semolina, Modified Food Starch… flour.
And did you know that approximately 25% of the items sold in your local super-mart contain some form of corn? I’m not saying 25% of the food. Corn is in everything.
Soy… same thing.
And food companies are tricky! They know that you don’t want to give your kid a cup of sugar for breakfast… but “vitamin fortified cereal with whole wheat and Maltodextrin,” well… Vitamins are good, right? And whole wheat is great nutrition! And since no one knows what maltodextrin is we will just assume that it must be safe if the FDA approved it.
As it turns out, maltodextrin is sugar. “Made with whole wheat” could mean that they used 400 pounds of bleached flour and 1 cup of whole wheat. I’m not saying that is what all companies do, but you can bet that some do just that.
And then there is the “other” stuff. You know… the fine print at the bottom of the ingredients list.
For example; the “propellant” in Pam Cooking Spray? Propane.
Red dye? Squished bugs.
The shellac that you use to shine your wood is also on jelly beans. It is also made from bugs. In this case, not their carcasses, but their excretions. Yum.
“Natural Flavors.” This can be ANYTHING not man made. Anything.
Propylene glycol (also labeled as E1520) is antifreeze. Yes. Antifreeze. Like you put in your car.
I could go on and on. It’s frightening. Some people really would just rather not know. Ignorance is bliss and all that.
Some people know and simply don’t care. “I’ve been eating it this long and I don’t have cancer so it must be OK.”
Even if you do want to know, it’s virtually impossible to keep up.
I’ve gotten some great tips from the good folks at 100 Days of Real Food.
1) Most real food doesn’t need more than 5 ingredients.
Think about it.
What goes in bread? Flour, eggs, yeast, baking soda…. so why does store-bought bread have 42 ingredients listed?
What goes in alfredo sauce? Cream, cheese, butter… so why does canned alfredo have a label-full of words no one can pronounce?
There are exceptions. But, in general, food doesn’t need more than 5 ingredients.
2) If there are ingredients listed that no reasonable person has in their home kitchen, you shouldn’t eat it. Maybe you don’t cook with saffron or curry or popcorn shoots, but those are items you can buy most anywhere and lots of people have them in their cabinets.
Do you have Butylated Hydroxytoluene on your spice shelf? Me either. (But it’s in Quaker Oatmeal Squares. And jet fuel.)
The long and short of it is this: Real food doesn’t require a material data sheet. If you are looking to break the food code, simply choose foods made with foods you know.
My philosophy? If you are eating a cookie made with REAL eggs and wheat and oatmeal and butter and fruit then you don’t even have to feel guilty about the calories because it’s just so darn full of nutrients!
I don’t really know if that’s true, but it makes me happy.