As I began looking at what goes into food I was surprised by the ingredients in packets of chips. It turns out that different flavours vary wildly in terms of ingredients and additives, and there are general patterns that apply across many brands. Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that good old plain salty chips are remarkably simple and natural!
I have not written much here about food. In fact, the only post that would come close was a report on the success of our verandah-garden some time ago. Recently I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about food and what goes into it, which all started with some research into those little numbers that typically appear in the “ingredients” list on the side of food packets. I was sure that lots of those numbers stood for fairly ordinary food items, but I had a suspicion that some of them were hiding nasty un-foody chemicals.
It is fairly easy to identify the numbers which are simply shorthand for regular ingredients, as their names are familiar. Number 330, for instance, is nothing more mysterious than citric acid. Trying to sort out the more unpleasant additives is a much more difficult challenge. Chemicals must be approved before they are allowed to be used in food, but there are some officially approved additives which can be linked to health problems. The difficult part is that most of these cases are only documented anecdotally, and it is easy to find conspiracy theorists who massively over-react to the more sensible data.
The best discussion of harmful additives, exploring the science as well as many personal anecdotes, is the Food Intolerance Network website. They have a handy summary of additives to try and avoid, which I have printed off and placed in my wallet. I’m not claiming this list to be the definitive judgement on food additives, but it is a good enough starting point for me to perform an experiment every time I go shopping for groceries. I’m trying to find out how easy it is to live without eating “bad numbers”.
I have to admit that I’ve been surprised by the ubiquity of unpleasant additives. Preservatives are especially widespread, and can be found even in many “health” foods. There are some particularly interesting “results” of my experiment that I will be writing up and sharing here over the next little while.
Perhaps it isn’t obvious why I’ve chosen to write about food in this “Changing the World” category. However, I believe that global health and personal health are related. It seems apparent that sustainable interaction with our natural environment will maintain the most abundant way of living. There’s little sense aiming for a planet that will support life to the full, if we’re eating ourselves to death or depression or distraction.