Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reading those labels

AKA, Finding the Wolf in the Sheep's Clothing.
So I went to Walmart yesterday, and as I strolled through the newly-remodeled deli section, I spotted some English muffins I'd not noticed before. Walmart's new packaging has a clean, wholesome look. Nice plain muffins. I bought (impulsively) a package.

And this morning (too late, I'm afraid), I turned over the package and glanced at the label.

Oh my word! What's all this stuff in my muffin?? And why is it there?

Here's the ingredient list, for those who care to know:
Enriched bleached malted flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)
corn meal/corn flour
butter (cream & salt)
wheat gluten
leavening (sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, calcium sulfate, monocalcium phosphate)
corn starch
fumaric acid
dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl, catylate, enzymes, azodicarbonamide)
soy lecithin
preservatives (calcium proponate, sorbic acid, potassium sorbate)
palm oil
citric acid

And now I'm hopping over to www.eafus.com to find out what some of these mysterious ingredients are, and why Walmart feels I need to eat them.

Let's start with Niacin. Looks pretty harmless. The website even says it is a nutrient, and occurs naturally in green vegetables. But not in bread. Listen to what the website says about artificially produced niacin that goes into breads: "Synthetically, it is produced by the oxidation of nicotine, quinoline or 2-methyl-5-ethylpyridine (from ammonia and formaldehyde or acetaldehyde)."

Nicotine? Ammonia? FORMALDEHYDE? Oh my. Read on.

How 'bout calcium sulfate? "Calcium Sulfate, also known as Plaster of Paris, Anhydrite and Gypsum, is a multipurpose food additive." I'm eating plaster of Paris? WHY? The website says it strengthens the dough, feeds the yeast and helps the color.

And calcium phosphate? I've heard of phosphates. Why is it in my muffin? Well, come to find out, "It is added to foods to bind trace metals and render them inactive." Trace metals? Why would there be trace metals in my muffin that NEED to be made inactive? They come from the machines used to make the muffins. The metal machines can taint the muffins, and calcium phosphate is added to neutralize this effect. Great. I need an ingredient to protect me from the MIXER??

Fumaric Acid? I must admit, this one sounds scary, but when I read what the website described, nothing was alarming. Except...one little word. Fumaric Acid is made synthetically by using Benzene. So, even though Benzene isn't listed on the label, I need to look it up too. Want to know about Benzene? " It is a petroleum or coal tar derivative." Petroleum? TAR? Oh, and the last sentence about Benzene: " Benzene is an indirect food additive that has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC as a group (1), a probable naturally occurring carcinogen that might be encountered in U.S. diets."

So, it occurs in nature, and probably causes cancer. But why is it in my MUFFIN?

I'll stop there, except to say that I find so many things in my muffin that are not necessary FOR ME. They are there for the SELLER -- to make the muffin look appealing (and buyable), or to make it have a much-extended shelf-life for cross-country shipping and to sit on the pallet and shelf for days or weeks. And on every ingredient I read about, the website indicated that there were no restrictions on how much of that particular ingredient could be added to the food, except what is regarded as general good practice in the industry. Did you realize this? Most of them are just labeled as GRAS: Generally Regarded as Safe.

Is this a wolf in sheep's clothing? Well, the information is on the label for all to see. They're not actually hiding anything. But the consumer must WORK to discover what she's putting on her table, and in her body.

NOTE: This is not an attack on Walmart. I'm certain that every grocery store in my town sells similar products. I just happen to shop at Walmart.

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