I apologize in advance for the rant but today I’m just fed up. Sometimes I can’t help myself. From least worst to worst worst foods ever manufactured, here are the four manufactured foods that have no place in a healthy diet.
#4: Ramen noodles
Recently, while listening to NPR’s Morning Edition, I had the extreme displeasure to hear an ode to ramen noodles, a positively fawning tribute to the man whose claim-to-fame was inventing “Cup Noodles” forty-five years ago this month. You know, those dehydrated strands of fake food packaged in a Styrofoam cup, accompanied by a package of powder labeled ‘flavoring’.
“Revolutionary”, they said. “Innovative”. “Popular”. No doubt. They reported 97 billion packages of instant ramen sold globally in 2015 — available in more than 80 countries, including Ecuador.
Ramen are cheap and they contain calories, Gee, no wonder they’re a perennial favorite of cash-strapped college kids.
Well, you might ask, what’s so bad about noodles in a cup?
They’re not food in any traditional sense of the word…they’re junk carbs and industrialized fat…high in sodium and woefully low in protein, and devoid of fiber. They’re made from treated flour, preserved with unpronounceable ingredients — how else could they remain edible for a year or more on the shelf?
The packaging itself is disturbing: some cups contain bisphenol-A, or BPA, an ingredient in many Styrofoam cups, and is an endocrine disruptor linked to many health problems including obesity and increased risk for some cancers.
Although the Harvard Health Letter says “some” BPA-free Styrofoam cups can be used safely in the microwave, I won’t. There could be other chemicals that are equally harmful, especially when heated in the microwave. Only use glass or cookware labeled “microwave safe”…never plastic or Styrofoam.
“Enriched” flour has been stripped of nutrition and then a few essential micronutrients are added back. Other ingredients: industrial vegetable oils, typically palm oil; salt (lots of sodium); different sources of sugar including corn syrup and dextrin; flavors; and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Read the nutrition facts label carefully — some of the cup-noodle nutrition facts panel list two servings per container…well, do you eat just half? Or do you eat whole thing? One container serves up more than 1,400 mg of sodium, more than 60% of the daily recommendation in just one cup.
#3: Microwave popcorn
If it comes in a strange, flat bag that produces a cloying “buttery” smell when it’s microwaved, it’s junk food. Most major supermarket brands of microwave popcorn line their bags with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA — a chemical used to keep the paper clean and crisp). This chemical is released when the bag is heated in the microwave. Butter-flavored popcorns may be flavored a chemicals called diacetyl, which if inhaled could be dangerous. Just think…when you take that bag out of the microwave and open it, do you typically breathe in the steam?
Real popcorn is high in fiber and contains a bit of protein…it’s naturally no-sodium and low-calorie…that is, when it’s real popcorn made from real corn.
I use an air popper (they sell them all around town — I’ve seen them in Coral and Sukasa). I’ll make popcorn on the stovetop and it’s just as easy. Use one tablespoon of your favorite virgin oil to ¼ cup of popping corn or make your own microwave popcorn. Add your favorite popping kernels to a small paper lunch bag, fold the top down a few times and microwave on high until you hear only a few pops every five seconds and you’re done.
Hot, nutritious calories, sustainable, inexpensive. Living in Cuenca, you might think I’m talking about an almuerzo of beans and rice, some chicken soup with quinoa and lentils, or maybe some chochos with chopped cilantro, tomatoes and onions. All around town you can get a good plate of food for little money…maybe $1.50 or $2. But in downtown Cuenca, where storefronts on Calle Larga juggle for business, kids are hooked on cheap, fatty, salty, and chemical-laden calories.
Similarly to ramen noodles, salchipapas are engineered food, not designed to meet nutritional needs, but to be cheap calories with a long shelf life. This is negative nutrition. It could be worse than eating nothing at all, since the recipe for disease are diets high in salt, sugar, and fat — the type of diet that increases risk for obesity, hypertension, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Although malnutrition is still a concern in the rural areas of Ecuador, obesity and type 2 diabetes are on track to overtake the health system around urbanized Ecuador, just like in other industrialized areas of the world. Mexico is currently #1 in Latin America’s obesity race, but Ecuador’s rate is creeping up, especially with kids and women.
As reported by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, “…[salchipapas and engineered foods] create cravings that can completely overpower people’s innate appetite-control mechanisms and their rational desire to stop eating.” To add insult to injury, wash down this mess of fat and salt with a huge dose of sugar from regular soda or juice. That’s why salchipapas ranks runner-up Worst Foods.
#1: Energy Drinks and Bars
And the very worst manufactured foods are energy drinks (and bars).
Billions are spent annually on pushing fake foods — celebrities earn fat fees to make garbage foods look sexy. “Energy” is a huge buzzword, used to promote as “necessary for optimum performance” and other nonsense.
But, what’s another name for energy? Calories! Calories are a measure of energy found in food…and what’s the quickest way to add calories? Add sugar, or fat…or both. Most “energy” bars are candy bars, made from refined flours, lots of sugar, and some additional ingredients designed to fool consumers into thinking that they’re eating something other than candy.
Energy drinks are a scam. You’ve seen them around…the supermarket has an entire section devoted to eye-level displays. Brands like Rock Star, Red Bull, and Ecuador’s own 220v (220 Volt) bebida energizante represent bad advertising at its worst.
Manufacturers are targeting the Asia Pacific and Latin America consumers, noting the area’s “dynamic economies and young consumer base.” Global energy drink sales reached about US$49.9 billion in 2014, a 5% increase over 2014, and are predicted to continue their upward trajectory. What’s growing in tandem with drink sales is obesity. There is a connection.
The first ingredient is always water or carbonated water…when I tell kids that they’re paying for a lot of colored and flavored water, they get it…why don’t adults? After that, there’s typically a sugar in any number of guises… sugar…azúcar…glucose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, or maybe just fruit juice concentrate…another form of sugar. If labeled “unsweetened” or “no sugar added” it’s likely to contain any number of artificial sugars.
But the caffeine is real. Most energy drinks have about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of Starbuck’s coffee, and manufacturers add healthy and “natural”-sounding ingredients to give water dosed with sugar and caffeine a “health-halo.” Some are loaded up with B-vitamins, but too much can be harmful. For example high levels of B6 and B3 (niacin) can cause gastric distress,, liver toxicity, blurred vision and nerve damage. Ingredients like taurine (an amino acid), ginseng, ginko, and guarana may be safe on their own, but combined with caffeine and sugar could further enhance caffeine’s effects and lead to abnormal heart rhythm, headaches and migraines, increased anxiety, jitters and nervousness, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Caffeine is an addictive drug. In high doses, caffeine can interact or interfere with other prescription medications. A report in USNews.com detailed that in the U.S. between 2007 and 2011 emergency room visits involving energy drinks doubled to more than 20,000, mainly because of health issues with high doses of caffeine…many of these visits were from kids.
In fact, the warning is that kids, breastfeeding women and people with heart conditions should avoid “energy drinks”…well…everyone should.
The marketing geniuses are targeting Latin America, but don’t take my word for it. The proof is taken from Ecuadorian Tesalia Springs Company, makers of Güitig mineral water and 220v (220 volts) Energy Drink. With the import tax, the Ecuadorian 200v and other locally made energy drink sales are booming…they are remarkably cheap compared to the imported popular bands like Red Bull and Monster.
The 220v campaign directly targets kids and sports enthusiasts with appealing claims like, …an energy drink elaborated specially for all those people who wish to improve the performance in their daily activities: work, studies, home…original, youthful, modern and full of energy…220v is designed for everybody who works, study…people that go to bars and like parties…people that practice extreme sports such as surf, rafting, down hill…young, bold, fun, irreverent brand, full of risk symbolizing energy and vitality. The benefits listed include, stimulates metabolism, improves concentration and mental agility, avoids falling asleep, increases physical resistance, increases sensation of well-being.
All empty claims, and not calorie-free.
What’s really in a bottle of 220v? First ingredient: carbonated water, then azúcar, and then dextrose. Remember, ingredients on a food label are listed in descending order of volume or weight …so that’s water, sugar and sugar, followed by some citric acid, then a mix of some different vitamins, some artificial flavors and other preservatives, and of course, caffeine and caramel color.
Next, read the nutrition facts label — by far the most disturbing giveaway.
PER SERVING: Zero grams of fat, cholesterol and protein. Sodium: 21 mg.
The carbohydrate line and the sugar line both show 13 grams. That means all of the carbohydrate in the product is from sugar.
Let’s work this out. There are 4 grams in one teaspoon of sugar: 13 grams divided by 4 equals about 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving.
Here’s the kicker: ONE serving is only 100 milliliters or 3 1/3 ounces.
BUT the bottle contains 600 ml, or about 20 ounces.
Most people don’t drink just one-sixth of the bottle…they drink the entire bottle.
Multiply all nutrition facts by 6. Therefore there are 78 grams of sugar or 19 ½ teaspoons of added sugar.
Calories listed per serving: 50. Multiply 50 calories x 6 servings = 300 calories…in one 20-oz bottle, all from added sugar.
The marketing for energy and sports drinks is intense. Take Gatorade, which is advertised as if without it your performance won’t measure up — as if everyone from a 3rd grader to a grandpa needs to quaff water loaded with sugar, artificial colors, salt, and preservatives.
A 12-ounce serving of Gatorade’s Thirst Quencher contains 21 grams of sugar, or about 5 ¼ teaspoons…but it doesn’t come in a 12-ounce bottle…it comes in a bottle that contains 32 oz. with 56 grams of sugar: that’s about 14 teaspoons of added sugar!
Only if you’re exercising strenuously for more than an hour in humidity, perspiring profusely and you’re not able to drink water and eat an orange will you need a bottle of artificially colored and flavored water, loaded with preservatives with some sodium and potassium added in.
When exercising, drink 4-8 oz. of water before you start, then sip water throughout your workout. If after an hour of exercise you’re really sweating hard, drink a glass of water and eat an orange or a banana sprinkled with salt. Stay healthy, hydrated, and nourished without the added sugar and myriad of artificial ingredients.
Get enough sleep, eat well, stay active, and drink enough water. Dehydration and low energy go hand-in-hand. And after exercising, if you pass by a vendor who’s selling fresh coconut water, stop for a cup. Fresh coconut water is naturally high in potassium and magnesium, and contains some sodium too…and no added sugar.
Sorry about the rant, and please feel free to add your own “worst of the worst” to the comments section below. Stay healthy!
CaffeineInformer.com. Caffeine Content of Drinks. http://www.caffeineinformer.com/the-caffeine-database
Food & Beverage Online. 220v Energy Drink. http://www.21food.com/products/220v-energy-drink-677542.html
Investopedia.com. The Energy Drinks Industry. http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/022315/energy-drinks-industry.asp
Harvard Health Letter. Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not? http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/microwaving-food-in-plastic-dangerous-or-not
Huffington Post. The Chemical Marketplace: Popcorn Lung—The Perils of Microwave Popcorn Return. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-chameides/the-chemical-marketplace_b_1943728.html
Pan American Health Organization. Ultra-processed foods are driving the obesity epidemic in Latin America, says new PAHO/WHO report. http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11180%3Aultra-processed-foods&Itemid=1926&lang=en
Energy Drinks Market — Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Analysis And Forecasts 2016-2024.
Wikipedia.com. Energy drink. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_drink