Bread . . .And Other Processed Foods

18 06 2013

I guess I shouldn’t have expected a simple definition for something as complicated as processed foods. In searching the internet, Livestrong uses the FDA’s definition of processed foods which defines every food as processed if it isn’t raw. By that definition, if you cook some vegetables and add spices, you just processed your food. The subject of processed food is much more convoluted than that!

I got interested in the subject when I read  Melanie Warner’s book, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. What an eye opener! She defines processed food as “something that could not be made, with the same ingredients, in a home kitchen. In your home kitchen.” I’m not going to do a book report or give away all the juicy details, but I am going to hit some highlights. Warner also states that “processed foods are designed to be irresistibly delicious and appealingly convenient, but the more you know about the story of food additives, the more hollow the appeal seems.” According to Warner, it’s food preparation and food additives that determine if foods are processed. Her book gives new, real meaning to the phrase “avoid the middle aisles of the grocery store.”

Labels Make For Some Interesting Reading!

Melanie Warner’s definition becomes clear when you start reading ingredient labels. After you read her book, I predict you will read the labels of everything you buy. Let’s take bread for an example. A couple years ago, I gave up white bread (empty food and calories) and felt good about my switch to whole wheat bread high in fiber. I read the part of the label identifying the amount of fiber, protein, etc. and I honestly didn’t give it much more thought than that. I trusted Pepperidge Farm to bake a healthy product. Well here is the label for Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Whole Wheat bread: Unbromated stone ground 100% whole wheat flour, water, wheat berries, wheat gluten, sugar, yeast, raisin juice concentrate, soybean oil, wheat bran, contains 2 percent or less of: unsulphured molasses, wheat flakes, honey, lower sodium sea salt, cultured whey milk, distilled vinegar, salt, enzyme modified soy lecithin, wheat flour. It doesn’t seem that bad but with all the additives, it’s definitely processed. Now compare the ingredients of Great Harvest‘s whole wheat bread: fresh-ground whole wheat flour, water, yeast, salt, honey. The same ingredients you would use at home. Definitely simpler, and definitely not processed. So I am frequenting Great Harvest more often now. Or, if you’re Uncle Ed (my sister’s husband), you make your own bread! He’s taught all the cousins, too! Or, if you’re lucky and live on the West Coast, you can get Dave’s Killer Good Seed Bread.

I also took a new look at those Chi Chis whole wheat flour tortillas I have been buying for years, too (instead of the white flour tortilla). Ouch. Ingredients: Whole wheat flour, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin and folic acid), water, soybean oil, salt, sodium bicarbonate, mono & diglycerides, sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate, fumaric acid, potassium sorbate, corn starch, soy flour, sodium propionate, calcium sulfate, monocalcium phosphate, guar gum, cellulose gum, arabic gum, sorbic acid, l-cysteine. Ugh. All in order to create a consistent, pliable, soft tortilla that won’t mold. Guess what I did? I made my own flour tortillas the other night. They were easy and pretty good. Ingredients? Organic wheat flour, salt, baking powder, lard, and water.

One more example: Packaged shredded cheese. This is another instance where I have enjoyed the convenience without paying attention to the ingredients. Safeway’s Essential Everyday Mexican style Cheddar Jack cheese contains: mild cheddar cheese (cultured pasteurized mil, salt, enzymes, annato (color)), monterey jack cheese (cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes), potato starch and powdered cellulose added to prevent caking, natamycin (a natural mold inhibitor). These may not be bad for you, but there’s certainly more in the bag than cheese. I’ve already started using my grater again! And the word natural? According to Warner, “no legal definition exists for what’s natural and what’s not. The FDA has never defined the term, despite its unbridled use and a dozen court cases where food companies have been sued for using it.”

Soy. Soy. Soy.

Soy is a huge subject in her book. The reason why is that soybeans, and specifically soy protein, are fundamental to today’s food processing. Soy is planted all over the United States and it is big business. For example, those chicken nuggets in the freezer section are up to 25% soy protein infused. She states that Tyson’s 100% Natural chicken nuggets are made with 18 ingredients. You can certainly make more chicken nuggets if you start adding stuff to them. Plus, the chemical processes used to make soy additives are fascinating and alarming. Tofu and edamame are okay, but look out otherwise. And those fake soy hot dogs for vegans? I looked at the label the other day. After reading Pandora’s Lunchbox, I wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole – not that I ever did!

Fast Food.

Obviously, everybody knows fast food is generally thought to be unhealthy. I haven’t had a McDonald’s cheeseburger in eons, nor a Wendy’s cheeseburger, or other fast food (okay, twice a year I get a sourdough breakfast jack at the Jack in the Box in Idaho). However, I did think I was making a healthy choice by going to Subway and getting the 6″ turkey sub with no cheese, salt and pepper, spinach, tomato, banana peppers, olives, and red hot sauce on a honey oat roll. Uh oh! When you go to Subway anywhere in the country, you want the same Subway sandwich you order at home, right? Well, in order to guarantee that consistency, it turns out Subway is just another fast food joint! For example from Pandora’s Lunchbox, “In order to get dough to survive all this puffing up and thrashing that happens inside machines, “dough conditioners” are needed. Subway’s bread contains five of them: sodium stearoyl lactylate, monoglycerides, diglycerides, ascorbic acid, and dactyl tartaric ester of monoglyceride, known as DATEM. Without these ingredients, Subway’s dough would break down, losing its elasticity and sticking in gooey clumps to the machines.” Get her book and read the whole Subway story, including all about the turkey!

Why Should We Care?

In our modern world, we are bombarded with chemicals. I don’t think we should be expected to be bombarded with chemicals and additives in our food. If you check Warner’s index for Pandora’s Lunchbox, here are the listings under cancer: “aldehydes, BHA, chemical interactions, fiber, Kellogg’s views about, omega balance, phytomins, soybeans, sweeteners, vitamins and minerals, Wiley’s concerns.” Let’s look at BHA on the index list in her book. It’s a preservative, “short for butylated hydroxyanisole, and is on California’s Proposition 65 list of cancer- or birth-defect-causing chemicals. The Department of Health and Human Services has placed it on a list – a relatively short one – of substances ‘reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.’ Manufacturers have switched to BHT (also on the list), but you can find BHA in Tang, tropical punch, Kool-Aid lemonade, DiGiorno pepperoni pizza, and McDonald’s sausages and breakfast steak.” We can’t control everything, but we can control the food we eat. Obviously, the more we create in our own kitchen, and avoid all those food additives, the better it has to be for us. Warner does use an example of a family who tried the 10-day food challenge from the 100 Days of Real Food program. You don’t have to do a challenge to get a lot out of this website. It is loaded with ideas, tips, and recipes to help reduce and eliminate our dependence on processed foods. If you’re interested, it’s the perfect place to start. Another great website that I was recently introduced to by Doc Newman (a former Navy doctor) is It’s loaded with food, nutrient, and cooking information and ideas. He recommends it to all his patients.

You CAN Find Healthy Convenience Foods in the Grocery Store

It’s not my intention to turn you off of grocery store food. While I am trying to cook more from scratch, and as much as we try to eat more healthily everyday, we all give in to convenience foods and fast food – that’s life in the fast lane. However, all is not lost if you don’t feel like cooking and want to be healthy! There are a lot of companies making the effort to produce good foods without a lot of processing and additives including Bertolli, Mariani, Dr. Praeger, Amy’s, La Pasta, many Trader Joe’s items, and more. Below is a sampling of some of the prepared foods I’ve found.

Feeling like pizza? I like Amy’s Cheese Pizza. Ingredients are: organic unbleached wheat flour with organic wheat germ and organic wheat bran, filtered water, part-skim mozzarella cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, culture, salt, enzymes (without animal enzymes or rennet)), organic tomato puree, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic honey, sea salt, organic red onions, expeller-pressed high oleic safflower and/or sunflower oil, yeast, spices, organic garlic, black pepper. Add fresh spinach, mushrooms, red onion, chopped tomatoes, shredded carrots, and chopped peppers and you have a delicious, filling veggie pizza. She also has a vegan No Cheese Pizza.

Mary’s Gone Crackers are truly delicious and contain: organic short grain brown rice, organic whole quinoa, organic brown flax seeds, organic brown sesame seeds, filtered water, organic black pepper, sea salt, organic wheat free tamari (water, whole organic soybeans, salt, organic alcohol or organic vinegar). Yummy with cheese or hummus!

When I don’t feel like making my own (I make my own pasta, too), I buy Michael Angelo’s Vegetable Lasagna. The box label reads: Tomatoes (tomatoes, salt), vegetable blend (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, spinach), mozzarella cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), ricotta (whole milk, whey, vinegar, salt), past (durum semolina), water, imported romano cheese (pasteurized sheep’s milk, cultures, rennet, salt), olive oil, honey, salt, garlic, spices. Not bad for packaged, frozen food!

Since I don’t grill hamburgers anymore, I’ve turned to veggie burgers. Amy’s California Veggie Burger contains: organic mushrooms, organic onions, organic bulgur wheat, organic celery, organic carrots, organic oats, filtered water, organic walnuts, wheat gluten, organic potatoes, sea salt, expeller-pressed high oleic safflower and/or sunflower oil, organic garlic. Believe it or not, they taste delicious!

Read All About It!!

Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal is a quick read and it is comprehensive. Melanie Warner leaves no stone unturned in the history of food and food processing in America. With meticulous detail and thoroughness, in an interesting and readable format, she describes food processing techniques (she personally visited plants), takes an exhaustive look at soy and soy protein in processed foods, interviews food experts, and uses name brand foods and fast food chains to illustrate her points.

It will change the way you shop and the way you cook. Guaranteed.



2 responses

19 06 2013
Katharine Smeallie

Thanks Debbie. You would probably love Sring Hill bakery breads sold at MOMs on Mt. Vernon Ave.

Sent from my iPhone

19 06 2013
benjamin newman

Debbie GREAT blog. I learned much and will be passing this on to my patients. Good job, keep them coming ATB Ben

Benjamin G. Newman, MD, FAAFP

Sent from my iPhone

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