I am one out of every five Americans who cannot afford to feed my family out of pocket. Consequently, we find great relief and solace from our neighborhood food bank, which supplements our pantry with staples and sometimes meats and bread we can’t ordinarily afford.
Typically, our food bank offers truly nutritious, simple staples like rice, beans, eggs. Occasionally, we come home with interesting “filler” items – brightly packaged, neatly summarized “nutrition” facts, and maybe even tasty.
Like this huge bag of popcorn made by Cape Cod Chips! Oooohhh, apple cinnamon and caramel popcorn? I have a serious weakness for popcorn. It is the ULTIMATE low calorie snack! It’s like practically air, but then you have this hint of salt, and a scosh of sweetness (did I spell that right?)…okay, I’ll stop.
What is that scosh of sweetness that I detect? To the ingredients I go, thinking, how hard can it be – really – to mess with something as simple as popcorn?
“Ingredients: Popcorn, Sugar, Soybean Oil, Corn Syrup, Seasoning (Sugar, Whey, Spice, Salt, Maltodextrin, Brown Sugar, Natural Flavor, Canola Oil, Rebaudioside A…”
Let’s read that last one out loud, and very slowly: “REB – AUDIO – SIDE – A”. Is this a tiny microchip recording device…? Or recycled A-sides from outdated warehouse vinyl…? Of course it turns out to be something far more insidious. According to the official Wikipedia article on Rebaudioside A:
“Rebaudioside A (sometimes shortened to “Reb A”) is a steviol glycoside that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The glycoside contains only glucose (to the exclusion of other commonly found monosaccharides) as its monosaccharide moieties. It contains four glucose molecules in total with the central glucose of the triplet connected to the main steviol structure at its hydroxyl group, and the remaining glucose at its carboxyl groupforming an ester bond.
Rebiana is the trade name for high-purity rebaudioside A.”
Okay, so it’s related to Stevia, a natural, herbal sweetener used for centuries in Asia and South America. But the rabbit hole really begins when you ask the question, “HOW is it related?” We find our answer in the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s 2008 request for the FDA to reconsider the safety of introducing Rebaudioside A into the food chain after initial reports of potential liver damage and DNA mutations.
The Department of Health Studies at UCLA published this study in 2008 regarding the “Toxicology of Rebaudioside A“, which found no conclusive evidence of Rebaudioside A being harmful. While I’m no scientist, per say, I did read the study, and found that while Stevia is certainly not harmful, the chemical derivative Rebaudioside A may have elevated alanine transminase levels (something you find with liver damage) and had some mutogenic effects on the human test-subject’s DNA compared to the control group.
This was back in 2008. Rebaudioside A is still in legal limbo, however, as the FDA has failed to prove this super-sweetener as GRAS (generally regarded as safe).
Now onto more interesting and enticing things attempting to pass as safe for human consumption like “Hot chili pepper and lime (artificially flavored) Churritos”:
“Ingredients: Corn masa flour (processed with lime), soybean and/or palm and/or canola oil, iodized salt, sugar, natural and artificial flavor, citric acid, soy protein, yeast, monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, sodium diacetate, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, artificial colors (red no. 40 lake, yellow no. 6 lake) onion powder, hot chili pepper (chile), sodium bicarbonate, sodium guanylate, sodium inosinate and silicone dioxide (anticaking), antioxidant (bht, tbhq, propylene glycol, bha).”
We already know that MSG (monosodium glutamate) is evil, the FDA has actually banned “partially hydrogenated” everything, Red no. 40 is conclusively linked to hyperactivity and behavioral disorders in children, and here’s what Health Line writer Anna Schaefer discovered about TBHQ in her article “The Potenntial TBHQ Dangers“:
“According to the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a well-designed government study found that this additive increased the incidence of tumors in rats. And according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), cases of vision disturbances have been reported when humans consume TBHQ. They also cite studies that have found TBHQ to cause liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, convulsions, and paralysis in laboratory animals.
Some believe BHA and TBHQ also affect human behavior. It’s this belief that has landed the ingredients on the black list of the Feingold diet, a dietary approach to managing attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Advocates of this diet say that those who struggle with their behavior should avoid TBHQ.”
In light of this disgustingly blatant ploy to pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes again and again…I decided to sacrifice my bag of Churritos, all 170 calories of it, to the fire gods for the greater good of humanity.
Food politics aside…I’d rather go hungry.