Last month, the journal Pediatrics came out with a study of how common, FDA-approved food additives threaten children’s health. The results were grim, underscoring the fact that the United States is woefully behind much of the world in regulating toxic ingredients like phthalates, artificial colors, and preservatives like nitrates and nitrites…and how the development of our children’s endocrine, nervous, and reproductive systems are at stake.
Garbage in, garbage out
Sadly, many corporations add petrochemicals to secure longer shelf life and transportability, regardless of the fact that foods (especially foods for children) should be healthy and nutritious. Our bodies have evolved to eat foods cultivated in the ground, not in a petri dish. Even if we take a plant-based dietary supplement every day to compensate for our lack of whole-food nutrition, our bodies will still only absorb about 50% because it doesn’t come along with the juice and fiber; we’re built to digest it all together, in a very specific way.
It’s easy to get down about news like this. Who has time to check every label for every food to ensure these disruptive additives stay far, far away from our kids, let alone the ingredients of the package in which they’re contained?? As much as I believe in eating whole foods and giving whole foods to my kids, I can’t always. (The cobbler’s children come to mind.) Even as a farmer, sometimes a granola bar or gummy pouch is truly the best option I’ve got.
Fortunately, there’s good news here: In many instances, vegetable powders, juices, and purees can be used as an alternative to harmful food additives. In fact, it’s already being done by some of the industrial food complex’s largest, most powerful companies.
For instance, about three years ago, Kraft Heinz removed from its classic Macaroni & Cheese box dinners yellow 5 and yellow 6―associated with hyperactivity in children, as well as allergic reactions and even risk of cancer― to replace them with natural paprika, annatto, and turmeric. What’s more, they were quiet about it for a period of time and only announced the change long after it became clear that consumers hadn’t noticed.
Another great example comes from Panera Bread, which went on a kick last year to remove all artificial ingredients from their foods, resulting in changes to nearly every one of their recipes. Seeing the millennial generation’s drive toward clean labeling, Panera uses natural alternatives now.
Farmers lead the way
Is replacing harmful, synthetic ingredients difficult for companies of this magnitude? It can be. Suppliers aren’t always able to promise year-round availability to natural ingredients, while artificial flavors, colors and preservatives can be created in a lab on demand.
But as farmers, we are in a position to guarantee year-round availability to plant-based ingredients in ways we’ve never been before. With everything we know about agricultural science, we can answer the call for clean ingredients, no question. It just takes awareness, commitment, and a demand for reformulating recipes toward natural, plant-based solutions.