I was listening to the radio last week and a nutritionist (really sorry but I can’t remember her name) was saying “Never eat something that you can’t pronounce”! or maybe something that you don’t know what it is. But, of course, that leads on to the idea that people actually read labels!
Now I’m not talking Quinoa here – everybody knows that it is pronounced Keen-Wa – but stuff like E635 - Di-sodium ribonucleotides and E320 - Butylated hydroxyanisole. These are flavour enhancers and anti-oxidants respectively and though they may have a role to play in some of the processed food available to buy, do we actually need them? If the food was good to start with, why does its flavour need to be enhanced? Also, the presence of sodium in the additive and its relationship with salt – Sodium Chloride – means that, from a health point of view, it should be avoided. Anti-oxidants, very simplistically, are used to prevent the food reacting with oxygen which may affect flavour and texture, not to be confused with the natural anti-oxidants found in vitamins, that are useful to help fight the free radicals in the body. Processed food does need stuff like anti-oxidants and Emulsifiers to maintain and prolong shelf life but do we need them to prolong ours?
Having said that, there are things like Cyanocobalamin and Ergocalciferol and Cholecalciferol. We might not know what these are either and certainly they are not easy to pronounce and yet there are Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2 and D3 respectively. Surely these are quite good for you – and they are.
In an ideal world, people would be able to have enough fresh food to sustain them, have the skills, knowledge and resources to be able to cook it all to maximise nutrition, and the time to grow, (or shop for), prepare, and cook all of these non-processed foods.
We all know that that is not going to happen.
The pattern of our lives involves much more than thinking about food. The times when we had the time to wander around specialist shops on the high street, choosing the food needed to prepare that evening’s meal, chatting to neighbours on the same errand, are long gone. Anonymous online shopping and supermarkets open at all hours, where everything is in one place so that it is quick and convenient is more the norm in today’s world. Even if we order fresh foods, we do not actually know how long it has been since they were harvested and how they were stored. Technology in both harvesting and storage has developed so much so that we can buy non-seasonal foods just because we want them. There are also too many people in the world for this traditional style of shopping to be sustainable any more.
Cost is another factor. There is a growing demand for less expensive foods. The latest headline in this weekend’s newspaper was about those who traditionally shopped at Waitrose turning to Aldi and Lidl for their comestibles! To allow for natural wastage, fresh food is going to be more expensive. This means that processing food helps it to last longer, makes it cheaper and feeds more people. Surely this is a good thing?
Not all processing is necessarily bad. Frozen and some canned foods are really useful in terms of good nutrition, effect shelf-life management and good food. There are more vitamins in frozen peas than in fresh ones bought in a supermarket because they are frozen within a short time after harvesting.
So, please read the labels. Find out what you are eating and make an informed decision about whether you actually want to put it into your body!!
Till next time