Below is my response to a post from CarolCooks2. It sent me down a rabbit hole researching Ramen, the Japanese dried noodle that took over college dorm cooking in the early 70’s.
I honestly thought the only bad thing about ramen is the little tiny spice package loaded with salt. I’ve been tossing the spice package, and making ramen pancakes about once a month for the last year. (My college-age niece gave me the idea.) I used the ramen dried noodles as a base for a pancake loaded with egg and whatever veggies I have sitting in my fridge. (It sounds good. Doesn’t it?)
Well no more. This stuff is nasty. It’s fried in palm oil, dried out and preserved so that it will last in college dorm room drawers for years on end. CarolCooks2 blog post includes an excellent video that shows how ramen in manufactured.
CarolCooks2 also says in her blog that ramen contains a chemical called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) which is a petroleum product used to preserve foods manufactured with a lot of oil or fat. (TBHQ wasn’t in the ramen on my shelf, but I didn’t do a widespread survey.) That’s when things got interesting.
My personal rule (when I think of it) has been to look at the packaged food ingredients list. If I can pronounce all the product ingredients, I deem it healthy and buy it.
Of course life is never so straight forward. When I researched TBHQ I decided eating ramen once a month probably wouldn’t kill me. But then I paused.
I looked at all the cereal and cracker boxes on my shelves (10 packages in all). None of them have TBHQ, but the saltines have “BHT to preserve freshness”. This is a petroleum product similar to TBHQ that is used in food with manufactured with fats. It prevent the product from going rancid. (Source: Science Direct).
The Healthline article The Potential Dangers of TBHQ they outline possible concerns. There have been some studies linking TBHQ to ADHD in children. Other studies have “found TBHQ to cause liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, convulsions, and paralysis in laboratory animals”. They also say that while small amounts of TBHQ and BHT are safe, we might be getting too much from the cumulative affects of of the processed foods we eat.
So I looked again at my boxes. Fifty percent of them had something called “mixed tocopherols.” Turns out these are a naturally occurring additive made of up eight types of vitamin E compounds. In fact, food companies like General Mills started replacing the TBHQ and BHT with mixed tocoperols to retain freshness in 2015. It looks like it is quite safe and I couldn’t find anyone complaining about it. (Sources: An assessment of the safety of tocopherols as food additives and http://www.verywellfit.com article The Health Benefits of Mixed Tocopherols.)
I don’t pretend to be an expert on food additives but this looks like good news and I can happily continue to enjoy my Cheerios.
Personally. l think it is a great example of food producers listening to consumers. And whether it is good intentions or just following the market they are finding ways to be more transparent about what goes into manufactured food and responding when there are concerns. This is an example of the capitalism working and it makes me happy.
How do you decide what processed foods goes into your shopping card?
Is there a fast food that you like to cook up when you don’t have time or energy?