School Lunches “Watch List” – Processed Foods to Avoid
A “watch list” of unwanted ingredients in school lunches was realized by the Food Focus Organization. It lists process foods to avoid, including artificial colors and preservatives that are possible carcinogens.
“More than 33 million children rely on public school meals for their daily nutrition, yet our school food system is significantly under-resourced, and far too dependent on highly processed food. This must change,” said Food focus Organization Founder and Executive Director Toni Liquori.
Items on the watch list include:
Caramel Color: Class III, IV
These ingredients are commonly found in processed foods such as soy and Worcestershire sauces, chocolate- avored products, baked goods and pre-cooked meats, diet are colas and caramel-colored beverages.
Reason: When produced with ammonia, caramel coloring contains contaminants (i.e., 2-methylimidazole, 4-methylimidazole), which have been found to cause cancer in animal studies conducted by the National Toxicology Program (NTP)
Synthetic Food Dyes: Blue 1, Blue 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6
These dyes, originally derived from coal tar and now made from synthetic chemicals, are added to foods to make items look more appealing.
Reason: Studies demonstrates that food dyes trigger hyperactivity or other behavioral problems in some children.6–10 Some dyes are also known to cause allergic or hypersensitivity reactions.11 In Europe, most dyed foods carry a warning label.
Artificial Flavors, flavors, Unspecified Natural Flavors
The term artificial flavoring is one which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products.
These types of flavors are commonly found in processed foods such as breakfast cereals, desserts, soft drinks, and many other foods.
Reason: The use of arti cial and natural flavors indicates the absence of whole ingredients, most often fruits. Some people may be sensitive to cer-tain flavoring ingredients.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
BHA is an antioxidant preservative that retards rancidity in fats and oils; commonly found in processed products, particularly meats, cereals, potato chips and vegetable oils.
Reason: In the Report on Carcinogens the National Toxicology Program within the Department of Health and Human Services lists BHA as “reason-ably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
BHT is an antioxidant preservative that retards rancidity in oil. It is commonly found in processed foods, particularly cereals, meats, and oils.
Reason: Some animal studies of carcinogenicity and chronic toxicity of BHT have shown contradictory results.
Propyl gallate is an antioxidant used to protect fats, oils, and fat containing foods from going rancid, and is commonly found in meat products, soup bases and potato sticks.
Reason: The Center for Science in the Public Interest explains that this nding suggests this food additive could be an endocrine disruptor, as well as a carcinogen. More research is recommended to better understand how this additive impacts human health.
TBHQ is an antioxidant preservative that is used to prevent rancidity. It is commonly found in vegetable oil, snack foods, cereals and other fat-containing foods.
Reason: A government animal study showed TBHQ increased the incidence of tumors.
Artificial Sweeters and Other Sugar Free Sweetners
Artificial and other sugar-free sweeteners include a wide range of sugar substitutes including but not limited to: Acesulfame- potassium, Aspartame, Brazzein, Cyclamate, Monatin, Monk Fruit, Neotame,
Saccharin, Stevia Leaf Extract (Rebiana), Sucralose, Sugar Alcohols (Erythritol, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate, Isomalt, Lacitol, Maltitol, Ma nnitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol), Thaumatin. These sweeteners are used to improve sweetness in foods or beverages with fewer calories than those produced with caloric sweeteners (e.g., cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup).
Reason: In general, these sweeteners are mainly used in foods and bev- erages that are of lower nutritional quality and do not serve a functional role in PK–12 students’ diets.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Description: MSG is an amino acid that is used to enhance the meaty (i.e., umami) avor of foods. It is commonly found in processed foods, and as an ingredient in arti cial avorings.
Reason: MSG has been linked to adverse reactions includ-ing but not limited to headache, nausea, weakness, and a burning sensation on the back of the neck, forearms and chest.
Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a chemical substance used by commercial bakers as a dough conditioner for bread baking and as a whit-ening agent in cereal our. ADA is used in baked products such as breads, rolls and pizza crusts.
Reason: During bread making, ADA completely breaks down to form other chemicals, one of which is semicarbazide (SEM). At high levels, animal studies have shown SEM has increased the incident of tumors when fed to female mice.
Bromated Flours: Potassium Bromate
Bromated flours are those that contain the additives potas- sium bromate or calcium bromate. These additives are our “improvers” used to strengthen dough allowing for greater oven spring and higher rising. This type of our is used in white breads, rolls, crackers, and pizza crusts.
Reason: Various animal studies demonstrate an association of potassium bromate with cancer. The US Environmental Protection Agency considers it to be a probable human carcinogen. California’s Proposition 65 also lists potassium bromate as a carcinogen. Many countries with the exception of the US and Japan have banned bromates.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener commonly found in processed foods and bever- ages, and not limited to sweets.
Reason:Between 1970 and the late 1990’s American’s annual consump-tion of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increased from 3.6 pounds per cap- ita to 62.4 pounds, primarily as a result of cheap HFCS available on the market. At the same time childhood obesity was on the rise. Researchers have shown this increased consumption of HFCS has a relation to the obesity epidemic.
Nitrates and Nitrites
Some meats and meat products contain sodium nitrate and/ or sodium nitrite as preservatives. Additional functions include stabilizing the red color and adding avor to cured meats. These ingredients are commonly used in processed meat products, such as bacon, ham, frankfurters, and luncheon meats.
Reason: Nitrates and nitrites can lead to the formation of small amounts of potent cancer-causing chemicals known as nitrosamines. Several studies link consumption of cured meat and nitrite by children, pregnant women, and adults with various types of cancer.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil more solid. During the hydrogenation process trans-fats are formed.
Reason: Eating trans-fat raises one’s levels of low-density lipoprotein (i.e., LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and lowers high-density lipoprotein (i.e., HDL or “good” cholesterol) in the blood. Consumption of trans-fats can increase one’s risk of developing stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Sodium and sodium chloride are added to foods, often during processing, for preservative or flavor purposes.
Reason: Salt, at levels present in the diets of most people, is one of the single most harmful substance in the food supply. While the body needs small amounts of sodium to function properly, most Americans are con-suming far too much of it, leading to high blood pressure, which in turn is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Sodium levels in school meals are already regulated by the USDA These ingredients can be a red ag as they are frequently overused, common in foods of lower nutritional quality, and tend to indicate a highly processed food.
Added sugars are caloric sweeteners added to processed and prepared foods that include but are not limited to: agave, anhydrous dex- trose, brown sugar, cane juice, cane sugar, confectioner’s powdered sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, date sugar, dextrose, evapo- rated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, isomaltulose, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar), pancake syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, sugar cane juice, tre- halose, white granulated sugar.
Reason: Added sugars are ubiquitous and appear on ingredient labels of heavily processed foods in many forms. Excess daily consumption of added sugars, especially in beverages, has been linked to poor nutrient intake, tooth decay, overweight, obesity, diabetes, as well as the development of cardio- vascular disease and its associated risk factors.
Ms. Jensen is a leading advocate for families and children and was the founder and president of ACES, The Association for Children for Enforcement of Support.
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