What is really in your food?

My Quest for Homemade and why…

Ok, so I thought that overall, we ate pretty well. I don’t tend to buy many canned, jarred, or packet sauces or mixes. I bake most of my kids snacks, and I generally try and stick to the basic ingredients and make up my meals from there. However, after setting out on my ‘quest for homemade’, I have been rudely awakened to just how many additives, preservatives, chemicals, and ‘other stuff’ we have in fact been consuming – and often from the most unexpected products. I am going to outline below a few of the things I have found, so that you might be at least a little better informed and encouraged to read product labels on your next shopping trip.

Dried Fruits and Sulphur Dioxide

It was always my assumption that dried fruit was good for us. However, after being informed by a friend that most dried fruits are treated with Sulphur Dioxide, so as to preserve their original colour and flavour, I became a little concerned. This is particularly evident in apricots, which when treated, retain their vibrant orange colour. Naturally dried or organic apricots are actually a brownish colour. While the levels of Sulphur Dioxide contained in various fruits can differ, it is handy to know that consuming this can potentially have a significant affect on children with Asthma. If you want to avoid this chemical (As well as the sugar that is also commonly added to dried fruit), read the labels, and try to select organic alternatives. Find out more about Sulphur Dioxide in the articles below:

http://fedup.com.au/factsheets/additive-and-natural-chemical-factsheets/dangers-of-dried-fruit

http://www.livestrong.com/article/317156-the-health-risks-of-sulfur-dioxide-in-dried-fruits/

Genetically Modified Foods (GMO) – they’re more prevalent than you think

Over the years, I have heard the terms GMO and genetically modified, but didn’t think it really affected me or the food I ate. How wrong I was! After some very brief research, I was shocked to discover that genetically modified ingredients are estimated to be present in 70% of processed items currently sitting on supermarket shelves. Interestingly, the product does not need to state if it contains any GMO ingredients, unless those ingredients account for more than 1% of the product. So what is GMO?

According to Wikipedia, genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.

The main GMO crops include corn, canola, and soy, and after my label reading journey, I found one or more derivatives of these products in many of my favorite products. Now, I could go into heaps of information regarding GMO foods, however, I am going to share the following links instead, as they sum it up brilliantly and will allow you to become much more informed regarding these foods:

http://madge.org.au/safe-food-shopping-guide

What GMO foods are present in your kids snacks:

http://www.truefood.org.au/documents/TrueFoodGuide_Kids_2011.pdf

Read the labels – don’t just assume cream is cream!

What surprised me most, was that everyday items like cream, canned tomatoes, butter, coconut milk, grated cheese etc often contained ‘additives’. Some of these were in the forms of colours, preservatives, thickeners, stabilisers, extra ingredients etc, and while some may not be too sinister, others can cause pretty major allergic reactions to susceptible people, can aggravate asthma, and are overall not good for ones health. For example, thickened cream as extras added to make it thick. Of all the cream brands I checked, only 2 brands contained purely cream (Pura and Ashgrove un-thickened creams). I also went to grab some grated cheese that was on special, only to turn over the packet and find it had anti-caking agents and other ‘extras’ included. I only found one butter brand (Mainland Buttersoft pure butter) that contained no canola oil (a GMO crop) or other additives, and Ayam was the only brand of coconut cream and milk I could find that contained solely that ingredient!

I found it surprising when checking between brands, just how many differences there were in ingredients for the supposedly same product. For example, canned tomatoes (which I always assumed were just tomatoes in a can!), can have varying ingredient lists depending on the country of origin and the brand. Interestingly it was the Coles Italian tomatoes that were just tomatoes and juice! Australian tomatoes tended to have other things added as well.

Colours and preservatives are in more than we realise. Desiccated coconut contains preservative, canned fruit salad contains a colour 127 (to keep the cherries red), while two fruits etc don’t. Brown vinegar contains the ‘caramel’ colour. All seemingly ‘simple’ products, that have more ingredients than we realised. If you want to check out various additives etc, visit this site for a comprehensive list of any symptoms they may cause – you may be surprised!

http://www.mbm.net.au/health/guide.htm

If you are shopping and reading labels, use your mobile to check colours etc while on the go –  you may find that you quickly put many products back on the shelf and find better alternatives! Note: if you have kids, try to go ‘label reading’ one night or day on your own. It is time consuming and not something that can be easily done while trying to keep an eye on the children! 🙂

I’m not trying to scare you

My aim in writing this article is not to scare you off every supermarket brand food and plunge us back into the 1800’s of food preparation. I am certainly not a nutritionist or health nut by any means (I will take chocolate over fruit any day!). However, I hope that you will find this to be a quick education about just what it is we are buying, consuming, and feeding to our children. Often, knowing this information can help determine allergy, asthma, and behavioural triggers in children, and at the end of the day, the more ‘man-made’ stuff we can eliminate from our diets, the better off we would have to be. I also mentioned in last weeks Facebook post that you will still find some processed food in my panty, and you will still catch me driving through a take-away from time to time. Us mothers are busy and I don’t expect every mum to suddenly give up every single little convenience available to us. My aim with this homemade quest is to replace processed or ‘not so healthy’ foods with homemade alternatives (wherever practically and realistically possible), that will hopefully provide me and my family with a healthier and more energised quality of life.

If you have any comments or warnings when it comes to the foods we buy, please add them below. The more we know, the better educated we can be when doing our shopping! As I begin posting recipes over the coming weeks, I will also let you know about any other interesting bits of information I come across.

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