Today I want to look at another aspect of the foods we eat: processing, chemicals and sources.
When they go to the market or, more likely, the supermarket to buy food and groceries most new type 2 diabetics learn fairly quickly to read the nutrition labels to check on the carbohydrate, fat, and protein content of the portions they intend eating. However, I’ve noticed that very few go beyond that label to look at the actual ingredients list.
When you start doing that, it becomes clear that many of the foods in the packets on our shelves have a lot more in them than the foods mentioned on the front of the package.
The first one that stands out to me is trans-fats. Because many countries allow manufacturers to ignore an ingredient below a minimum threshold on the nutrition table you will often find "0 gms" listed for trans-fats but “partially hydrogenated oils” listed on the ingredients list. That means the product contains trans-fats, just less than that threshold for labelling laws. So my first suggestion is to avoid all products which do that. I know of no safe minimum level for trans-fats.
On other ingredients, I have slowly formed the opinion that simpler is better. Every day we see a new scare story on a food additive that is harming us, and every other day we see a refutation of past scare stories and find that foods we thought were harmful are not. It gets confusing, doesn’t it? What is a simple guy to believe?
I am not a chemist, just a type 2 diabetic struggling to find a reasonable way of eating that not only helps manage my blood glucose levels but does not jeopardise my health in other ways. Because I am not a chemist, I err on the side of simplicity. I am a firm believer in applying KISS (keep it simple, stupid) to my food choices.
Allied to that I have absorbed some basic principles from various writers on nutrition, particularly my friend Quentin Grady who is the author of Nutrition For Blokes. Probably the most important one is that there are many different foods, especially certain vegetables, which can provide some important specific benefits; too many to list here. My way of applying that information is to include as wide a variety of fresh vegetables and protein sources in my menu as I reasonably can, with an emphasis on local seasonal produce.
When I started reading the labels on packets more closely I found that I needed a degree in Chemistry to even start to understand some of them. Here are a few examples. As a simple guy I thought the breakfast sandwich I bought on the AMTRAK from DC to NYC was a small bun, with a slice of odd-looking bacon and an egg. Later, with nothing better to do on the train, I read the fine print on the wrapper:
Bacon, Egg & Cheese On A Biscuit
BLEACHED ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (MAY CONTAIN MALTED BARLEY FLOUR AND ENZYMES, CONTAINS NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), WATER, VEGETABLE SHORTENING (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OILS, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, BETA CAROTENE [COLOR]), DRY BUTTERMILK, DEXTROSE, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF THE FOLLOWING: SODIUM BICARBONATE, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE, SALT, VITAL WHEAT GLUTEN, SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE, PRESERVATIVES (CALCIUM PROPIONATE, POTASSIUM SORBATE, SORBIC ACID), XANTHAN GUM.
PRECOOKED EGG PATTY:
WHOLE EGGS, WATER, SOYBEAN OIL, NONFAT DRY MILK, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, SALT, XANTHAN GUM, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL BUTTER FLAVOR (BUTTER [CREAM, MILK], PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND COTTONSEED OIL, SOYBEAN OIL, LIPOLYZED BUTTER OIL, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS), CITRIC ACID. PASTEURIZED PROCESS
AMERICAN CHEESE (CULTURED MILK, SALT, ENZYMES, ARTIFICIAL COLOR), WATER, CREAM, SODIUM CITRATE, SALT, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SORBIC ACID (PRESERVATIVE), LACTIC ACID, SOY LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL COLOR.
BACON CURED WITH:
WATER, SALT, SUGAR, SMOKE FLAVORING, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ERYTHORBATE, SODIUM NITRITE. CONTAINS EGG, MILK, SOY AND WHEAT
How did they get all that in that little biscuit? Incidentally, the nutrition table notes 3 gms trans-fat per serve.
Or are you one of the lucky diabetics who can still eat cereal for breakfast? Special K Protein Plus looks good, right? Here is the ingredients list, from the Special K web-site:
WHEAT BRAN, SOY GRITS, RICE, WHEAT GLUTEN, SOYBEAN OIL, WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, SUGAR, SALT, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, MALT FLAVOR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), SUCRALOSE, ALPHA TOCOPHEROL ACETATE (VITAMIN E), REDUCED IRON, NIACINAMIDE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), VITAMIN A PALMITATE, FOLIC ACID AND VITAMIN B12, TO MAINTAIN QUALITY, BHT HAS BEEN ADDED TO PACKAGING.
But I’m being a bit unfair, just looking at breakfasts. How about a simple, healthy, dinner from Lean Cuisine? I looked for a random example, Balsamic Glazed Chicken looked tasty:
Blanched Enriched Orzo Pasta (Semolina, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Green Beans, Cooked Chicken Tenderloin (Chicken Tenderloins, Water, Seasoning (Modified Food Starch, Sugar, Potassium Chloride, Yeast Extract, Dextrose, Spice, Onion Powder, Paprika), Isolated Soy Protein, Salt, Sodium Phosphates), Water, Spinach, Onions, Red Peppers, Yellow Peppers, Dark Sweet Cherry Juice Concentrate, Parmesan Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Almonds, Dark Balsamic Vinegar, Modified Cornstarch, Balsamic Vinegar (Grapes, Invert Sugar), Soybean Oil, Butterfat, Sugar, Garlic Puree, Asiago Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Salt, Brown Sugar Syrup, Enzyme Modified Parmesan Cheese (Cultured Milk, Water, Salt, Enzymes), Whey Protein Concentrate, Spices.
Here is just one example of late discoveries. Note in those lists that all of them include wheat and soy in one form or another. Now read Jenny Ruhl’s recent blog on that subject: Wheat May Be Sparking Autoimmune Type 1 Thanks to Soy in Our Diets
Do a little research and look up your own examples. Better still read the labels on the packets in your pantry. You will get some surprises.
Over the years I have developed a few general basic principles that I apply when choosing the foods I eat. I don’t get obsessive or religious about it, but when it is reasonably possible I apply these criteria when I am shopping:
1. I choose foods that owe more to the farmer than to the factory for their production.
2. I choose as wide a variety as I can of local seasonal vegetables, when possible, and fresh vegetables over frozen (there are exceptions).
3. I take the time (and my glasses) to read labels in detail. If I don’t know what an ingredient is, I don’t buy that product until I’ve looked it up. Usually I don’t bother to look it up, so that product isn’t bought.
4. For meat, fish and eggs, I choose range-fed over feed-lot, free-range over caged birds, wild fish over farmed.
5. I cook and eat at home more often than out.
6. When eating out I choose restaurants that cook from basics rather than restaurants that re-heat from the freezer.
Those are just the basics, obviously I include other factors such as carb content.
What criteria do you use?
Everything in Moderation - Except Laughter.