Uncanny Safety Nutrition Inside

Quick and convenient: more than fifteen hundred varieties of canned foods appear on today's supermarket shelves: traditional fare, along with a variety of nutritionally positioned products—for example, sodium-free, low-fat, no-added-sugar, and others. Some benefits:

  • Long shelf life. Canned fruits and vegetables are preservative-free; the canning process (high temperatures and sterile containers) destroys organisms that would cause spoilage. Canned food remains safe as long as the container remains intact. Although most canned foods are coded with "use by" dates, you're wise to rotate them. Change your supply of canned products at least every other year.
  • Nutritious. Canned foods—and dishes made with canned ingredients—are as nutritious as cooked fresh, according to research, and perhaps more so, if fresh aren't handled properly. Lycopene in canned tomatoes is more bioavailable than in uncooked fresh tomatoes.
  • Convenient, portable, quick. They're ready to eat. Canned soups, stews, and vegetables only need heating since they're already cooked in the can.
  • Tamper resistance. Cans are very tamper-resistant. Any opening is clearly evident. Rust spots on the outer surface or dents don't affect the contents of the can as long as the can doesn't bulge or leak.
  • Food safety. Food is heated to destroy bacteria and then sealed in cans within hours of harvesting. Washing, peeling, and other steps in the canning process remove almost any pesticide residues left on unprocessed foods. For maximum flavor and nutritional value from canned foods, use the product immediately after opening it. Handle any leftover as a perishable food—stored in the refrigerator in a clean, sealed container to retain taste and nutritional quality.

rise in the oven? That ice cream is smooth and creamy? And that breakfast cereal has been fortified with many vitamins you need for health? Probably not. Most likely you take many desirable qualities of food for granted. Even if you do, you may not attribute these qualities to food additives. Food additives are any substances added to food for purposes such as these.

Adding substances to food for preservation, flavor, or appearance is a centuries-old practice. Before refrigeration, salt preserved meat, fish, and poultry; vegetables were pickled in vinegar; and sugar was added to cut fruit to prevent spoilage. Ancient Egyptians used food colorings, and Romans used sulfites to help preserve wine. The spice trade among Asia, the Middle East, and Europe flourished because the public demanded the flavors that spices added to food.

Today more than three thousand substances are used as food additives. Direct additives are added for specific functions. Many are common household ingredients: sugar, salt, and corn syrup. Very small amounts of other substances—called indirect addi-tives—also may pass into food during packaging, storage, or other handling. One example is the small amount of packaging material that may come from the food container. Both direct and indirect additives are subject to government review and safety regulations.

What do they do? Additives help foods retain their original qualities, which might otherwise change through temperature changes, storage, oxidation, and contact with microbes. The benefits include nutritional value, freshness and safety, convenience, affordability, color, and flavor appeal. Many additives offer qualities that you've probably come to expect. All additives are listed by name in the ingredient lists on food labels.

For Better Nutrition

Vitamins, minerals, or fiber are added to almost every category of processed foods to maintain or to improve their nutrition and health-promoting qualities. Until the past seventy-five years or so, nutritional deficiency diseases such as goiter, rickets, scurvy, and pellagra were relatively common. Adding nutrients to food has almost eliminated most nutrient deficiencies. Today nutrients are added to help protect against other health problems, too. Added nutrients contribute to nutrient density—an important approach toward optimal nutrition.

  • Enrichment: replacing nutrients that are lost in processing. "Enriched" means that nutrients are added back to foods. If the grain's "refined," bread, flour, and rice are enriched with B vitamins and iron.
  • Fortification: adding nutrients and food substances not present before processing: for example, iodine in salt, vitamins A and D in milk and some soy beverages, folic acid in most products made with refined grains, calcium in some fruit juices, and fiber in breakfast cereal and other foods. Fortification adds nutrients often lacking in a typical eating pattern; for example, fortifying salt with iodine in the United States has eliminated goiter. Today fortification also enhances food's functional qualities.

What nutrients and food substances are added? Check the food label. Any added nutrient shows up in two places: (1) in the ingredient list, and (2) on the Nutrition Facts panel, telling the total amount or contribution (% Daily Value) of that nutrient in a single label serving. See "GetAll the Facts!" in chapter 11.

For Freshness and Safety...

Air, bacteria, fungi, mold, and yeast promote food spoilage. Some additives, called preservatives, slow spoilage and help maintain food's appeal and wholesome qualities. You've likely heard of antioxi-dants. Some preservatives work as antioxidants, protecting food from chemical changes caused by contact with oxygen. Others are antimicrobials that inhibit the growth of mold, bacteria, and yeast. Some foods contain both.

• Tocopherols (vitamin E), BHA, and BHT help delay or prevent vegetable oils and salad dressings

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