Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Twinkie Deconstructed

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America EatsTwinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Twinkie, Deconstructed” is a book with one, horrifying central theme: all the ingredients in a Twinkie have a single source – petroleum. The book became painfully repetitive as it described how once again, the ingredient was made from fossil fuels. Over and over again this book describes processes of heat and extraction that result in the production of the chemically-laden “food” that makes a Twinkie.

I had expected the ingredients in Twinkies to be a chemical horror, but what really brings this book home is how Ettlinger breaks down the ingredients and shows the reader how some of these ingredients are used in the home. Ever use baking powder or bleached all-purpose flour? Then you too have a cupboard full of highly processed foods. The process for imitation vanilla is amazing.

Though I have not had a Twinkie in thirty years, this book made me think about all of the other foods that I eat that have similar ingredient lists. These petroleum-based ingredients can be found in practically any processed food you might encounter – everything from pasta sauces to lunch meats.

I gave this book thee stars because I did find the format repetitive, though that is not entirely the fault of the author. And the repetition did serve to drive home what is really in our food. I also had just finished the book “Salt, Sugar, Fat” which does a better job of writing about a similar thing. I felt that Ettlinger did not press his sources enough regarding the health and safety of the ingredients he was researching. That being said, “Twinkie, Deconstructed” was a real eye-opener. If you are interested in the chemistry of food, or food origins, this will be a great read for you.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked UsSalt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Salt Sugar Fat” has ruined grocery shopping for me. I’ve never been a fan of highly processed foods. I am not one to throw Kraft Cheesy Skillets, or Lunchables into my grocery cart. I know that processed foods are bad for you and full of empty calories. But this book took that point of view and radically expanded it.

So much of what we think of as “food” contains little to no actual food! And it is a worse problem than just obesity. These “foods” contribute to high blood pressure, organ failure, heart failure, altered taste buds, and even cancer! Manufacturers of these products know their dangers and don’t eat them. I wouldn’t eat a meal at a fancy restaurant that the chef wouldn’t touch, so why would I eat a meal in a box that the CEO of Kraft wouldn’t touch?

“Salt Sugar Fat” is broken up into three sections that address each ingredient’s role in processed foods. First is Sugar, and this section is a real eye opener. We all know about the sugars involved in sodas, but what was really frightening to me was the secret sugars that are added into all manner of foods in order to mask other chemical “off” flavors. This is the section that first introduces the concept of the “Bliss Point”. According to Moss’ research, people’s bliss points for sugar are higher and higher due to early exposure to high sugar foods in infancy. If you grew up drinking soda and other sweet drinks, you are doomed to crave higher and higher sugar contents in your foods for the rest of your life.

The Salt section has similar information to the sugar section. People are developing higher and higher tolerances to salts in their foods. Even children, who normally don’t like a lot of salt, are being trained by processed foods to crave it. Again, salt is added to EVERYTHING. It provides better mouth feel for a lot of products, preserves products, and masks metallic and other off flavors.

I was ready to be hit hard by the fat section, and I was not let down. Fats are not going away from processed foods. Fat is essential to their success. Moss’ research shows that when salt and sugar are combined with fats, our brains/bodies do not identify how much fat we are ingesting. Basically, the key components of processed foods work together to turn off our natural satiety. That’s terrible news for the consumer, but great news for processed food manufacturers.

Don’t read this book if you aren’t prepared to go to the grocery store armed with your new found information on processed food. You will be checking the labels on everything and evaluating and translating the information therein. Nothing is as it first appears. “Low Fat” or “Diet” varieties often harbor secret stashes of extra salt or sugar that keep the calories ridiculously high. But if you are ready for some hard truths that might just save your life, get this book today.

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