Just because a food item is for sale in this country DOES NOT mean that it is not going to harm you or your health. The Food and Drug Administration does a lot of work to make sure that our food supply is safe, but they are not involved in determining the nutrition in any foods.
Food is an Industry. Selling food is a business.
It is very important to realize that selling food is a business. Many companies do it to make money. As with any product, more money can be made if (1) the cost to make it is as low as possible (2) the cost to sell it is high and (3) lots of it gets sold. Let’s address these one by one.
Low Cost. Many ingredients in food do not last a long time. Dairy spoils, oils go rancid, nutritious things mold. This is a problem because a product with a short shelf life is more difficult to distribute and therefore more expensive. Also, foods in their natural forms can be sticky or gummy. The solution is to remove the parts of the food that cause these problems. For example, the invention of hydrogenated oil (also called trans-fat) was a boon to the food industry because it does not spoil and it lowered the price to produce lots and lots of things. And, in grains, the germ is the part of the grain that is nutritious, but also contains oil. This makes it more difficult to grind into flour because it gets gummed up, so the germ is removed for easier processing (white flour). Reducing cost of production is the goal.
High Price. Food companies know what sells, and right now consumers are looking for food that is “more natural”, and are willing to pay a premium for it. The food industry has responded by advertising their products as “natural” and showing ads featuring farmers in the middle of their fields and Frank Purdue talking about his chickens without added hormones. But, in general, there have not been any actual changes to the foods, it’s just advertising hype.
There is a disconnect here. Consumers have a different idea from the food companies of what “natural” is. To consumers, “natural” means things like poultry that is raised in the “natural” way (not in a tiny cage eating growth-hormone stuffed feed), canned tomatoes that are peeled using steam instead of harsh chemicals, processing methods in general that do not use harsh chemicals or harm the environment, processed foods that don’t contain additives or weird ingredients.
Food companies use the FDA definition: “The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic … has been … added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods… The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.” This definition does not address anything that is done to a plant or animal during its growth or after it has been harvested. FYI, hydrogenated fat, high fructose corn syrup, and even cocaine and heroin are considered “natural”.
Fat, sugar, and salt taste good
Sell a lot. What is the best way to sell a lot of your product? Repeat sales. How do you get people to buy it again? Make it delicious! People like the taste of fat, sugar and salt. That’s why Haggen Das is better than low fat ice milk and no-salt potato chips aren’t that good. Obviously the smart food company is going to use fat, sugar and salt liberally in their products in order to make them yummy. For example, there is sugar in almost all processed foods (bread, ketchup, canned tomatoes, chili, soups, crackers, etc.) because Americans like the slightly-sweet taste. And, as the followers of this blog know, sugar can be literally addictive.
In the absence of nutrition education, food companies or groups pretend to offer nutrition advice although the real goal is increased sales. Think of the ad campaigns “Got Milk?”, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner”, “Pork, the other white meat”, not to mention Cheerios and cereal ads that tout the “heart healthy” whole grains in their products. (If you would like to know why these things are not actually good to consume, I would be happy to share that with you.)
I’ll scratch your back …
Another aspect of the business of food is politics and policy. Food companies spend a lot of money on their lobbyists. And directors/CEO’s go back and forth between large food companies and the FDA.
Example: In 1977, Donald Rumsfeld became CEO of G.D. Searle Co, the company that created aspartame (a.k.a. NutriSweet). Rumsfeld was a former member of Congress and Secretary of Defense in the Ford administration. He was included in President Reagan’s transition team, and, in the interest of his former employer, was able to hand pick the new FDA Commissioner to be Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. Even though the FDA had previously tested aspartame and found it to be toxic, Rumsfeld’s buddy Hayes was able to over-rule all of the FDA scientists to get aspartame approved for human consumption. Please pause and absorb this story for a minute.
Marketing departments know what you want to buy
When you see nutrition or health claims on a package, odds are that the overall product is not nutritious overall – Why else would you need to put a health claim on the label? As Michael Pollan says, avoid food products that make health claims, are pretending to be something they’re not, or are advertised on television.
To sum up, please remember that food shopping is like a game of tug-of-war. You want to nourish yourself and family with food that tastes good, is easy to prepare, and is nutritious (or something along those lines). The food companies want you to buy their product and they are really good at luring you in. Don’t let them win!
this blog was originally posted on the SugarSobriety.net blog on February 8, 2016