Recently I posted about how our cheeky active almost 5 year old son turned irritable, restless, aggressive and hyperactive on my mum following eating lots of bread with preservative 228 in it. I received so much feedback about the post, it prompted me to write this post about reading food packets.
Why it’s important to start reading food packets – NOW!
Did you know in the 70’s there was about 3,000-4,000 packets on supermarket shelves? Fast forward to today and it’s estimated there is now about 80,000 packets on supermarket shelves.
There’s no denying it – life gets crazier and busier when you become a parent, and preparing food has become a bigger challenge than ever before.
With many households now having working parents, the explosion of these packaged products has been marketed as the answer for us. They are convenient, they are fast, they last longer on our shelves and they are designed in a manner to make us want to eat them.
These products are rarely made with real food, offer little nutritional value and many are laden with ingredients made in chemistry labs. Unfortunately, the explosion of these packets have seen this kind of food become the norm.
With the explosion of these convenient products, has come a couple of side effects. Our health has started to suffer, particularly that of children – 1 in 4 children now considered to be overweight or obese in Australia and illness like diabetes is on the increase. Teachers I’ve interviewed now estimate large amounts of class time is spent managing children’s behaviour rather than teaching – this means more homework because work isn’t getting completed in class. Inevitably, we, as parents, end up overseeing and managing this homework, further impinging on our already short supply of time.
Cyndi O’Meara, one of Australia’s most recognised Nutritionists has called today’s products a chemical shitstorm and has even gone as far as saying our children will be living longer, but living with chronic illness. Reports are also saying this current generation of children are likely to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Crazy eh?
The above two packets are marketed to us as being perfect for lunchboxes. The one on the left is BBQ Shapes – it has 21 ingredients in it, including additive 635 (a flavour enhancer) that can cause symptoms of allergic reactions and hypersensitive reactions, behavioural problems (great for teachers – not), headaches or migraines, hyperactivity (again great for teachers – not), skin ailments such as eczema, dermatitis etc. (Source: Chemical Maze)
The second packet is Tiny Teddies, packing 1.5 teaspoons of sugar and 13 ingredients. This packet is chocolate Tiny Teddies and it includes colour Caramel III (also known as Caramel 150C). Symptoms and ailments listed for this colour are allergic and hyper-sensitive reactions, and hyperactivity. It’s also listed as potentially affecting the liver and is prohibited in foods for infants. (Source: Chemical Maze)
“Lunchbox Friendly” my backside! I think Cyndi’s description is appropriate, wouldn’t you agree?
Packet foods are made IN (manufacturing) plants, using science
Real food is made FROM plants (fruits and vegetables) using nature – soil, sun and water. They have a natural intelligence (eg, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, carbs, fats and proteins) that most people are usually able to use without ill effects. Real food also includes grass raised and fed meats – the animals are raised without antibiotics and hormones in paddocks where they are free to roam.
Packet food on the other hand is quite different. It is made IN manufacturing plants. There is no natural intelligence – it’s man made and sometimes designed to mimic the attributes of real food but many are not even designed with this in mind. Packet foods are made IN plants using science and it’s profit that drives their development.
Packet food is big business. The science and strategy behind packet food is huge. Packet foods are usually developed in the research and development departments of big business. It’s probably fair to say our health is not their top priority.
A food scientist or food technologists uses scientific research to look at properties and the functions of different ingredients. When developing packet products, 3 main components get added to give them flavour – salt, fat and sugar. Additives and preservatives also get added to products. Some of there purposes are to enhancing flavour, texture, moisture, shelf life etc.
Once a product is researched, designed, it is then tested. Big business are looking for what’s called the bliss point – the point at which an ingredient is added that optimises the palatability of the product. For example, if sugar is added, it’s the point at which the sugar is deemed to be neither too sweet or not sweet enough. It’s the point at which we can keep eating and then want to keep eating some more of the food.
The science used to develop a packet doesn’t stop there. There’s a science in the way the packaging is developed. What picture, colours and words get used on the front of a packet. Is it shiny? What size is it? All of this depends on who the company is aiming the packet at. For example, I often show kids a packet of BBQ shapes (because these are common in school lunchboxes) and usually in hall of 80 kids, there’s an air of excitement when I bring them out. Then I ask if they would want the packet if it had a picture of their parents holding hands on it. Being parents, you know what their answer is – it’s gross! A resounding no.
And, still the science doesn’t stop there. There’s the ads on TV, radio, buses, bus shelters, supermarkets and more.
But wait, there is more science. (And sadly, no steak knives.) What about how strategically positioned the packets are on the supermarket shelf? And those chocolates, lollies, bubble gum all located right near the check outs? Yep, all this is perfectly designed to either get our kids to nag us for them or to make us believe they will make our lives easier. There’s now even usage of some words which are designed to make us think the packet is good for our health.
Is there any wonder we have such a hard time trying to tell our kids they can’t have certain things? All of this science, is why I call my education program for kids, The Mad Food Science Program™. Because this science has gone quite mad, and this packet food is not really food – it does very little to help their bones, brain, heart, lungs etc.
The health side-effects of packets
The growth of packet foods has happened so quickly, and it’s only now – some 30-40 years later – that the effects are coming to light. Scarily, once you start researching all of this, it becomes a little reminiscent of cigarettes and the impact tobacco has had on the health of the world.
Thanks to the incredible work of Damon Gameau of That Sugar Film and Sarah Wilson of I Quit Sugar, the effects of sugar and products marketed as “low fat” (often having more sugar so they taste better) are now starting to become more well known. A lot more people are starting to pay attention to the amount of sugar in packets.
FYI – keep in mind, 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams of sugar. The World Health Organisation recommends adults limit sugar intake to 6 teaspoons a day, and many are saying this means children should only have 3-4 teaspoons a day.
There has also been some incredible work done by Bill Statham of Chemical Maze, Julie Eady of Additive Alert and Tanya Winfield from Additive Free Pantry to raise awareness about the impacts additives and preservatives have on some children. This work also highlights how many of these additives and preservatives are derived (eg. some are made from crushed beetles, petrol, bacteria and more).
I found this interesting and somewhat scary statement on the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel Website:
Most food additives are tested in isolation, rather than in combination with other additives. The long-term effects of consuming a combination of different additives are currently unknown.
Given the number of packaged products now consumed in a day, does anyone else find this concerning? And this is not even taking into account that one packet alone can have many additives and preservatives in it. For instance, in my Mad Food Science Class, I get the children to count how many ingredients there are in a popular brand of muesli bar – 29 ingredients – many are additives and preservatives.
Symptoms/Ailments of Additives & Preservatives
Before I go into this, it’s important to say that not every person is affected by additives and preservatives. And sometimes a person may not be affected then all of a sudden become affected.
Dr Loblay of Sydney’s Prince Alfred Hospital says this:
It’s a dose effect – often a little bit is not a problem, a bit more can be a problem, too much can be a problem. But that’s a very individual thing. Each person needs to work out how much is too much for them of which particular additive.
Despite all the great work in bringing the health side effects to the forefront, many people are still unaware the food in packets may be affecting their health. Particularly in relation to additives and preservatives, many do not join the dots in their own symptoms or their child’s until a friend or colleague tells them they have experienced it. Only then do they start to look at it themselves.
Just for your own information, here is a summary of symptoms and ailments which may be caused by additives and preservatives: (source: Chemical Maze app)
- Aggressive behaviour
- Allergic and hyper-sensitive reactions
- Behavioural problems
- Gastrointestinal ailments
- Headaches and migraine
- Learning difficulties
- Skin ailments (eczema, dermatitis, itching, hives, rash etc)
- Sleep disturbance
So what can you do?
Follow these 4 simple steps:
1. Add in more real foods and crowd out the number of packets
Fill up your plates and lunchboxes with real food, and start to reduce the amount of packets. Read about how I got my kids to eat cold left-overs – it gives you a bit of an idea of how to add in and crowd out foods.
2. Start reading food packets labels NOW
Start by ignoring the front of the packet, and turn to the back. This is where you’ll find everything you need to know. Look at the amount of sugar, look at what the additives and preservatives are. To save yourself from going into overwhelm, choose only a couple of packets a week to look at.
3. Ask yourself this important question
Now armed with the information you have, ask yourself:
“Do I really want to be putting this into my body (or my family’s bodies) now I know what’s in it?”
4. Can I find a better alternative?
This is important, because sometimes the same products made by different brands can have vastly different amounts of ingredients and additives and preservatives.
Key Message & Take-Away Action
As my parting words, please remember, where you are at is totally perfect. Everyone starts at zero, and as long as you make a start, you will move away from zero towards better health.
Here’s my action for you – choose a packet food you use for breakfast, choose a packet food you use for lunch, and a packet food you use at dinner (this includes jars of sauces). Follow the steps above for just these 3 items this week. Then next week, start again with 3 new items. You can do it!
You may also like to read this quite frightening and enlightening article from The Guardian about Inside the Food Industry.