Mmm… what are those chemicals you are eating?

This is the list of common chemical additives to foods, drawn up by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It lists which are considered safe, and which to avoid: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm

Notice that most food colourings are not considered safe, and yet they are particularly common in foods that are marketed to children.  The Center is petitioning the US and Canadian governments to ban these dyes from food: http://www.cspinet.org/fooddyes/

Among artificial sweeteners, sucralose is considered safe, but more common sweeteners such as Saccharin, Aspartame, and Acesulfame-K are not.

However, sugar itself is no better. Here’s an article entitled “Does Sugar Make You Stupid?” (http://www.livescience.com/20329-sugar-stupid.html) describing a recent study about how sugar consumption interfered with the memory of rats. The article states:

The average American consumes more than 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some scientists even think sugar should be taxed the way alcohol and tobacco products are.

Considering that cereals marketed to kids, and even those that are not, have significant amounts of sugar in them, are kids starting school with the best nutrition for their brains?

This article is about how some scientists believe sugar should be regulated as a toxin: http://www.livescience.com/18244-sugar-toxic-regulations.html

A lot of people think concern about sugar is over-rated, because it is so familiar and so much a part of our everyday lives. Companies can say their ingredients are “all-natural” because sugar comes from sugar cane. Our sweet tooth comes from our evolutionary biology. Our ancestors were attracted to sweet tastes, because in the natural environment, this made nutritious fruit a sought-after part of the diet.

The trouble started when humans developed the technology to refine sugars. We stripped out a lot of the nutrients and fibre from raw sugar from sugar cane and other sources. We refined it so that it wouldn’t stick, and would last a long time. We concentrated the sweet taste. And some humans sold these products to other humans for millions of dollars.

We come by our sweet tooth naturally. It helped our ancestors survive and choose the right foods, foods that would give them nutrients and energy for the hard physical work they did all day. Today, the ever-present nature of refined sugars in conjunction with largely sedentary labour is a health time-bomb.

I often read food labels at the grocery store. However, since I am busy, there were some types of foods that I didn’t read labels on. It was only one day when a friend with a mushroom allergy was coming over for dinner that I read the labels on the pasta sauces I often bought. These pasta sauces billed themselves as healthy. I often bought the Florentine (spinach) or the vegetable garden sauces. Combing the ingredient list for mushrooms, I found added sugar instead. I could not find a single pasta sauce in that grocery store that did not have added sugar.

Make your own pasta sauce, you may say. I often do now make my own pasta sauces. But at that time, I had a full-time paid job at which much overtime was required, and a small child at home. My husband worked long shifts. Like many people, particularly in the US and Canada where workers get less vacation than in most of Europe, we were constantly exhausted. At home, the priority for spending time and energy was in caring for our daughter, not cleaning, decluttering, or making food from scratch.

I believe there should be a tax on sugar which would drive the costs up for food processors who use sugar, thus nudging them toward using less sugar, and drive the costs of sugary products up for consumers, thus making healthier choices look like a better deal.  As humans, we have turned our environment on its head, making a sweet tooth that was once good for us into a major health concern with the ubiquity of cheap, refined sugars. We need to restore the balance in our environment. Since we can’t turn the clock back on the availability of refined sugars, what we can do is use policy to create a healthier food choice environment.

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