Oils, and Sugars, and Enriched Flours – Oh My!

Continuing with my “What the Heck Are We Eating” series, I did a little research on some of the nasty stuff in our food. Honestly, it didn’t take too much research to realize how bad for us a few of the common ingredients in our food are. I started with hydrogenated oils, then high fructose corn syrup, and finally enriched flour.

Hydrogenated oils are basically oils that started out not too bad for us and were made tremendously bad for us. Manufacturers started creating hydrogenated oils to increase the shelf life of many products.

The process basically involves forcing hydrogen into oils so they last longer and get hotter. Hydrogenated oil is what adds to that new line on the nutrition facts – trans fat. Trans fat lowers our good cholesterol and raises our bad cholesterol – a double wammy. It has been linked to diabetes, coronary disease, and obesity.

The scariest part of my research, though, was how many foods contain hydrogenated oils, including some that we were taught to believe were “better” for us. Margarine and most “butter-like” spreads are at least half hydrogenated oils. When I started reading labels I even discovered Bisquick has hydrogenated oil in it.

High fructose corn syrup began being added to foods because it was cheaper than real sugar and had, like hydrogenated oils, a long shelf life. However, manufacturers have gone crazy with the stuff. High fructose corn syrup can be found in an amazing number of products today that you might not expect it to be in – pasta sauce, ketchup, bread, juice, and the list goes on.

Maybe the “high” in “high fructose corn syrup” is for the high number of calories it adds to foods. So today, we are all consuming far more calories and filling our bellies with more empty calories than we were just a generation or so ago.

I didn’t do a lot of research on enriched flour, because I already knew it was not great. Manufacturers have to “enrich” the flour with extra vitamins and minerals because they have processed all the naturally occurring ones out. Whole wheat and whole grain flours are the ones with the natural stuff still in there.

So what I have done with this info? I’ve started reading labels more and making different choices – most of them simple substitutions.

When I first did this research, I stopped buying Nutragrain bars for the kids (they are HORRIBLE) and started buying the Kashi cereal bars (which have – oh my – real fruit in them!). I also buy organic ketchup, which has no high fructose corn syrup and three times the lycopene as regular ketchup. I make sure the bread I buy is made with whole grain flour. I started buying some “natural” or “organic” lines as substitutes for some of the bad offenders – like cookies and crackers.

I’ve become a better label reader. I scan for these big bad ingredients, but then I also think about how long it takes me to read the label and how many items I don’t understand, or can’t pronounce. If it takes me more than a few seconds to read through the ingredient list, it is probably too processed of a food for me.

I figure I will never be able to completely cut these evils out of our diet. With two working parents, convenience foods are necessary some days. But if I can cut them out where I can, then the ones we do have will just cause a little damage, instead of completely destroying us. :)

Do you read labels? What ingredients do you try to cut out?

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