Whats lurking under the lid

Many of us have been aware of many of the dangers associated with processed foods and the artificial chemicals introduced by the food industry for some time. I was reminded of the horror story again recent after reading Michael Pollans excellent book In Defence of Food.

The book starts with a blistering criticism of “nutritionism” - his term for the ideology that underlies much of the food marketing and health food industry. The work specifically refers to the idea that individual nutrients are the key to understanding food and that food is no more than the sum of its parts (in this case the parts are those that have been identified by the food industry as having valuable qualities).

The second half of Pollans book provides a series of guidelines for eating. The simplest of which is

Eat food, Not too much, Mostly plants

Here are some of the other gems (paraphrased), each of which is given a concise explanation in the book

  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or contain high fructose corn
  • Avoid products that make health claims
  • Get out of the supermarket whenever possible
  • Eat well grown food from health soils
  • Regard non traditional foods with skepticism

There are many others. One that has resonated with me since I read the book is the reference to no more than 5 ingredients. Its a simple yardstick for how processed a food is and quite effective when selecting foods during the weekly shop. Although it has to be said that not many foods in the supermarket can meet this rule!

Excessive packaging is another give away and for this reason as well as the fact that it is inert, I have always looked out for food in glass jars. After all people have been preserving food in glass and ceramic jars for millenia. However, the humble glass jar turns out to be harboring a hidden menace. Its the seal under the lid. These are usually made from PVC and contain chemicals including Plasticisers which give it the properties to form a good seal. They work by softening the PVC and can make up as much as 40% of the gasket. The plasticisers are mostly made from expoxidised soybean oil (ESBO) and a combination of phylates. ESBO reacts with hydrogen chloride released from the PVC under the high temperatures used when sealing the jar. This forms chlorohydrins which can be toxic. Phylates are not permitted at all in food materials in the US and some have been banned from use in toys (eg DEHP).

Choice magazine recently published an article highlighting Plasticisers in food. In their tests many products including those labelled organic contained levels ESBO and Phylates in excess recommended EU limits. The foods which showed high levels were those with fat levels over 4g per 100g. A typical example is pasta sauce which often has much more fat than that.

Check out the article have a look around on the web and you will be looking at glass jars with fresh eyes.