Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fast Food Facts

Yahoo! featured an interesting article today from on how intricate and long the ingredients are in most fast food.
Order a meal in any fast-food restaurant, and you'll likely walk away with a sandwich, fries and a drink. If you had to identify the ingredients of this meal, you might list beef (or chicken), lettuce, tomato, cheese, ketchup, bread, potatoes and soda. Not complicated, right? Wrong.

Burger and chicken joints don't think of the building blocks of a menu item as ingredients. They think of them as components, which, are made of ingredients. For example, McDonald's famous Big Mac jingle -- "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun" -- suggests the sandwich has seven components. Would you believe it has 67 ingredients?

… Considering that some of these ingredients have been implicated in serious health issues, it would be good to know which are the most common.
Here are the top 10 ingredients (and highlights) writer William Harris included in his article:

10. CITRIC ACID: The most common preservative — “Citric acid, an organic acid found in many fruits, especially limes, lemons and grapefruits, is one of those chemicals. It increases the acidity of a microbe's environment, making it harder for bacteria and mold to survive and reproduce. It can also be used to bind to and neutralize fat-degrading metal ions that get into food via processing machinery.”

9. HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP: The most common sweetener — “Unfortunately, some research has shown a link between HFCS and obesity. At the very least, many beverages and processed foods made with this corn-derived sweetener are high in calories and low in nutritional value.”

8. CARAMEL COLOR: The most common color additive — “Common additives include Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6 and Red No. 40. According to one source, Red No. 40, which finds its way into jellies, pastries and those neon-red maraschino cherries perched atop your Chick-fil-A shake, is the most widely used food dye in America. This same source says Yellow Nos. 5 and 6, which provide the golden glow to cheeses, pudding and pie fillings, and soft drinks, are the second and third most common food colorings, respectively [source: Women's Health]. But when we analyzed the ingredients of five popular fast-food menus, we found caramel color to be even more common.”

7. SALT: The most common flavor/spice — “Most health experts warn against eating too much salt, pointing to studies that show a link between sodium and high blood pressure. The government recommends a maximum of 6 grams of salt per day for adults, 5 grams a day for children between ages 7 and 10, and 3 grams for children between 4 and 6. Compare that recommendation to a typical family meal from KFC, which delivers a whopping 5.2 grams of salt per person [source: BBC News]!”

6. MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE (MSG): The most common flavor enhancer — “MSG is the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid and is just one form of glutamate, a chemical that exists naturally in many living things. In fact, Asians historically used a broth made from seaweed as their source of MSG. Today, the food industry obtains the white powder through a fermenting process involving carbohydrates such as starch, sugar beets, sugarcane or molasses.

The safety of MSG has been in question for many years. In 1959, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classified MSG as a "generally recognized as safe" substance. Then, in the 1980s, researchers began to wonder whether chemicals in the glutamate family could harm brain tissue based on studies that revealed glutamate's role in the normal functioning of the nervous system. An extensive FDA-sponsored investigation has since determined that MSG is safe when consumed at levels typically used in cooking and food manufacturing, although two groups of people -- those who eat large doses of MSG on an empty stomach and those with severe asthma -- may experience a set of short-term adverse reactions known as MSG Symptom Complex.”

5. NIACIN: The most common nutrient: “Manufacturing these foods often has the unwanted side effect of eliminating key vitamins and minerals, which then have to be replaced in a process known as enrichment. Fortification is the companion process, which adds nutrients that may be lacking in the diet.”

4. SOYBEAN OIL: The most common oil: “Soybean oil contains several unsaturated fatty acids, which means their component molecules have fewer hydrogen atoms. Unfortunately, unsaturated fats don't have long shelf lives. Hydrogenation, or forcing hydrogen gas into soybean oil under extremely high pressure, eliminates this undesirable characteristic. But it also leads to the creation of trans fatty acids, which have been linked to heart disease.”

3. MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES: The most common emulsifiers: “Mono- and diglycerides allow smooth mixing of ingredients, prevent separation and generally stabilize food. You can find them in ice cream, margarine, baked goods, whipped topping and certain beverages. Luckily, glycerides pose no serious health threats, although they are a source of fat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified them as a "generally recognized as safe" substance, indicating that experts consider them safe as food additives.”

2. XANTHAM GUM: The most common stabilizer or thickener: “Xanthan gum also creates a smooth, pleasant texture in many foods. For this reason, it appears in ice cream, whipped topping, custard and pie filling. And the really good news: It's not associated with any known adverse effects.”

1. CHICKEN: The most common meat product: “We're just as surprised as you to list chicken, not beef, as the most popular fast-food meat, and to be honest, this one is tricky. In our analysis of several menus, chicken appeared as the first ingredient more than beef, pork or turkey. But that's a little misleading because many fast-food chains have more chicken-based menu items than beef.”

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