Are you thinking that the title of this article is meant to scare you? We shall answer this question at the conclusion.
The most common item in our kitchen is table sugar which we use in everyday cooking. Though sugar is seemingly inexpensive for us, the food industry does not think so. They found using sugar in food items expensive and they went about looking for a cheaper alternative. Enter maltodextrin, a plant based starch which is extracted from rice, wheat, corn or potato. In India it is primarily extracted from corn or maize.
- It is fast to digest and immediately gets converted to glucose and it released in the blood. That is why it is used in baby foods. It is also used in energy drinks because of the ability to release glucose fast.
- It is an industrial grade and inexpensive artificial sweetener used as a replacement for regular sugar in ice creams, cereals, sweets and snacks.
- It adds volume to food. So it can be used as a thickening agent. Since it adds no taste to the food, consumers actually do not even come to know that they have eaten anything different. It is added in pasts, baked good, processed meats, salad dressings, frozen food, ready to cook meals and fast food menu. Take for example a regular Indian sweet like peda. If it is made of just khoya and sugar, it will have an intense taste and will be a concentrated dose of fat and protein. If a filler is added, the same size peda will now contain lesser of these stuff. Increase in profit margin is another important reason. Another place where you will find maltodextrin commonly used is packed soup powders.
- It adds texture to the food. The end product is more creamy and consistent. That is why it is added in coffee, puddings, protein shakes and baby foods. It is added to breakfast cereals to give it a shine and appealing look.
- Have you noticed how custard powder is so popular. It comes in powder from because of maltodextrin. It remains in liquid form until water is added. Spices are also kept in powder form using this technique.
- It prevents the formation of ice crystals on frozen food and looks good on the display at the food malls. It also raises the freezing point and helps saving power on refregeration.
- It is used as a filler like in case of the sugar sachets which we see in restaurants and coffee shops which are served with tea of coffee. Actual sugar content required is very little, but since the tendency is to empty the complete sachet once opened, adding a filler makes sense.
So why is this apparently naturally produced, inexpensive starch figuring on the list of dangerous foods.
Firstly it quickly raises the blood sugar levels as it digests quickly. Not a good scenario for people who are already facing sugar issues. Secondly it alters the gut bacteria which again is related to health issues. For athletes who need instant energy which they are subsequently going to burn, it is fine. But for other categories, consuming all those processed food with maltodextrin high on the glycemic index scale, it is going to straightway increase your weight.
High fructose corn syrup
Sugarcane is primarily produced in India and few other tropical countries. The largest consumer of sugar (USA) however does not even manage to produce less than 5% of the top producer in the world, Brazil. So what do the American food corporations do. They extract glucose from corn and create an artificial sweetener called High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS.
It is used in soft drinks, packed juices, breads of all kinds, commercial sweets and candy, packed food products, jams, sauces, salad dressings, commercial ice creams and the entire range of food items sold at fast food outlets.
After maltodextrin this is the second food product that is advertised as perfectly safe and natural food product. But just like fructose, HFCS is send to the liver for processing. It takes lots of time and effort for the liver to process fructose. For this liver has to produce enzymes to neutralise these.
Metabolism of fructose leaves behind purines which cause increase of uric acid. While medical experts treat uric acid by neutralising excess acid from the body, the real reason is the excessive consumption of fructose.
Refined oils aka vegetable oils
There is nothing vegetable about vegetable oils. Infact except for cases like olive or avocado, plants do not contain oil. It is the seeds which are pressed to extract oil. In case of refined oils it is the chemical extraction process which is the top health hazard. Cold pressing process is long and expensive. It gives a very low yield. So the industry moved to extracting oil using chemicals to push the yield to as high as 85%.
These oils contain a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids which cause inflammation in the body. All these fatty acids along with the chemicals go to the liver for de-toxification. The body detects this inflammation and send cholesterol to fight it. That causes an increase in cholesterol levels in blood. Usually the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 should be 1:1 since both are required by the body for certain functions. But when the amount of omega-6 intake rises exponentially, the ratio changes to 1:25. Certain parts of the body which need omega-3 like cell membrane or tissues of brain and nervous system now use omega-6 instead. This causes degradation in several body functions. Take for example the cell membrane. It is just two molecules thick and allow lots of things to move in and out of the cells. If omega-6 comes in, the membranes become thicker thereby disrupting transportation.
Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils and the intriguing case of Dalda Vanaspati Ghee in India
Just about a hundred years ago, there were primarily two cooking mediums in India. First were the cold pressed oil which were locally known as ghani method of extracting oil in which a couple of bullocks were used to run an oil mill. The other was using desi ghee or clarified butter which was the more expensive and affordable for only selected few. Most of the milk produced was converted to ghee since no one drank milk those days.
Problem began in the 1930s when the food corporates decided to bring in the manufacturing of hydrogenated vegetable oil to India. Why? Because it looked similar to desi ghee. They gave it a fancy name of Vanaspati ghee to make it appear natural and healthy. It was basically refined oil infused with hydrogen so that it solidifies at room temperature but melts as soon as it touches a hot pan. With the help of a deft marketing campaign, vanaspati eased out both cold pressed oils as well as butter as the primary medium of cooking. But how did the common Indians accept it so easily after centuries of using traditional oils and desi ghee. Here is another interesting fact about partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Food cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils is more tasty and has a longer shelf life. Due to the hydrogenation process, it can now withstand high temperatures which is why you see those french fries get ready so quickly at the fast food outlets. It also improves the texture of food making it look better. What more can anyone ask for? These partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are the main cause of inflammation but there is no alternative in sight for the masses.
To be continued…watch this space for more.