Modern Day Alchemy

It is possible to turn trash into treasure. Consider the case of Coca Cola’s Vitamin Waters.

According vitaminwater’s website, the Power -C flavor of vitaminwater delivers “zinc and vitamin C to power your immune system”; while the XXX offers “antioxidant vitamins to help fight free radicals and help support your body.”–Mother Jones, Jan 18, 2013

This is a product that contains, in addition to the ‘healthy’ ingredients cited above, reverse osmosis water, crystalline fructose, cane sugar. Guess what crystalline fructose is. Yep, sugar, so sugar gets mentioned two times in this ‘health drink’ called Glaceau vitamin water.

I wonder how they make vitamins in China, where just about all of the vitamins used in our foods and probably all of the vitamins in vitamin water come from.

Vitamin C production is a convoluted operation consisting of about ten steps, within which there are substeps. It starts not with corn kernels or even cornstarch, but sorbitol, a sugar alcohol found naturally in fruit and made commercially by cleaving apart and rearranging corn molecules with enzymes and a hydrogenation process. Once you have sorbitol, fermentation starts, a process that tends to muck up surrounding air less than chemical synthesis (although it’s been known to cause problems with water pollution). The fermentation is done with bacteria, which enable more molecular rearrangement, turning sorbitol into sorbose. Then another fermentation step, this one usually with a genetically modified bacteria, turns sorbose into something called 2-ketogluconic acid. After that , 2-ketogluconic acid is treated with hydrochloric acid to form crude ascorbic acid. Once this is filtered, purified, and milled into a fine white powder , it’s ready to be shipped off as finished ascorbic acid , mixed with other nutrients, and added to your Corn Flakes.

Warner, Melanie (2013-02-26). Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal (pp. 83-84). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Without this process and these genetically modified bacteria, there would be no added vitamin C in your processed foods. It doesn’t sound like a very healthy way to make vitamins, especially when you consider how nature does it, and why. Getting your vitamins from real food ensures that you don’t get too much or too little. Unless you are a sailor in the nineteenth century, and your diet is limited to gruel and grog for six months at a time, chances are that you get every vitamin you need from eating real food. Of course, if you live in Missouri, in the middle of the richest nation on the planet and get most of your nourishment from items found on the Quick Trip shelves, then you must count on the generous addition of artificial vitamins to get any at all. But what if everything you eat has extra vitamins in it. Can you get too much?

Those bran flakes with “original antioxidants” or “extra vitamin A”? You might be better off without the added nutrients. A report released on Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that cereals and snack bars that have been fortified with extra vitamins and minerals to appear healthy may actually be harmful—particularly for kids.

The report, “How Much is Too Much?”, explains that there are some nutrients that most Americans don’t get enough of, like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E. But it turns out that kids are eating too much of other nutrients, and overconsuming certain vitamins and minerals for a long period of time can have negative health implications in the long run.–Mother Jones, June 24, 2014

Well, at least we have labels to read to clue us into the deceptive tricks played by marketers to get us to think products are full of healthy ingredients. The FDA is CONSIDERING making changes to what information will be required on the labels of all of your packaged foods.

Some of the proposed changes should be helpful. For example, instead of listing sugar as a single entry, the new label would separately list “added sugars” to distinguish those naturally present and not.

Also, the proposed label will highlight the number of calories in the amounts of food most people consume at a sitting. Though an official “serving” of a soft drink might be eight ounces, for example, people may habitually consume the entire 12-ounce can or 20-ounce bottle; if so, the calories in that amount would be featured on the label. —Mother Jones, Oct 26, 2014

These very modest, and most people might say helpful, changes would go a long way toward making food labeling useful by the greatest number of people that need the help in deciding which processed food to buy.  In addition to these changes, why not also change the units of measure from grams, which none of us know, to teaspoons which we all know?

Here is another really good idea that I just read about for the first time this morning, also from the same Mother Jones article:

Given the high cost of changing hundreds of thousands of food labels, I and many health professionals believe the revisions, though positive over all, do not go nearly far enough.

For one thing, they fail to give harried shoppers a fast and easy way to distinguish among similar products, perhaps by using front-of-package traffic light signals to highlight the good, bad or neutral health value of a food.

“Ecuador is already doing this because they’re so worried about obesity,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, said in an interview. “In Great Britain, it was shown that when people saw red dots on a package, they didn’t buy it.”

Remember the Mr Yuck for putting on dangerous kitchen chemicals so that children would no be fooled by pretty packaging into drinking or eating it? Well, we could have a “Mr Yuck” for all junk foods so that when you pick up a bottle of vitamin water you could see right away that it’s just junk food. Same would go for chocolate milk, which has as more sugar in it than a serving of Coca Cola–bet you didn’t know that! Yuck! Kids won’t drink their milk, here give them this candy instead! The bad thing is that this label would go on such a high percentage of processed food as to be almost universal. Then what would we eat? Oh yeah, vegetables, because they don’t need labels or lists of ingredients.

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About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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