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Sunday, February 13, 2011

What You Probably Didn't Know about Food

Have you ever met someone who trusts in everything and everyone, even when they haven't earned their trust? What about the person who trusts even when their trust has been blatantly disrespected and taken for granted time and time again? Ugh, you can't stand people like that, right? But wait, are you that person when it comes to what you put into your body every day? I want to talk about a few commonly-ignored realities about everyday foods and I'll let you decide for yourself if maybe you're a lot more like that person I talked about than you realized.

Ok, so I am a huge cereal lover! When I say huge, I mean it! I sometimes have cereal for breakfast, snacks, and dinner and I have been known to eat it anywhere from 2 to as many as 6 times a day. Well, if I'm eating cereals that are high in whole grains and lower in sugar and I eat them with fresh fruit such as bananas and strawberries, that's good, right? Well, I would say so.

What if I told you that I don't drink soda, I almost never eat chips, and I buy chips for my house even less often than that? Well, I am avoiding a lot of unncessary intake of sugar and HF corn syrup since I don't drink soda and cutting out a lot of fat and sodium by avoiding chips. If you said that, you'd be only partially correct.

The fact about pre-packaged food is that it often has a fairly high sodium content, regardless of whether they taste salty or not. Sodium is used to extend shelf life but, as we know, certain health conditions, such as hypertension require a close watch on sodium intake. What would you say if I told you that the cereal I have in my cabinet right now, Kellogg's Roasted Nut and Honey Crunchy Nut Cereal (mmm, yummy! It's new:) has just as much sodium as the Tostitos Scoops I also have? Well, it's true. They both have 120 mg of sodium and those Scoops are dang salty, too much so for me, in fact. What would you say if I told you that my favorite cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios, has even more sodium than that at 160 mg per serving? Again, although a bit counterintuitive since you don't taste saltiness in your Cheerios, it's true.

I hear you already "DF, you're crazy! You chose all of the cereals with nuts. Of course they have more sodium." Nope, what about the fact that corn pops have 110 mg of sodium, Honey Bunches of Oats have 150 mg and HoneyComb has 215, yes 215 mg of sodium? This is just the way it is. If you don't read the labels on your food, you will never know. The labels are there for a reason.

So what am I trying to say here, that you should never ever eat cereal again? That I should also give up cereal (fat chance!) since I gave up chips and they have the same amount of sodium? Not at all. The point here is, don't allow yourself to be passive about what you put into your body. Read the labels and be informed. That doesn't mean that once you find out all of the stuff in your food that you should freak out, become a farmer, and never eat anything from a store again. Be smart and pick your battles. Balance your diet and don't eat anything in excess. I chose to give up chips, but I eat as much cereal as I please. I'm okay with that. You have to figure out what works best for you.

I started off with the cereal example because it is something that is a very commonly-ignored and somewhat counterintuitive example. However, there are many many more examples, and I'd like to point out a few of the main culprits.

One of the trendy diet changes for the health conscious is the incorporation of milk substitutes such as almond and soy milk. I went through my stages with both of these for health reasons and, I must admit, almond milk is actually pretty tasty. However, both of these are fairly high in sodium. Below are some stats for you to take a look at.

Silk Almond Milk - 150 mg of sodium
Unsweetended Blue Diamond Almond Milk - 180 mg of sodium
Silk Chocolate Soy Milk - 140 mg of sodium
Silk Vanilla Soy Milk - 95 mg of sodium

"Okay, DF, but I really don't care because I don't follow food trends, so I don't eat that crap anyway." I hear you... Well, now let's talk about some things that I bet you do eat. You know that Campbell's cream of blah blah blah that your mom or grandma puts in everything? How about the store-bought chicken broth she adds to everything else? Guess what? If it doesn't specifically say "no msg," there is above a 90% chance that it contains msg. I can tell you for a fact that when Campbell's says "lower in sodium" or "reduced sodium" it's often because everything else has msg. The same is true of shelf-ready chicken broth (can or carton). Swanson, however, is one commonly-sold brand that does not contain msg.

Continuing on the msg road, most spice blends contain msg if they do not say "no msg." So what that means is that your Asian spice blends, your Latin spice blends, and even your American stuff, such as accent often contain msg unless otherwise specified. In fact, I found a bottle of Accent in my mom's cabinet once and the sole ingredient was MSG :/. However, spice blends such as Goya's Adobo as well as most, if not all Lobo brand Asian seasoning do NOT contain MSG.

What about Chinese restaurants? Those who know about msg know that Chinese restaurants are famous for using it. So what do you do? You ask for them to prepare yours without msg, right? Wrong! Although they may mean well and say "ok, we can do that," cooks and restaurateurs at not only Chinese, but also other East Asian and SE Asian restaurants (THAI! You Thai-food-loving Richmonder, you!) cannot always have full control over this. Many commonly-used sauces such as soy sauce and oyster sauce often contain msg. If your local restaurant is using a brand that contains msg, which is a high possibility, guess what, your food still has msg. So, just be cognizant of this when you are making dietary decisions. Again, always read your labels (when they are there...occasionally some imports, especially some SE Asian ones, do not have them).

So who cares if my seasoning has MSG, right? Well, MSG is a man-made form of sodium that can affect different bodies in different ways. It is known to cause sudden and substantial spikes in blood pressure, mild headaches, and migraines. I can speak for myself that it gives me headaches and even migraines and who knows what is going on to cause that. The bottom line here is, be aware of what contains msg and avoid it when you can. If you occasionally use some spice blends or sauces that contain it, don't freak out, just use them in moderation.

Here's another one. Do you use soy sauce? Be careful because the last time I went to buy a bottle of soy sauce, I realized that some brands do NOT even contain soy : /. Not to mention, for those with gluten allergies, soy sauces almost always contain gluten.  Read the labels when you buy your soy sauce and make sure that soy is actually in the ingredients list. Otherwise...gross!!!

Lastly, this is especially for all of the vegetarians and vegans. If you love yogurt like I do, here's something you should know. Most American brands of yogurt, unfortunately, contain gelatin (as well as yucky-tasting artificial sweeteners). Gelatin comes from animals...I won't get into how or where, but if you can't eat meat, you can't eat gelatin. Just let it suffice to say that. A nice alternative is Indian yogurt, or dahi, which you can find at your local Indian supermarket. It is delicious, creamier, less sour, and contains neither gelatin nor artificial sweeteners, so it's a win win.

The point of all of this is that you cannot rely solely on the FDA. Do not expect the FDA to be some superhero defender of your well-being. Those people have their own interests, some wholesome and sincere, others more self-interested. At the end of the day, you are the one who puts the food in your mouth, not the FDA, so it is your responsibility to know what you are ingesting and how it affects your own body.

I know this may have been a bit much to take in, but I hope you found at least some of it useful. Let me know your thoughts :).


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