In the hilarious travelogue, Dear Bob and Sue: Season Two, Matt and Karen Smith miss getting to their campground on time (it is first-come, first-served) because Matt can’t decide on what type of Cheez-Its to buy. He stands mesmerized and paralyzed by the various flavors along the “wall of Cheez-Its” in the grocery store until Karen must rip him away. It was easy to picture myself in this scenario. Though I prefer Cheese Nips, which only come in one flavor, there have been times when I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving home without this beloved road-trip snack.
Cheese flavored crackers (Cheese Nips, Cheez-Its, Goldfish, etc.) have been a mainstay of our snack box for years. I can’t remember a time when one or the other of them has not gone on a trip with us. In fact, I had a bag of Goldfish in my backpack the whole time I was in North Carolina. Are they good? Sure. Are they good for you? Probably not. Well, at least not the Cheese Nips.
Though we strive to eat mostly whole, plant-based foods, the occasional box of cookies or Cheese Nips finds its way into our pantry. We’ve always reasoned that in moderation, this was acceptable, especially if we selected snacks that avoided HFCS, too much added sugar, artificial flavors and artificial colors. Lately though, we’ve begun to rethink that statement.
Maybe it was reading The Consumption Cleanse or watching the documentary Stink! that got me thinking about toxic ingredients in our food and personal care items again or maybe it was shopping with my mom. Since her recent allergic reaction, she’s been hyper-vigilant about what she puts in or on her body (for the most part; I still haven’t convinced her to avoid sugar yet). As she read the labels on everything from juice to detergent, we had a chance to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of ingredients and one seemed to really annoy her the most – propylene glycol. It was in the baby wipes that were on sale (that she did not buy) and it was in the expensive eye drops that her doctor recommended that she use. Propylene glycol is antifreeze. It is used to de-ice planes and winterize RVs. And it’s used in a lot of food-like substances that many of us eat without thinking much about it.
Personally, I don’t want to eat antifreeze, regardless of the fact that the FDA classifies it as GRAS (or generally regarded as safe). I didn’t think we would find anything in our home containing propylene glycol but nonetheless, Angie and I launched an audit of our cabinets this week. Sadly, I was wrong. We found it in a box of Jiffy Yellow Cake Mix. We picked this up on our last camping trip because it was incredibly cheap and we wanted to experiment with baking a cake on a campfire. Thankfully, we never did. We also found it in our deodorant, which is made by Tom’s of Maine by the way!
Along with propylene glycol, we also purged anything that contained:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – this “poison” which is in almost everything, causes the body to store fat, yet it leaves you feeling hungry for more. We usually look for this at the store before we buy anything but somehow, we ended up with cereal (Honey Bunches of Oats) that contained it.
- Artificial Sweeteners – sugar substitutes like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin have been linked to cancer and believe it or not, actually make you crave sweets.
- Azodicarbonamide or Dough Conditioner – also called the “yoga mat chemical”, this plastic is in some kinds of bread.
- Maltodextrin – this preservative has zero nutritional value and with a glycemic index twice that of table sugar, it causes rapid spikes in blood sugar.
- BHA/BHT – these additives have been banned in the EU because they are endocrine disruptors and affect the brain’s ability to signal the gut to stop eating. Luckily, we did not find any of these in the cabinet.
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – also called yeast extract and hydrolyzed proteins, MSG is a “flavor enhancer” that can cause bloating, headaches, and even depression. We found MSG in the Cheese Nips. It’s also in a lot of fast food chicken products, like KFC’s original recipe and Chick-Fil-A’s Original Chicken Sandwich.
There are a lot more ingredients that we could list here but for us, these are among the worst offenders. In total, we got rid of one box of Cheese Nips, two boxes of cereal, the Jiffy Mix, a bottle of Italian Dressing, a handful of Sweet & Low packets (picked up while traveling), pretzels, Uncle Ben’s Rice (a freebie from Kroger), and a pancake mix. The unopened items were donated to the food bank. The crackers and pretzels were crushed for our backyard friends. No food was tossed into the garbage in our purge.
The harder part though has been grocery shopping. We buy a lot of fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts but we also buy almond milk, dairy-free yogurt, veggie burgers, hummus, and a few canned goods, like tomato sauce and soup (for quick meals). We were surprised to find quite a few questionable ingredients in these items, including methyl cellulose (aka: Citrucel, a bulk-forming laxative) in our veggie burgers and the always worrisome catch-all “natural flavors” in our supposedly “all-natural” yogurt. Natural flavors are anything but natural, as they can contain up to 100 undisclosed ingredients including propylene glycol!
What’s the answer then? For us, it’s simply to make good choices one product at a time. This may require a little time and research, but we believe the benefits will be well worth the trouble.
Are there certain ingredients that you avoid?