Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Nutrition 101 - Part Five: Preservatives and Other "Goodies" to Avoid

Disclaimer: I am not a certified nutritionist. I do not have a degree in anything health related. I am not an expert by any stretch. I am just a mom with a kiddo on the autism spectrum who has tried to help her son by feeding him (and her entire family) the best she can on a limited budget. I am self-taught and do not make any claims that I am 100% right on any of this stuff. I hope these posts encourage other moms to jump in and start making changes, big or small, in an attempt to lead a healthier lifestyle. Now back to our regulary scheduled program... :)

Taking a break from all my homeschool posts of late, I thought I would add a new post to the nutrition series I have been working on for the past few months. Although I cannot resist just one quote from Charlotte Mason. The first part of Volume 1 includes some of her thoughts about health and nutrition. Much of the information is seriously outdated and/or just plain wrong since it is based on data that is now close to 150 years old. Yet it is amazing how much is still right!
These (all she has previously mentioned) may seem like the least interesting details of education, but the foundation of good nutrition and health is the ground on which everything else rests. Every part of our being -- our thinking, our mood, even our spiritual life-- is affected by our physical condition, by how healthy and alert we are.
Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, Modern Translation, p. 37 (emphasis mine)

I already did one post about nitrates/nitrites which are used in the preservation of meats. There are so many other preservatives out there to be aware of when you are trying to feed your family more healthfully.

First in our family we avoid BHT, BHA and TBHQ. Like with most of the things I've mentioned, the FDA claims these preservatives are safe in our food. Yet if you Google any of these you will see there is much controversy out there, including, but not limited to, raising cancer risks; we avoid them to be safe. These preservatives have even been banned in some other countries. Look here (a little bit down the page) at the Feingold site to see what they have to say. Often you will see a package say "BHT added to the packaging" as if the packaging doesn't touch your food. Sigh.

We also avoid Sodium Benzoate, MSG, EDTA, and most of the other things you will see mentioned here on this "10 Preservatives to Avoid " list or this article "Why You Should Avoid Artificial Preservatives" (Be sure to read all four pages of the article. What first comes up is just a tiny bit of the whole. It is very readable and written in layman's terms.)

What I get asked most often is, "Okay, but how?" and my answer is always the same...just start reading labels. I stopped buying the cheaper store brand cheerios because they had BHT in the packaging but the national brand uses only tocopherols (Vitamin E also used as a preserative). Just wait for them to go on sale and pair that sale with a coupon - cheaper even than that off-brand. ;) I stopped buying Wheat Thins which also add BHT to the packaging but Triscuits do not. Watch carefully though, at one time the low-fat Triscuits still had BHT (don't think they do anymore) but the original did not. Interesting. I buy lots organic cereal and crackers to avoid these preservatives although Pepperidge Farm has a new yummy line of crackers that are preservative free as well. The only soda I allow my children to have on occasion is Sprite but it unfortunately has Sodium Benzoate in it. That's why we often make our own homemade version; you can find the recipe in this post on dyes.

Do you have any tips or ideas you can share? If so leave a comment, or better yet write a post on your blog and tell us where to read in the comments. :)



Jennie said...

I love your blog, Miss Jennefer! I am not yet homeschooling but I do have a 3 year old girl with autism. I heard of your blog from Kellie at BHA.

For this post, I have found that shopping at a Trader Joes store (if there is one in your area), you can trust the products don't usually have High fructose corn syrup or those icky preservatives. That way you can get the products you love that are staples (like ketchup) and have no worries! I guess I am just one of those weird people that don't like mercury in my food...


Rebecca said...

Thanks for the post. It is nice to know that other people are facing the same issues :-) We try to maintain a GFCF diet in our house, but also try to avoid soy...my kids and their allergies!! I feel like the entire month is a huge balancing act to try to stay within budget, but still have "fun" snacks for the kiddos that don't require me spending tons of precious time in the kitchen.
Rebecca J.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the great links!

Melissa said...

Thanks for the links to those articles, Jen! I'm a label reader as well, and I may even try to print a little list to keep in my purse.

As you do, we use juice concentrate & seltzer water for "pop." ;) The boys have reached the age where they know it's not truly soda and wish they could have the real stuff, but the fizz is still a novelty to them and they enjoy it. Popsicles are made with juice as well. I'm going to try the juice & gelatin this week, because one of them was recently asking about Jell-o.

One thing I need to become more diligent about is checking cereal ingredients, especially toward the end of the list. I just looked on a box of Life cereal out of curiosity, and it does still have artificial colors and BHT. (Yes, it was in our cupboard. Ugh!)

Here's a great blog post telling where to find coupons and offers for natural foods. http://affluentpauper.blogspot.com/2009/01/organic-coupons-where-to-find-them.html

Theresa said...

I just wanted to encourage you in this. We began this journey a few years ago and we started with one thing - MSG because of my migraines. I found that I started feeling a little better. We then knocked out one more thing, then one more. We soon found out that we could lose weight, that I no longer had bloating and irritable bowel issues and felt less sluggish... even my DH who grew up on cheeze whiz, marshmallow fluff and Pepsi! lol Lately we have been under stress and eating more food that we did not make and the symptoms have come back AND weight, even though not eating more, just different. This has convinced me that it's totally worth it.

Also, my stepdad just had his entire stomach removed from cancer. He ate all this stuff nitrates/nitrites, all kinds of gimmicky type foods... of course there is no way to know, but some of these things are known to be stomach cancer triggers, so I know a lot of people think it doesn't matter, but I really think it does.

Also, when you start making stuff yourself (cookies, crackers, snacks), they taste better and the other stuff starts tasting like cardboard and chemicals and candy just tastes sweet but not flavorful.

I second Trader Joe's. And many chain stores are carrying organic brands, sometimes they have good sales. It's worth looking. We do pay more for groceries but then again this is the first winter that the kids haven't passed colds back and forth with each other too... so I think that we are seeing many benefits. Sorry for the long reply.

Mandy said...

Okay - I made the grenadine today and mixed it with seltzer water. The kids LOVED it! I didn't have the white grape juice, but they thought it was great as is. How fun to have the bubbles without all of the gross stuff in soft drinks! Thanks for sharing that!

Pam said...


I have recently been feeling that I need to change the way my family eats. I am going to spend time reading your blog for suggestions, do you know of any books or websites I can visit also to help me get started? I am going to take it one step at a time.


artmom said...

Hey, girl! Well, as always you amaze me. I read your entire nutrition series of posts. Good to give me a little kick in the butt to go back to some of our "healthy habits" after getting lazy. So many things we have stuck with and they have become habit, but a lot of things I get lazy with - mostly because of finances/budget and now it's the boys' appetites. Wow! They are eating us alive! Aidan is on the verge of puberty and I can't even begin to imagine how they will eat in just a couple of years! It is soo difficult to get good healthy snacks that aren't junk that they can just grab out of the pantry. They are totally snacking on their own now (Mom doesn't make "cute" little neat snacks anymore...) so it's even more difficult to keep the pantry and frig. full of good things that will last awhile. We also do smoothies, but the boys make them themselves now in the magic bullet. They follow Lowell's example on that. The frozen veggies are a great idea, I'll have to try that one!
Anyway...my main point of this comment is to say how surprised I am to find that you guys are still eating pork products, cured or not. Out of curiosity, have you read any of Kevin Trudeau's books? I can't remember if we've talked about them at all? If not, you can borrow ours. You will be dumbfounded by all of the information in them. After reading what he says about pork/ham we decided to completely do away with it from our diet. Every once in awhile we will have a pork loin roast, but that's about it. Well, keep up the good work, girlfriend. You are an inspiration to me!

toyourhealth said...

While doing some research on BHT your triscuit comment caught my eye so I thought I'd come on and let you know that there is however BHT in the packaging of the low-sodium triscuits.
I am a long-time health researcher in my first year of studies as a nutritionist... I'll share what I've learned about BHT thus far.
It is an antioxidant, and in its pure form is a white crystal-like powder and highly fat-soluble, allowing manufacturers to mix it into food so we won't notice it by sight or taste. Legally it has to be listed as an ingredient, so many companies prefer to use it in the packaging instead to avoid having to list it because they know what that would do to their sales (butylated hydroxytoluene - toluene is poisonous!), and it works fairly well for them too... after being added to the packaging material it will then vaporize inside during storage, and antioxidant concentrations ultimately become similar to those found by adding BHT directly to the food.
BHT will often appear in junk foods, baked goods, and other high-fat, low-sodium foods, as the fat needs to be protected from oxidation. Where else is it used?
In Rubber, Pharmaceuticals, Perfume-based Chemicals, the Polymer Industry, Resins Industry, Soap, Shampoo, and Hair Industry, the Lube and Oil Industry, and Embalming Fluid.
'Food' for thought... countries worldwide including Japan, Romania, Sweden, Australia, and Britain for the most part have already banned this North American currently 'safe' additive.
I can't say it enough... WATCH YOUR LABELS. Yes it takes a bit of extra time at the grocery store, but it's only time.

Kellie said...

Thanks for your informational post! I am wanting to start a family in a couple years with my husband but I really want to get into very good and healthy eating habits. My husband is not the healthiest eater, and his influence is definitely negative upon my life-long food issues. Although he doesn't gain much weight when eating junk, I feel like I can gain 5 pounds off a couple cookies! (The joys of being a woman, eh?)
It seems like you're being very successful with coming up with creative children's treats that aren't packed with preservatives and chemicals. I'm paranoid about Cancer because my mom is a 2 time survivor. I really want to live a healthy and fulfilling life with more energy. Thanks for everyone's posts and great positive advice! :)

ToYourHealth said...

ah yes, the men. when i met mine it was KD and bacon and white everything (sugars, pastas...) and 'what, read a label? who cares if it tastes good?'
and come to think of it it must just be a male ignorance trait a lot of them have; my best friend's boyfriend would happily live off dorito's on a daily basis.
there's two things i have found are the best you can do... one for yourself and one for them. it worked for me so i'll pass it on as i know exactly how you feel. also as studying to be a nutritionist i know what they're doing to themselves when they scarf down that chemical-filled whatever-it-is, so it hurts that much more (lol i can almost go 'hey, page 491 dummy, look what you're doing to you're colon.'

anyways, when it comes to his negative influence, tell yourself (and him) #1... the fact that he doesn't gain weight has NOTHING to do with how healthy he is. he may be a stud on the outside but an absolute wreck on the inside, and though he may not feel it now (sounds like you guys are fairly young), if there isn't a change in eating habits at this stage in life, the 'wreck' will come later, and it's not something YOU, married to him or not, are willing to go down in flames with. i love my guy a lot yes, but i love myself just as much, and thus, 95 per cent of the time i cook only whole foods, without salt, butter, or heavy sauces, and that's the way it's put on the table. and after not very long he adapted. it's amazing what you can do with herbs and spices. the odd time if he finds something a little bland he'll dash on a little sea salt, but that's about it.

and the most important thing is that he knows you're NOT trying to control him (this is the part for him). this is about him as much as it is about you, it's a team here. tell him you've done the research (lol do so if you haven't, print stuff out for him and put it in the bathroom for him to read), and you just want to ensure that he's around as long as possible, you couldn't imagine that day coming so why not get a jump on it now. also... if you are planning for kids, it's only fair to them to have a mom and dad that are in the best shape possible, and ones that can teach them healthy eating from the moment they start learning-he doesn't want them growing up worrying about cancer and obesity. (i've got my stepkids eating organic peanut butter and grain breads, reading labels on their cereal boxes even when they don't know i'm watching... almost brings tears to my eyes). if after a few months of trying to start a healthy change like this won't sway him at all, the only thing you can do is fend for yourself, and like i say, cook one way, and he can eat something else if he is that stubborn, rather than you adapting to his bad habits. no point two people getting sick down the road. self-love rules all my girl.

toyourhealth said...

(had to do this in 2 posts... it wouldn't accept it all at once).

as for your comment about cancer i hear you loud and clear (my mom once, my uncle once, my grandma and grandpa both died)... it's everywhere. and my biggest fear has always been colorectal cancer. that's why i hammer READ YOUR LABELS. if it's a paragraph of undecipherable words, put it back on the shelf! and the big one is HYDROGENATED. ya know what, if you can get your husband to start with just one, that one, that's a beautiful start. that was my first conversation (never bring anything home with THAT on it!!!), and really, he reads! when they really love you they want YOU to live as long as possible too, it works both ways.
oh yeah, and as for the weight gain... like i said it's not necessarily about the outside. if you know you eat healthy most of the time, why not on the cookies? (just watch ingredients). i put on an extra pound or two here and there from indulging also, but it's not hard to lose either, the fat doesn't accumulate because i'm not over-burdened inside with chemicals and toxins.
and that's exactly what happens with eaters like that; i have a good guy friend who is skinny but lives on junk... i guarantee his insides are identical to the city dump, and actually don't see him living past 50. how a person looks on the outside means nothing if they don't love themselves on the inside. lol, the fact that my ass jiggles a little bit doesn't bother me at all when i know what my daily diet consists of. it's about loving yourself, regardless of what other people are doing... even if that means your man.