Thursday, March 12, 2009

Enhancing Our Food

Enhancing Our Food
On the back of most packaged food contains the ingredients in descending order based on amounts. The main component listed usually is followed by a list of chemical names. These chemicals are additives similar to antioxidants, preservatives, sweeteners and emulsifiers. Three other additives that are commonly added to food are colors and bleaching agents, thickening agents and texture modifiers as well as flavor enhancers. Colors and bleaching agents give food whatever color consumers expect and find appetizing. About 30 different substances, either synthetic or naturally occurring can be used for food coloring. In the United States, only seven of these have been certified for use. Thickening agents and texture modifiers included natural carbohydrates extracted from Irish moss, different types of gum and other modified natural substances or cellulose derivatives. Finally, flavor enhancers such as MSG are used in Chinese food and soups. This sodium salt is a naturally occurring amino acid glutamic acid. Often, MSG negatively affects certain people, by incurring headaches for example. All flavor enhancers exaggerate the taste of meat and are ionic compounds produced from organic acids.

Unfamiliar terms:
• Carrageenan: a carbohydrate extracted from Irish moss used as a thickening agent.
• Xanthan gum: a thickening agent.
• Locust bean gum: a thickening agent.
• Propylene glycol alginate: a modified natural substance used as a thickening agent.
• Monosodium glutamate: the sodium salt of the naturally occurring amino acid glutamic acid known as MSG.
• Disodium guanylate: a flavor enhancer.
• Disodium inosinate: a flavor enhancer.

Being a college student, I ingest candy, soda and goldfish daily. While this section of the text may not get me to cut out these food groups entirely, it has made me think twice about what I am putting into my body. While all of these substances are safe, because they are not all organic or natural, they cannot be very healthy or nutritious. I often read the back labels of the food substances I eat and drink and have wondered what some of these chemical names mean. I feel that now, even if I continue eating the unhealthy food I love so much, I will at least understand what I am ingesting. More often than not, food is bleached and colored to look like what consumers think it should look like. This makes me wonder why such products don’t already look as they are supposed to. It also worries me that there are food colorings that have been found to be carcinogenic in test animals, however, these additives have been banned in the United States. As for thickening agents and texture modifiers, I had no idea that I often eat derivatives of Irish moss. This fact might make me think twice before eating more Sour Patch Kids, but probably only for a moment. And finally, I had heard of the flavor enhancer MSG, but did not know the details of this additive. I did not know that it often has negative side effects such as headaches when added to Chinese food or soups. This makes me wonder why MSG is used so often. Also, I did not previously think about the fact that flavor enhancers not only exaggerate taste, but also allow producers to use less of the “real” thing and use inferior quality ingredients.

In the future, I hope that more organically grown products will be more widely used. Even though these food additives that have been certified in the United States are not hazardous, they still give us no nutritional value and can lead to poor health if consumed too regularly. After reading this section I was surprised to realize just how many of these additives I consume on any given day. Hopefully, new technology will start being used to make these additives in an organic and natural way. In the future I may think twice about what additives I consume and will also look more closely at the back labels of my food.

Baird, Colin. Chemistry in Your Life. W.H. Freeman & Company, New York. 2006. 385-386.

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