Top tips for shopping to avoid nasty chemicals
In the last couple of decades, the food industry has changed significantly and that’s a fact. Now, what we can do about it is to learn how not to get caught into buying food-like products that have little to do with the actual food. We’re quite lucky in the UK, as thanks to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) all, or at least most of the ingredients need to be listed on the label and foods that come lose need to have a list of ingredients available to the consumer in a visible place. Therefore, once you understand how to read them, you’ll be able make conscious decisions about food that you eat.
Food additives are very prevalent in foods and serve several functions:
- they make food last for longer keeping its shape, consistency, taste and texture,
- they make the food less prone to bacterial/fungal contamination and spoilage,
- they make food more attractive to the consumer by adding colour or enhancing flavour,
- they allow for removal and replacement of specific components, such as zero fat yoghurt or gluten-free bread.
Salt is the most natural food preservative used for centuries. However, there are hundreds of other man-made chemicals added to foods, such as colourings, flavourings, emulsifiers and so on. It is now estimated that we consume approx. 2 kilograms (4.4 lb) of food additives per year and we’re yet to find out what impact they have on our health. Some of them do, indeed, preserve the food to the extent that even an 8-year old cheeseburger (left) does not differ much from a ‘fresh’ one (right).
What to look for in the shop:
- The more ingredients on the list the more processed the food product is. Choose products that contain few ingredients you can recognise and commonly use.
- Ingredients are added to the list in order of weight/volume – if one of the first ingredients is sugar (glucose, maltose, fructose, corn syrup etc.), salt or something you cannot recognise – stay away.
- Pay attention to how the product is stored in the shop – e.g., vegetable oils should be stored away from the heat or source of sunlight, best in the fridge.
- Check the label for simple sugar content, especially in drinks. If the ‘healthy’ smoothie you hold in your hands contains 10g sugar per 100ml – leave it behind. Having 300ml of this smoothie will equal eating 3-4 tablespoons of sugar.
- Compare different brands for price per ml or g/kg. You may find that chopped tomatoes can cost you twice as much when they’re branded. Also, you may discover that organic vegetables are not much more expensive than non-organic.
- Buy loose fruit and vegetables as they will always cost less than packed – plus, you avoid them having contact with plastic that can be harmful and is a non-recyclable waste.
- Don’t discard the fruit and veg that don’t look perfect – the more ideal-looking, the more preservatives and chemicals they have been sprayed with – to the extent that not even mould wants to colonise it.
- Avoid food products that have long shelf life, especially if they contain ingredients that would naturally spoil, such as cake with cream.
- Minimise the use of ready-made meals, sauces, salads etc.
- Avoid chopped and packed vegetables as they have nearly lost their nutritional value.
- Buy less food to avoid wastage – be creative with your leftovers.
- Buy less food of better quality – invest in high quality meat, eggs and oils.