Most of us are aware that fast food and takeaways are hardly the healthiest of foods. We know all about the now well-published facts concerning the health risks associated with saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. Many of us also recoil in the knowledge that fast foods commonly contain artificial colours, flavour enhancers such as MSG and preservatives. But today’s lifestyle is hectic and stressful so can it really be all that bad to nip into a fast food chain once in a while?
The truth is the ingredients listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. There are far more shocking things in fast food which make these not-so-healthy villains already listed look (almost) like the good guys. How about a dose of fertiliser with your burger or a serving of wood pulp in your salad dressing? And we’re not joking. Perhaps the worst thing is knowing that all these added ingredients are perfectly legal.
Be warned – the following doesn’t make easy reading for anyone looking to pop into their local fast food chain anytime soon…….or ever again!
Silicon dioxide – known as sand to you and me or the stuff used to make glass, ceramics and cement. Silicon dioxide is added to the processed meats often served in takeaways, as an anti-caking agent, making them easier to cook.
Wood – listed as cellulose, this product might be more familiar to you by its title of ‘processed wood pulp’. Used as a thickener and stabiliser and a cheaper alternative to flour, it can be found in many foods including salad dressings and muffins. Ironically, often foods that contain cellulose proudly claim to be high in fibre. And we all know that fibre is good for us……right?!
Dimethylpolysiloxane – we don’t expect that name to mean anything to you but perhaps ‘Silly Putty’ might. Dimethylpolysiloxane is a form of silicone which is used in the manufacture of cosmetics and breast implants. It’s also the magic ingredient added to fast food deep fat fryers to prevent them from foaming.
Ammonium sulphate (fertiliser) – this product is very versatile – its main job in life is that of an alkaline soil fertiliser but it also plays its part as an ingredient in insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Last but not least it is used as an additive in many fast food bakery products.
Petroleum-derived preservatives (TBHQ) – given its full name of tertiary butylhydroquinone may make it unpronounceable for most of us but that doesn’t stop us being grossed out by its inclusion in our food. It’s usually more at home in varnishes, resins and cosmetics and, although governmental food safety agencies have approved the compound, there is a strict limit. Apparently, one gram can induce ‘nausea, vomiting, delirium, a sense of suffocation and collapse’ while five grams is fatal. Ah well… as long as it’s limited…
Human hair – yes. Human hair. If you see the amino acid, L-cysteine, listed in a collection of ingredients, it could have come from human hair, collected from barbers shops and hairdressers in China. It’s also derived from chicken feathers and cow horns. L-cysteine is often added to the flour used to make commercial bread and the rolls used in high street burger joints.
Beaver anal glands – a secretion from the anal glands of beaver, called castoreum is a food additive often used in vanilla and strawberry ice creams. Why? Because it adds flavour, apparently, and for that reason, it can legally be listed as a natural flavouring.
The choice of whether you eat processed and fast foods is of course yours. If you can stomach the fact that what you are eating contains a dash of petroleum-based product, a sprinkling of sand or a side-order of wood then it is your body and your prerogative.
If, on the other hand, you would like to arm yourself with a full possession of the facts, we urge you to take an interest in what your food contains. Become a food detective, ask questions and make informed choices for you and your family.