Monday, January 30, 2012

Pantry Raid #8: All Natural

Pin It As we move towards being a society that is more in tune with what exactly is in our food, all kinds of catch phases are popping up on food packaging everywhere.  We see labeling like "Gluten Free", "No GMO's", "No MSG", "No Preservatives", "No Additives", and my favorite, "All Natural".

What exactly is "All Natural" anyways?  Here's what the FDA says on their website....

"What is the meaning of natural on a food label?

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances."

Raise your hand if you thought the label "All Natural" was regulated...insert hand raised here!

So, here's my experience this weekend.  We went to a party Saturday afternoon to celebrate a close friend's upcoming arrival of her second baby boy.  Parties are always a great place to partake in a not-so-clean eating experience.  I don't put restrictions on myself or my family members in these situations for lots of reasons, but mostly because it would make me a a big party pooper :)  Although, I am constantly amazed to find that wise choices are made for the most part by all of us, including my three year old.  They would all prefer to indulge in the fruit and veggies over the processed junk food.  I've even had to pry them away from veggie trays before just to make sure there was enough for the rest of the party goers.

Since the day was already "tainted" so to say, when the hubby's late night cravings took hold with a hankering for a sub, I didn't try to talk some sense into him, and off to the grocery store he went.  I blame it on the junk food he had been consuming all day--maybe his brain was a little hazy.  Nonetheless, he came home with two non-approved (I say that just sounds funny) extras.  Apparently, a certain brand of kettle chips were on sale and he couldn't help himself :)

Side Note:  Kettle chips are one of my absolute favorite snacks and one of my only packaged food splurges.  An open bag in my house doesn't have a fighting chance.  We buy Kettle Brand Organic Sea Salt.  They have three ingredients (all organic) potatoes, oil and sea salt.

This set of imposters that came home in the hubby's grocery bag were a whole different story.  After looking at the label, researching exactly what the ingredients were, neither of us could stomach opening a bag.  Here's the kicker...both bags were advertised as:

At first glance, that doesn't look bad at all.  The only thing that jumped out at me was the canola oil.  Why?  Because I know that unless that bag says non-GMO, that is genetically modified canola oil.  Nobody knows for sure what genetically modified foods do to our body, but the research that has been done is not very encouraging.  Some scientists have proven that GMO foods are linked to many of our major diseases we face today.  It's a very politically touchy subject, so these findings are not yet advertised as common knowledge.   These websites are very informative on the subject
www. just

I am working on an upcoming post that will better explain this subject as well.'s what a closer look at the labels told me.  

Two ingredients on this label stood out to me--Maltodextrin and Sodium Diacetate.  I didn't need to spend five years in college to get a piece of paper that called me a Biomedical Engineer to figure out that they didn't sound very "All Natural" to me.  

Maltodextrin is a sweetener.  According to wikipedia, it is "enzymatically derived from any starch".  The most common ones being corn (yikes, another GMO) and wheat.  Call me crazy, but isn't wheat a gluten??  The package did say "Gluten Free", but wikipedia also says that "maltodextrin is such a highly processed ingredient that the majority of the protein is removed, rendering it effectively gluten free".  I guess I can accept that, although I would question trusting it if I had gluten allergies.  Do I agree that maltodextrin is "All Natural"...absolutely not!  If wheat has been processed to the point that is no longer resembles it's former gluten-filled self, the chemistry has been so altered that you just can't call that natural in any way shape or form.   Have studies been done to see what this chemical does to our bodies before they put it on our grocery store shelves?  Yes, one German study that was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology proved that maltodextrin contributes to weight gain. BEWARE: Since it is such an inexpensive sweetener, it is VERY frequently used in the world of processed foods.   

Sodium Diacetate "is a compound with formula NaH(C2H3O2)2. It is a 1:1 mixture of sodium acetate and acetic acid but is also described as the sodium acid salt of acetic acid", as per wikipedia again.  I will let you decide how "All Natural" that know what I'm thinking :)

Here is the second label.

Hmmm....Dextrose, Torula Yeast, Natural Flavors (Mesquite Smoke), Oleoresin, Citric Acid, Caramel Color.  Let's see...

Dextrose is a highly processed sweetener, like maltodextrin, that is produced from any starch.  Most of the time, it comes from cornstarch, a GMO.  Both maltodextrin and dextrose have very high glycemic index ratings, which screams DANGER in regards to diabetes.  Is it "All Natural"?  Like it's cousin maltodextrin, did God or science make it?  

Torula Yeast is an interesting ingredient.  Manufacturers have caught on to the fact that we have gotten smarter about what we are consuming.  MSG is one of the food additives that started this "revolution".   Remember the slogans "Once you pop, you can't stop", or "You can't eat just one".  That wasn't manufacturers just being full of themselves.  They knew they had a guaranteeing ingredient, because MSG messes with the function of your endocrine system and stops your appetite control.  In other words, your brain stops getting the message that you are full.  MSG is also linked to nerve disorders, headaches, reproductive disorders, lasting endocrine system and appetite control problems.  Once this became public knowledge, any company driven by morality would certainly remove THAT from their products!  Um, not all of them.  They just covered it up with a whole list of aliases.  One of which being torula yeast.  Ok, well, maybe it's natural???  Wikipedia says "It is produced from wood sugars, as a byproduct of paper production. It is pasteurized and spray-dried to produce a fine, light grayish-brown powder with a slightly yeasty odor and gentle, slightly meaty taste."   Yes folks, you are eating a by-product of the paper industry.  I used to live on St. Simons Island.  On a day when the wind blew just right, you could get a good whiff of the pulp mill where they made paper in Brunswick.  It is one of the most wicked smells you will ever lay your nose on...oh, I can't even think about it... that is just plain old gross!!!

Natural Flavors (Mesquite smoke):  One of the hubby's favorite summer past-times is spending his weekend on the driveway watching smoke billow out of the top of his barbeque smoker.  I've seen the process.  He burns some wood on one side, puts a piece of meat on the other, adds a whole lot of skill and out comes some of most succulent pieces of food I have ever placed in my mouth.  That seems like a pretty "All Natural" process to me.  So, you're telling me that this manufacturer put some potato chips in their ginormous smoker with some mesquite wood and got them some "All Natural" flavoring??  I think not, but can't see any other "All Natural" way to do it??

Are you grossed out yet??  I am!

Oleoresin is a "naturally occurring mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir."  That's pretty natural...I'll give them this one.  Where they come up with this stuff is beyond me though.  Let's go extract some resin out of that tree out there and put it on these potato chips...that'll be yummy!  Sorry, I can't help myself sometimes :)  

Citric Acid is a preservative....wait, I thought these chips had "No Preservatives".  I guess because it is a "Natural" preservative, it doesn't count.  Anyways, how is citric acid made?  I always thought citric acid was just lemon juice.  Boy, was I was wrong!  There is a less expensive way to make it.  Certain strains of mold, when fed sugar (GMO corn based is cheapest), produce citric acid.  "After the mold is filtered out of the resulting solution, citric acid is isolated by precipitating it with lime (calcium hydroxide) to yield calcium citrate salt, from which citric acid is regenerated by treatment with sulfuric acid."  Not so "All Natural" sounding to me anymore. 

Caramel Color:  Can I just say my brain is literally in pain after trying to decipher this one.  Caramel is made by heating a carbohydrate in the presence of an acid, alkalies and/or salt.  In commercial production, the carbohydrates permitted by the FDA can be "fructose, dextrose (glucose), invert sugar, sucrose, malt syrup, molasses, starch hydrolysates and fractions thereof."  The acids "are food-grade sulfuric, sulfurous, phosphoric, acetic, and citric acids; the alkalies are ammonium, sodium, potassium, and calcium hydroxides; and the salts are ammonium, sodium, and potassium carbonate, bicarbonate, phosphate (including mono- and dibasic), sulfate, and bisulfite."   Also, "food-grade antifoaming agents, such as polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, may be used as processing aids during manufacturing".  BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAAAHHHH!!!!!!!!  I said it, because I know you're thinking it :)   So, it boils down to taking an already highly processed sugar (carbohydrate) and adding more highly processed stuff to it to get some coloring to make your food look like what it really isn't.  Call it what you want, but I am surely not calling any of that mad-scientist, chemical, insanity "All Natural"!!

I just can't seem to shake this question...what in God's green creation is wrong with plain old POTATOES, SALT AND OIL?????  

The moral of my story??  Packaged food labeling can be VERY misleading.  The solution??  Read your labels, and let's go with the FDA's blurb on natural foods that I quoted at the beginning of this post.  Just steer clear of packaged foods with ingredients that you don't recognize as coming from the earth.  

Happy Monday!!



  1. How long did it take you to become this person with knowleadge about all the bad things. Thank you for fighting for the rest of us that dont take the extra look.

    1. Thanks!! I wouldn't call it knowledge...just a lot of crazy researching :)