Day 89–Industrial Products in Food–Ok or Troublesome?

Orthophosphoric acid H 3 PO 4

In an effort to be more efficient, I often look for “two fers”–that is, one solution that will address more than one issue. Sometimes this works wonderfully and other times, if I try to force a solution where it doesn’t quite fit, I have (as Ellie says) an “epic fail.” In the food industry, these “two fers” often use industrial products and ingredients to address issues with processed food stability or to lower the cost of food production. This isn’t illegal and in many cases may not be harmful, but maybe you want a higher standard than “not necessarily harmful” in your food supply. If you are trying to eat more whole foods and limit your intake of highly processed ingredients, it is interesting to see how these ingredients are used elsewhere. Thanks to Experience Life magazine for this information.

Olestra–This chemical is used to make fat-free potato chips and snack foods. It has no flavor or nutritive value. Olestra works by bonding to fat and preventing it from being absorbed in your body. But that method can have drawbacks, including diarrhea and abdominal cramping, especially for people with sensitive digestive systems, with irritable bowel syndrome or for small children. Interestingly, olestra is also used in paints and lubricants. 

Calcium Chloride–Calcium chloride is a chemical blend of salt and chlorine that has been deemed safe for food use by the FDA. It has no nutritive value and is not used for flavor. It is used as a stabilizer for some canned foods, an electrolyte in sports drinks and is an agent in some pickling. It can cause upset stomach, and irritation of the digestive tract, especially in people with digestive issues. Calcium chloride is also the key ingredient in road salt and ice melt.

Phosphoric Acid–This chemical is used to make foods–specifically sodas–more acidic. It has no nutritive value. Because it is so cheap, it has become the standard acid in sodas, replacing natural sources like lemon and lime. Phosphoric acid has been linked to decreased bone density and kidney stones, the former is especially a problem for women over 40 who have a history of osteoporosis in their family. Oh, yes, phosphoric acid’s industrial use is as a rust remover known for its ability to rapidly eat rust on metal. Your dentist may also use small amounts to etch/scar your teeth before putting in a filling.

Calcium sulfate–Calcium sulfate is a desiccant (drying agent) and a coagulant. It has no flavor or nutritive value. It is often used in foods, including tofu, to bond molecules together. It is also the key ingredient in plaster of paris. The use of calcium sulfate can cause abdominal swelling and abdominal pain in some people. Industrially, it is used to make plaster and drywall.

Cornstarch–Cornstarch is a thickener that, unlike the above ingredients, is typically found in most households. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of the corn grain and is a cheaper industrial substitute for the more simply processed arrowroot. It is used in puddings, chewing gum, gravy, ice cream, sauces and some canned foods. Because cornstarch is used so heavily in processed foods, it may pose a hidden sugary carb risk for those trying to eliminate processed carbohydrates or sugars from their diets. Cornstarch is also used to make rubber tires, plywood and some insecticides.

Corn syrup–Corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup is probably the most insidious and highly contested ingredient on this list. It is made from processing corn starch to release all the glucose in the starch, then processing it some more to shift most of the glucose to fructose. Because it is very cheap to produce, it has replaced most beet and cane sugar as well as honey in sweetened, processed foods. It is present in many processed food products, including ketchup and other condiments, cheese spreads, marshmallows, dehydrated soups, cake mixes, snack foods and frozen foods. Both the chemical nature and high level of use of corn syrup have linked the chemical to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and non-alcohol fatty liver disease. Corn syrup is also used to make shoe polish, metal plating and explosives. 

Maybe these all seem ok to you, maybe not. Regardless of what we choose to purchase at the grocery, it is important to make informed choices. In some cases, the “two fer” works in our favor and in others, it isn’t a win-win situation for our bodies.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m confused by the comparison between cornstarch and arrowroot. How can one be “more natural” than the other? Aren’t they both derived from plants? Does the corn starch have more chemical additives or something? Or is it the scale of production that’s an issue? (I’m not necessarily a fan of cornstarch, just curious.)

    Reply
    • One isn’t more “natural” than the other, but one is more highly processed than the other. Arrowroot is a tuberous root than can be mashed for it’s starchy liquid. The liquid is dried and then used as a thickener for stews and soups, etc. Cornstarch was originally used as an industrial laundry starch until the 1850s when it was processed for use as a cheap food (corn is more plentiful than arrowroot, for sure). To make it, you must soak the kernals for 1-2 days, break down the kernal, separate it’s parts, and use a centrifuge to extract the endosperm starch, which is then dried for use in foods. I don’t have any problem with cornstarch and most people probably have some in their house (I know I do). The problem comes with the massive use of it in processed foods as a substitute for higher quality ingredients that are more expensive. So if you do have issues with blood sugar, for example, you could be unknowingly consuming a great deal of corn-related sugars through canned soup, frozen dinners with sauces and even sugar free pudding. That it is used in tires is just a fascinating add-on!

      Reply
  2. Oh my cornstarch… cheesecake and tires love you equally.
    This is good information! Did you ever read all the articles that circulated several years ago about how scary margarine is? I dunno if those facts were accurate, but I never ever use margarine. I’m a butter girl all the way.

    Reply

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