Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Made Out of Food, But Is It Really Food?

On a recent quiet Wednesday morning. Some co-workers and I nibbled on some organic cheese flavored corn/ rice puffs as we discussed that we shouldn't be hungry for lunch at 11:15am. I shoveled my fair share of the puffs into my mouth with cheese dust covered fingers and sighed. 'It's too bad this isn't real food.' I quipped.

My colleagues were quick to correct me. 'These are organic, and look, there's no weird ingredients listed on the back!' I turned over the package to see what was listed.

They were right. No mono- or tetra- anything. No TBHQ or other acronyms. The ingredients listed among others, potato flour, rice flour, cheddar cheese powder, probably a whey of some kind given the presence of dairy, canola oil, and probably natural flavorings, but maybe not I can't remember. After reading the ingredients I didn't have a snappy comeback. I never have the snappy comeback, they always come to me when I am, say, typing blog entries on the train.
This packaged dusty cheesy invention was absolutely made from food. There were no smoke and mirrors. Still I stubbornly fought that this was not food. My colleagues went back to their desks.

The bag contained 4 servings of puffs each containing 130 calories, 5 grams of fat and no fiber. Those of you who have ever been a part of the heavily copyrighted diet I have mentioned before will quickly pull out your slide rules and notice, the bag contains 12 food units. When I have a big lunch of a sandwich, chips and a side salad, it usually adds up to 10-12 food units. It is a tremendous amount of food! I usually don't want to eat for a long while after a 12 food unit meal. So if that is the case, how could I easily put away that entire bag of puffs between meals and still belly up to the table the next time the dinner bell rang?

My poor cube mate is a gracious woman who handles all of my passionate monologues with grace. She never interrupts, and always smiles when I am done. She was the only one left in our cube to listen when the it finally came to me.

Yes, the puffs are made from food, but they are not food. Why not? It's because all these food based ingredients have been taken out of their original food context. When you eat a baked potato, you get the carbs yes, but you also get the fiber and vitamins of the potato. And if you eat the skin like I do (love it) you get lots more nutrition. The potato's carbs will raise your blood sugar levels, but the fiber makes it harder to digest, so your body has to work harder and longer to get those carbs. You don't feel the raise in your blood sugar because the carbohydrates are absorbed gradually and the effects are spread out over time. But when you take a potato and make potato flour or potato starch, you remove the fiber and some (or all-i am not a nutritionist, so I am not certain) of the vitamins and minerals. These puffs are nothing more than reconstituted flours covered in cheese powders. All that flour is easily and quickly absorbed by the body, your blood sugar spikes because it is processed all at once and then you crash when it is all done, leaving you hungry again. Part of why you can eat so many of them is because in the processing they remove all the food parts that help you feel full and help your body signal you to stop eating. This is not just the case with potato flour, white bread flour is no better. There is some bit of magic in that wheat germ. That magic keeps us full. Have you ever tried to eat 4 baked potatoes? That's tough, you'd be stuffed. But that is also 12 food units.

There will never be a cheese puff that is a whole food. And 'whole food' does not just refer to a pricey grocery store chain. It is a term that means a food that is left as it was given to us by God. Not deconstructed by us only to be put back together again. I want to scream this from the top of the George Washington Bridge: EAT FOOD! Make your kids eat food! Real food! Not just stuff that's made from food. You deserve better, your kids deserve better!!

Forward this post to people if you like it! Please! Share this with your friends on Facebook if you agree. We need to stop kidding ourselves about what we are eating. At the same time we need to be realistic and kind to ourselves. We live in the modern world, no one is going to live a completely cheese puff free existence. I ate them myself the other day and I will again, I have no doubt. But if you are mostly eating whole foods, whole grains, veggies, fruits, meats, yogurts, nuts, etc you will be well on your way to health and well being. This post represents the heart of why I have taken on this project. I have passion about my family's health and well being. And our food.


  1. You are teetering on a thin line. Careful! or you will be eating a raw food diet soon.
    To a certain extent, most of the food we eat will be at least minimally processed. We ground grains into flour, we kill animals and skin them and clean them and cook them. Those things are technically a process. I get that we should aim for as little processing as possible for a plethora of reasons; and I know you have to draw the line somewhere, that is indeed the purpose of this blog. Where do we draw the line? Perhaps cheese powder/dehydrated dairy, even if it's all natural with nothing added or taken out (is that possible with cheese powder or does something have to be added)is simply too processed to be considered a whole food. I agree with you on that point. I'm just saying be careful not to lump all flours and powdered food (Baking powder? Cream of tartar? Whole wheat flour? Powdered whole milk?) into a "Non food" category. It's a sweeping generalization that could have you throwing out all breads and pasta as overly processed non-foods!
    (BTW, you know I like to play devil's advocate right?)

  2. I think what I am aiming for is some understanding that these types of processed foods should not replace real food in our diets. As I have said, I am no nutritionist, but I bet if we as a culture understood what flours do once they get into our bodies, we would put them in the "sometimes" category rather than "all day long" category. Changing our cultural opinions about food is difficult, no doubt. But let us all be realistic about where the line between food and foodlike really falls.

  3. preach it Sister Sledge!! I am with you 100%. I don't think it all has to be raw, but I will never believe again that a "cereal bar" is actual food just because it is made up of food-like substances. I will hold myself accountable for my cheese-puffery. Knowledge is power.