Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Step Away From The Baloney!

This article is also available on Nutrition in Motion's blog NIM Dish

Step Away from the Baloney!
Sarah Reid, RHNC

I’ve always been a bit put off by the constancy of colour and texture in my supermarket’s deli case. Where else has it always been perfectly acceptable to consume meat that’s a shade of pink reminiscent of Barbie’s car? Most of us would prefer not to think of what goes (or doesn’t go) into the deli slices slapped onto our sandwiches, but along with the colouring, preservatives, and seasonings are some hidden nasties you’re better off knowing. The infamous baloney now has almost 20 ingredients – a long way from it’s roots in traditional Italian cuisine.

The infamous SPAM (introduced in 1926) is actually for the most part pork! The pig shoulder and ham are minced to more or less of a paste and “secret spices”, binding potato starch, salt and preserving chemicals are added before canning. Other “formed meat” products common in the grocery store sometimes use meat by-products (including lips, intestine, stomachs, tongue and heart) and (more commonly) processed soy proteins to bulk up the small amount of expensive “authentic” meat expected by consumers. Binders and starches, usually wheat, corn, soy or seaweed based, help the distinctive circles keep their shape. Oils, milk products and brined injections of salt, sugar and water help boost the final sale weight of the slices and keep with the expectation of providing a consistent texture, taste and level of moisture, even on day 14.

To protect their billion-dollar industry from product losses due to spoilage, a wealth of preservatives lace their way into the protein component of a deli meat. Traditional salt and sugar are added in massive amounts, nitrites and nitrates get folded in, and all of a sudden the highly perishable “meat” can last in it’s BHT-ridden packaging for almost three weeks. Nitrates usually become nitrosamines, carcinogenic substances known about in the medical community for years, promoting tumours on the esophagus, larynx, mouth, liver and stomach.

Should meat smile at you?
Not all the preserving agents used in sliced meats will necessarily pickle you or give you cancerous tumours, though. Some of the deliberate additions to the products have a more devious activity in mind. To fight the risk of Listeria bacteria on mass-produced cold cuts, in 2006, the FDA approved the spraying of six viruses onto the meat prior to their packaging and sale.

To block out the flavour of these preserving chemicals and microbes and mask the natural “essence” of the meat by-products while enhancing the qualities of sugar, salt and other additions, many lunchmeats contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) or “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” (which is the same thing). Neurosurgeons have successfully linked the compound with headaches, sudden cardiac arrest, and toxic damage to brain neurons.

Think about the last time you had a ham & Swiss at the coffee shop or a turkey on rye at the deli. Most adults don’t eat all that much processed meat on their own, excepting a few hot-dogs and cafe lunches every year, but the additions to your child’s bologna sandwich slices just  might have you pausing before you hit the checkout.

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I started my "working life" as a holistic and allopathic nutritional consultant with a love of cooking. Teaching the value of wholesome meal choices to families became close to my heart after I battled a long history of struggles with weight and health, and the passion for teaching led me into where I am now. My blog, which focuses on "bringing good taste to healthier food" through creative use of whole grains, fresh produce and acknowledging the importance of the occasional treat, also features a wealth of "specialty diet" friendly recipes for gluten-, egg-, dairy- and sugar- tree nut-free items that everyone can enjoy without alienating those who need them.

Overall, I want to bring back the desire for good quality, homemade, (mostly) healthy food into the hearts and kitchens of families so that the next generation will be less box-reliant than mine. I firmly believe that any “homemade” food, even when labelled as "naughty", is a more wholesome treat than pre-packaged, cookie-cutter junk. With the knowledge of good food (and how to cook good food) as a base, a healthy lifestyle can follow, and then anything is possible!

Today, my love for teaching is branching out even further - I'm in Montessori training to solidify my love for the system and working with children and families!