Food used to be so simple. A 1950s ice cream sundae contained about eight or nine different ingredients. Today, you can walk into any Baskin-Robbins in the country and order a sundae with 50 or more additives, most of them junk-food fillers that you would never stock in your pantry at home—unless of course you cook with polysorbate 80 and hydrogenated coconut oil.
And these newly bloated, calorie-rich foods are at the heart of our obesity problem. And yes, it’s a big problem: Compared with their normal-weight peers, overweight people are 30 percent more likely to have asthma, 44 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, and 64 percent more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes. And the fact is, we're heavier than we've been at any other time in history.
In my latest book, Eat This, Not That! 2012, I unravel the mystery behind some of your favorite fast foods. Read on for some freakish examples. But be warned: The truth may be tough to swallow.
WHAT'S REALLY IN A:
KFC Chunky Chicken Pot Pie
Number of Ingredients: 82!
Gelatin: Hard to believe, but the stuff that gives Jell-O its jiggle comes from the collagen found inside animals’ skin and bones. In this pastry run afoul, it’s used as a gelling agent to give the “sauce” more viscosity.
“Chicken pot pie flavor”: Food processors know that if the flavor isn’t correct, sales will suffer, and that presents a formidable challenge. See, after making room for emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives, many of the natural flavors in this pie are muted. To keep from sticking a bland product on the menu, KFC turned to chemists who specialize in what food should taste like. That means that when you take a bite, you’re tasting the result of meetings and e-mails exchanged between the decision makers at KFC and the chemists trying to capture the essence of the dish they’re fabricating. Your taste buds register something like chicken and vegetables, but the driving force is actually an onslaught of chemicals derived from a trio of cheap commodity crops—corn, soy, and wheat—that have been laced with a proprietary “flavor,” steeped in common stock, and thickened with corn-derived sugars like dextrose and maltodextrin. It creates an unsettling picture of how unscrupulous processors approach food: When artificial additives create problems, the solution is to invent more artificial additives.
L-cysteine hydrochloride: Used as a dough conditioner in industrial food production, this nonessential amino acid is most commonly derived from one of three equally surprising sources: human hair, duck feathers, or a fermented mutation of E. coli. Yum.
Red 40 (natural red #40): Red 40 is a crimson pigment extracted from the dried eggs and bodies of the female Dactylopius cocus, a beetlelike insect that preys on cactus plants. It’s FDA-approved and widely used as a dye in various red foods, especially yogurts and juices.
DIRTY BIRDS: Chicken has the potential to be a nutritional superstar, but restaurants often smother it in breading, grease, and creamy sauce. Steer clear of the Worst Chicken Dishes in America.
THE 4-WEEK BELLY MELT! As the editor of Men's Health and Women’s Health magazines, I'm constantly discovering the best new ways to fight fat. Get the (low-calorie) scoop every day byfollowing me right here on Twitter and watch the pounds disappear.
EAT RIGHT RULE: If your food can go bad, it's good for you. If it can't go bad, it's bad for you. FOLLOW DAVE ZINCZENKO RIGHT HERE ON TWITTERand get FREE health, nutrition and weight-loss secrets like this one every day! You'll lose weight and get healthy faster than ever!