What is that & Why is it in my food?

Gateway Garden Center

By Lisa Maguire 

Being health conscious is a constant journey, and while I’m no conspiracy theorist, some arguments against “Big Food” make a lot of sense to me. I don’t believe everything I hear or read, but I do try to read both sides of each controversial equation and make my own  decisions about what to feed myself and my family. One of the most eye-opening things I started doing a few years ago was checking ingredient labels on processed foods and trying to make educated decisions on what was okay as a time saver, and what really needed to be made from scratch. Let’s be real, though- I’ve got a full time job and two young kids- not much hits that second list! Cooking spray is a definite time saver in the morning for eggs, and I typically use a brand that has an air pump or my own pump, but I grabbed an off-brand from a discount store in a shopping crunch. I warmed up the pan like usual and gave the nozzle a press- when it hit the pan, it literally sounded like propane igniting on a grill. I flipped the can over and found out why- yep! Propane was on the ingredient list. Why is that in my food?!

Cooking Sprays

Propane And Other Propellants

In order to get a product out of an aerosol can, there must be a propellant. Hydrocarbon propellants, such as propane, have been marked as safe for consumption in small amounts by the FDA. I’m guessing that since my off-brand cooking spray gave a pretty marked ignition noise, there may have been a little extra propane in that formula, but for me, any amount of propellant is not appetizing at all. I’ll take an extra 38 seconds to grab the butter next time I’m out of spray.

Mike Mozart
Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Dimethyl Silicone 

Excuse me, what? Silicone? Why? Well, it’s an anti-foaming agent and it also assists as a propellant. It can be found in a number of non-food items, but the World Health Organization- which, in my opinion, holds stricter standards when it comes to food additives than the FDA does- found no adverse side effects from consumption after reviewing animal studies.

Salad Dressing

Xanthan Gum 

This is a thickening agent made from the fermentation of carbohydrates using the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Once processed, it is a cream-colored powder and powerful thickening agent. The World Health Organization recognizes xanthan gum as safe and has noted that it may also act as a useful stool softener. Recommended daily intake should not exceed 10 mg per day as a food additive and not more than 15 mg per day as a laxative. Xanthan gum amounts are not listed on the nutritional label, however, so I’m not sure how we’re supposed to count what we’re taking in.

splashes and spilled lite Italian sauce with a spoon. isolated on white background. flat lay, top viewMonosodium Glutamate

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a popular flavor-enhancing food additive in many processed foods. The FDA and World Health Organization both recognize the additive as safe since many studies using the compound dosed in large amounts or offered inconclusive results. Several complaints after exposure to MSG have been made since the 1960’s, but have been unable to be reproduced through studies. Researchers believe that some people may have a greater sensitivity to MSG than others.

Phosphoric Acid 

Phosphoric acid is a corrosive agent used in many things and can cause dental corrosion when consumed in drinks like sodas. A little in your salad dressing is probably okay, and sometimes you just have to have Ranch. In fairness to the chemically produced, cheaper phosphoric acid, citric acid has a similar effect on the body. It just happens to be naturally occurring.

FD & C Red 40 & Yellow 6 

Some studies have shown a link between hyperactivity and artificial food coloring in children. The FDA and World Health Organization have deemed it generally safe to consume in small amounts but recognize that some children may be more sensitive to it. I like to skip these ones since there are so many products that use natural sources of color, such as beet juice or carrot juice.

Gateway Garden Center

Coffee Creamer


Carrageenan is an extract from seaweed that is used to thicken and stabilize a variety of products, especially dairy. The FDA recognizes it as safe, but in a 2008 report, the World Health Organization stated it did not have enough information to make a determination. Some studies have shown that carrageenan can increase inflammation in lab animals, and others have linked it to cancer. In a nutshell, the jury is still out on this one. You’ll find that Natural Bliss and Simply Put coffee creamers do not contain carrageenan. For me, I avoid it when I can, but for some things, it’s next to impossible to get around, like heavy whipping cream.

Coffee CreamerHydrogenated Oil 

Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen to liquid oil to make it solid. Fully hydrogenated oils were the answer to the FDA’s ban on partially hydrogenated oils, which must be removed from foods by June of this year. Right now, the jury is out on fully hydrogenated oils, although they do not contain trans-fats like partially hydrogenated oil does. Hydrogenated oil does contain saturated fat, which in smaller amounts doesn’t seem to have an effect on good cholesterol. We recommend limiting your intake here.


Maltodextrin is derived from starches. It has a high glycemic index (meaning it is high in glucose) and is easily absorbed by the body. It is used in a lot of processed foods to maintain texture or to thicken, but offers no nutritional value.

All of the salad dressing and coffee creamer ingredients can also be found in many snack foods and/or beverages- chips, soda, children’s fruit snacks, cereals, etc. 

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