Deep fried take away and commercial foods.
We all love that heady smell of take- away chips. That delicious aroma of salt with a touch of vinegar, crispy edges, soft inside. Yum. Or what about that quick mid afternoon snack of crisp chips, purchased from the vending machine or the company kiosk.
Aside from the sublime eating pleasure, what are we really putting inside our body and is it worth it?
A few years ago, we were told that saturated fats were lethal for heart health and that margarine or ‘heart healthy’ tubs of spread were suddenly a healthier choice. Food manufacturers were delighted with this. Liquid fats such as sunflower oil, corn oil and canola oil are cheaper than butter and coconut oil but the downside to these liquid fats, is that they destabilize and deteriorate quickly. Light and heat negatively affect their chemical structure. To stabilize these oils, manufacturers ‘hydrogenated’ them (combined them with hydrogen atoms using a nickel catalyst) and lo and behold.. a longer shelf life.However, this process produced trans-fats which are deadly to health. There are no safe minimal levels to trans-fats and as consumers have become aware of this, manufacturers have been forced to re-look at the way they produce their processed foods. Many processed foods such as biscuits, popcorn, frozen pies, pizza, coffee creamers and many others, still contain hydrogenated fats and margarine. Indeed margarine is still sold as a ‘healthy’ alternative to butter in spite of undisputed evidence that it is not healthy at all. On the contrary, it is downright risky.
Now few people are unaware of the dangers of trans-fat. We look for labels that state, NO trans-fats and we believe we are doing the right thing. We use sunflower oil to fry at home and because sunflower seeds are plants, we again believe we are making healthy choices. Butter bad, sunflower oil good!
Some manufacturers have reverted back to the liquid, more unstable fats and this is where the ‘hidden’ dangers lie.
Buying deep fried ‘slap’ chips for example.
The oil in the deep fryers is re-used repeatedly and the degraded oils have health as well as practical disadvantages. One of the practical disadvantages is a ‘mist’ of polymers that clings, like a varnish, to stoves, extractors and even the clothes and hair of the cooks.
Health-wise, the aldehyde, caused by the chemical breakdown, is extremely toxic and has been cited in scientific journals as being responsible for several diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. So even though manufacturers are eliminating trans-fats, the alternatives with deep fried foods, is not much better.
What alternative is now emerging?
The latest oil for frying is high in Omega 9. (That’s sounds better we think) We see combinations of omega 3, 6 and 9 in the health shops. Surely this is a healthier alternative. But is it?
Sadly, at high heat, omega 9 (including olive oil) denatures into acrolein, (acrylamides) a strong smelling, possibly carcinogenic aldehyde that irritates the eyes and respiratory tract. The oxidised monomeric triglycerides produced at high heat have also been linked to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Every time the oil is reheated, it breaks down still further and oils in factory settings are sometimes reused for up to 2 weeks. That is a lot of breakdown happening.
That is not the only assault to our health. The oils used are also treated to make them acceptable for commercial use. They are certainly not gently pressed and virgin, as we would hope from our salad oil. They are known rather as RBD oils. RBD stands for refined, bleached and deodorised.
This process involves the seeds being crushed and the oil extracted using solvents such as hexane. Then more chemicals are used to remove as much of the solvent as they can from the residue (not all is removed). The result leaves a bit of a gummy residue, which is then ‘degummed’ using acids or enzymes. At this point the oil is already hot and breakdown has begun.
Oh yes… and now it’s a bit smelly and not very appetizing so now the process of bleaching and deodorizing starts, using clay and then heating it to very high heat, at least twice, to get rid of the smell. ( I am smelling a rat by now!)
Food manufacturers also add chemicals to the oils to extend the ‘fry life’. Some of these are the same chemicals that are added to resins and varnish. One of these is actually the same chemical, propylene glycol, you put in your car as anti -freeze. After that, an antifoaming agent is added (a type of silicon called polydimetholsiloxane) plus an anti-splatter (Lecithin.) (Whew, I recognise that name, thank goodness.)
Oh yes, I forgot. Now there is an emulsifier added and sometimes filters are used such as silica, bentonite and perlite, to filter out the gunk from the previous day.
Deep fried commercial foods include: chicken nuggets doughnuts, chicken kiev, yet when I looked on the label, none of the above was mentioned. This is because they are ‘processing aids’ and not additives, and therefore there is no legal requirement to mention them, but they certainly do not evaporate into thin air once the food is on my plate, about to enter my body.
In the US, the acrylamide produced by the high heat has been classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a ‘probable carcinogen’, especially to children. Crisps and chips have been identified as the biggest source of acrylamide in the diet of children.
Take Away Point
We all love these convenience foods but the impact on health can be profound. I suggest you have a ‘food holiday’ once a month, where you allow yourself a day of enjoying the foods you love, but have abstained from for the month. You will possibly find that your enjoyment of them changes over time but if you really feel like a ‘cheat’ from health, you know there is a day allocated to enjoy them.