March has arrived, and since it is the third month of the year, let’s talk about three common food additives that you will find on the label of most processed foods.
What are “processed foods”?
To understand why certain ingredients are healthier than others in your diet, you have to first understand what processed foods are and how processing can change the nutritional density of foods.
Processing refers to ANY chemical or mechanical change being made to change an agricultural ingredient from one form to another.
Let me translate that for you - any time a food is altered from its original state, it has been processed.
So, by definition, not all processed foods are detrimental to your health! Take a look at foods like 100% natural almond butter, it has been ground down into a delicious spread from its original almond.
In fact, fermentation can also be considered a form of processing. It has long been used by ancient cultures around the world to preserve nutrients and sustenance. And some of the best gut health foods are fermented, including R’s KOSO.
R’s KOSO is free from any of the 3 common additives mentioned later in this article, and it doesn’t take shortcuts in the fermentation process. Each batch of KOSO is fermented with 100+ plant-based whole foods for over a year.
Additionally, flash-frozen fruits and vegetables, canned fish packed in water, extra virgin cold-pressed oils, and rolled oats are a few examples of processed foods that still have valuable nutritional value.
What types of processed foods are less healthy?
When processed foods undergo extensive chemical transformations to become significantly less nutrient-dense or even toxic for the body, that’s when you should question their presence in your diet.
Take hard liquor, for example, the distillation process has removed all of the original health benefits of the grains that manufacturers started with. What’s left is a substance high in alcohol content, that if consumed chronically in large amounts can cause serious damage to the liver, the brain, and the rest of the body.
This is also the case for foods easily found in the Average Western Diet, and the two prominent examples that come to mind are:
Vegetable oils, heated and chemically changed beyond recognition for the human gut, cause inflammation in the body.
White sugars refined to be void of many minerals and vitamins are the root cause of a diabetes epidemic in North America.
3 common chemical additives
Sometimes chemical additives don’t sound like the food at all! So, today let’s demystify three common additives and their effects on your health:
The first is CARRAGEENAN. This is a thickener that is often used to stabilize dairy products to keep them from separating and improve viscosity or “mouth feel”. It’s derived from red algae so could it be healthy? Mmm not quite.
According to a 2001 review, there is strong evidence that carrageenan can convert into “degraded carrageenan”, which is a pro-inflammatory agent and potential carcinogen. In other words, there may be a correlation between carrageenan consumption and cancer growth. (1)
Food scientists are still inconclusive on the mechanisms and validity of this, so approach with caution. While there is no need to panic, do your best to avoid it where possible.
2, SOY LECITHIN
The second is SOY LECITHIN, which happens to be one of the most common emulsifiers in the food and supplement production industries. Its primary role is to soften and refine texture to be more appealing.
Lecithin is one of the end products of extracting soybean oil - a hyper-oxidized and inflammatory vegetable oil. Though soy lecithin is more benign and studies have concluded it’s safe to consume.
Though lecithin has been used in some studies to successfully reduce cholesterol levels, many of its critics are hesitant to claim it as healthy food due to a lack of research. (2, ) At this time, it’s agreed that it is not the worst additive out there. It is even reported to be safe for people who are allergic to soy products. (4)
3, XANTHAN GUM
Finally, the third additive is XANTHAN GUM, which is used to thicken foods and beverages. In addition to shelf-stable products, such as soups, condiments, and sauces, now you can even find it in the molecular gastronomy of fine dining cuisine.
It comes from fermented and extracted from the sugars of grains or soy. And it is high in soluble fiber and may have possible health benefits. (5) The amount of xanthan gum you will find in most food products is actually low so it’s not a significant source of fiber.
At the end of the day, knowledge is power when it comes to building a balanced diet. It is almost impossible to avoid food additives from your diet completely, however when you consume minimally processed or nutrient-dense foods and supplements, such as R’s KOSO, on a regular basis, your diet can exclude the more processed and nutrient-depleted foods, too!
Keren Chen | CBT Nutritionist
Podcast - https://open.spotify.com/show/4FF59S3