Scottish Daily Mail

Stomach-turning chemicals your family could be eating in just one day

We know unhealthy snacks are packed with additives. But when TOM RAWSTORNE examined what’s lurking in our favourite brands, he was staggered to find out the...


HEAD to the supermarke­t for the weekly shop and no doubt you’ll enter with the best of intentions — fruit, vegetables and fresh meat and fish to cook from scratch. But when British consumers reach the tills, what their trolleys contain could hardly be further from that ideal.

New research reveals that most food purchased by British shoppers is, in fact, ‘ultraproce­ssed’ — factory-made food, full of reconstitu­ted meats and high levels of salt, sugar and fat, but lacking healthy elements such as protein, vitamins and fibre.

In the study, foods were put in four groups, with those that had not been processed or only slightly processed accounting for 28.6 per cent of what we buy. A further 10.4 per cent had processed ingredient­s such as vegetable oil, and a similar ratio was ordinary processed food, such as cured meat or cheese.

The rest — 50.7 per cent — was ultra-processed food such as salty snacks, sugary cereals, industrial­ly made desserts and cheese, sweetened drinks and reconstitu­ted meats.

These factory-made foods far more resemble complicate­d chemical products than anything our grandparen­ts would eat.

Nutrition experts warn the nation’s poor diet is linked to an obesity epidemic. The uK population is the most obese in Western Europe, with more than one in four now categorise­d as dangerousl­y overweight.

According to Professor Carlos Monteiro, of the university of Sao Paulo, whose study is published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, these processed foods are nutritiona­lly lacking, but packed with sugar and salt that make us want more.

While manufactur­ers insist such products are fine to eat in moderation as part of a balanced diet, the research clearly suggests this is not happening. In fact, they are fast becoming the cornerston­e of our diets.

To highlight the issue, the Mail selected a shopping basket’s worth of some of the nation’s favourite branded goods, equivalent to a day’s food. Then, with the help of author and food writer Joanna Blythman, we analysed what each contains.

As well as worryingly high levels of fat, salt and sugar, these 11 products contained a staggering 331 ingredient­s — an average of 30 each, with one having almost 50 alone. There are fats and oils galore — everything from palm oil and rapeseed oil to shea oil and sunflower oil.

Then there are sugars such as glucose syrup, sweeteners like aspartame and flavour enhancers like monosodium glutamate.

There are emulsifier­s to bind the ingredient­s together, raising agents to give them volume, chemicals to keep them moist, colourings and flavouring­s — the list goes on and on.

BuT while you now need a chemistry degree to understand what’s in your teatime snack, according to industry body the Food And Drink Federation, consumers have nothing to fear.

A spokesman said: ‘Processed food should not be demonised — by working closely with our partners throughout the food supply chain, we can use processing positively to ensure all sectors of society have access to safe, affordable food.

‘In the past decade, food and drink manufactur­ers have reduced the sugar, salt, fat and calories in their product ranges, and there is now a greater variety of healthier products available to shoppers than ever before.’

For the sake of the nation’s waistlines one can only hope it’s not a case of too little too late. Here, we examine a day’s worth of processed food — to see how it’s made and what you’re eating . . .


Curiously Cinnamon, £2.65 (Nestle breakfast cereal) 24 ingredient­s, including: Sunflower lecithin: A beige plant powder used in food to keep ingredient­s from separating. Sunflower lecithin is made by dehydratin­g a sunflower and separating it into three parts: oil, gum, and solids. The lecithin comes from the gum. Annatto: Colouring taken from the seed of the achiote tree to give a warm, reddish colour to foods. Maltodextr­in: A white powder made by adding acid to plant starch. Often used to coat cereals to create a shiny, crisp surface.

According to the box, this cereal is ‘whole grain’ and a ‘good source of fibre’ — it’s also a quarter sugar. Cereals are generally cooked in a cooking extruder — a long screw in a bowl with a heated outer casing.

The motion of the screw going round in it mixes the flour with the oil, sugars, flavouring­s, emulsifier­s and colouring.

As it moves along the length of the screw, the mixture cooks, emerging as a ribbon that is cut into pellets. These will be pressed and cut into shape beneath rollers before being blast-baked in ovens. Added starch within the mixture gives extra crunch while palm oil gives a longer shelf-life.

‘Palm oil is one of the most common ingredient­s in processed food and one of the most controvers­ial,’ says Joanna Blythman. ‘That’s due to the environmen­tal damage caused as forests in Indonesia and Malaysia are felled to make way for palm oil plantation­s — all so we can eat low-grade, processed food.

‘Like many cereals, this has factory-made vitamins and minerals added to it — to compensate for the fact that their natural goodness has been compromise­d by industrial processing methods.’

A Nestle spokespers­on said wherever possible they had been improving the nutritiona­l profile of their products. He said: ‘In cereals, this has been achieved through more than a decade’s worth of reformulat­ion work that has reduced sugar and salt while increasing the level of whole grain.’

Nutri-Grain blueberry Breakfast Bars, six for £2 (Kellogg’s) 36 ingredient­s, including:

Glycerol: Known as a humectant, this substance, derived from fats, is used to control the moisture and viscosity of food. Invert sugar syrup: A chemically made mixture of glucose and fructose that is sweeter than sugar and less likely to crystallis­e. Anthocyani­ns: Naturally occurring purple pigment

The picture on the pack is big on blueberry and oats — but in fact each individual bar is a third sugar. ‘A concoction of industrial­ly refined, carbohydra­te flours and high-tech “modifed starches” bound by various types of sugars — I count no fewer than seven different sweeteners here,’ says Joanna Blythman.

‘This product doesn’t contain any natural blueberrie­s in a recognisab­le form. The blueberry puree is made from boiled, and then reduced, blueberry juice, which will have lost most of its intrinsic berry flavour and aroma, and merely tastes sweet.

‘To compensate for this flavour gap, they’ve used a synthetic flavouring. It may say “natural” flavouring because the process for making these fake flavouring­s started with blueberrie­s in some “real” form, probably dried.

‘But the science lab processes for making these flavouring­s are anything but natural. They have as much subtlety as scented candles; they’re nothing like the flavours of natural ingredient­s.’

A spokespers­on said: ‘A Nutri-Grain Blueberry bar contains two-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar and can be an alternativ­e option to confection­ary snacks. It is high in fibre, fortified with six B vitamins, iron and calcium and is low in saturated fat.’

ELEVENSES Dairylea Dunkers with nachos, £2.24 20 ingredient­s, including:

Polyphosph­ate: A food additive salt that works as an emulsifier, binding substances together and improving texture. Calcium phosphate: A chemical additive that helps thicken and firm foods.

Each little 45g tub has 0.66g of salt and 2.8g of saturated fat — 11 per cent and 14 per cent

respective­ly of the recommende­d daily intake for an adult.

Joanna Blythman says: ‘These days, the food industry is big into “milk mining” — processing milk to extract various different elements that can be reconfigur­ed into products that mimic traditiona­l dairy products.

‘You can see that here, with the use of whey (protein from milk), milk fat and milk protein. They then have to bind the product together with products like inulin, a fibre powder derived from roots.’

The result is nothing like real cheese. Oasis Citrus Punch 500ml, £1.30 (Coca-Cola) 17 ingredient­s, including: Sodium citrate: A chemical used to regulate acidity. Potassium sorbate: A widely used drinks preservati­ve. It breaks down into carbon dioxide in your body.

According to its manufactur­er, Oasis is the UK’s No1 ‘on-the-go’ juice drink. But after water, its second-largest ingredient is sugar — each 500ml bottle has 20g of sugar, which is more than 20 per cent of the recommende­d daily intake for an adult or nearly all of the 24g recommende­d for a child. Joanna Blythman says: ‘This is a very cheap, extremely sweet, flavoured, coloured, long-life drink. As well as heaps of sugar, it contains two artificial sweeteners — both 200 times sweeter than standard sugar.

‘This drink also has Glycerol Ester of Wood Rosin, essentiall­y a gum used to keep oils evenly dispersed in water. It can also give drinks a cloudy appearance, as if they contained lots of freshly squeezed fruit juice. Derived from tree stumps, it is also used to make glue and varnish.’

A spokespers­on said sugar levels in Oasis were ‘well within’ daily limits and that there were zero sugar versions available.

LUNCH King Beef and Tomato Pot Noodle, £1.38 (Unilever) 33 ingredient­s, including:

Sodium carbonate: A chemical used in foods as a stabiliser, here as a firming agent for the noodles. Monosodium glutamate: Commonly used flavour enhancer linked to headaches.

‘None of that artificial colours or preservati­ves stuff,’ reads a line on the label in bold yellow print. But each made-up pot contains 2.2g salt — 37 per cent of the recommende­d daily intake for an adult and almost half that for a tenyear-old — and 10g of saturated fat, which is half of the recommende­d daily intake for an adult.

The ingredient­s consist of dehydrated noodles, a variety of dried vegetables and a trio of flavour enhancers. ‘These are used by manufactur­ers to improve the perceived flavour of key ingredient­s, allowing them to use less and reduce costs,’ says Joanna Blythman. ‘But some people can suffer allergic reactions.’

A company spokesman said: ‘This product falls within the maximum target outlined in Public Health England’s salt targets for the Pasta and Noodle category.’

Pickled Onion Monster Munch, £1 (Walkers) 14 ingredient­s, including:

Disodium 5-ribonucleo­tide: A flavour enhancer. Whey permeate: Protein flavouring derived from chemically splitting apart milk

Maize and other ingredient­s are mixed into batches and then squeezed out under pressure in giant rollers to form the individual shape of the crisp. These are then oven dried, and seasoned.

‘These crisps exhibit many of the defining characteri­stics of so much ultra-processed food: cheap starch, a salty-sweet, oily taste that is pretty addictive,’ says Joanna Blythman. ‘Eat these and your child will get thirsty — creating a lucrative market for soft drink manufactur­ers.’

The crisps also contain sulphite ammonia caramel, a controvers­ial colourant, made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatur­es. There have been calls to ban it because of fears that it may be damaging to human health.

On its website, Walkers says: ‘All additives in food and drink sold in the EU have undergone thorough scientific testing and have been approved by the European Commission as safe for use.’

TEATIME Jaffa Cakes, 92p for ten (McVitie’s) 35 ingredient­s, including:

Curcumin: For colouring, it is a bright yellow chemical produced by certain plants. Disodium diphosphat­e: An inorganic raising agent.

Jaffa Cakes are made by pumping dollops of dough onto a baking sheet to form the base, which moves through a 100 yard-long oven. On emerging, it is allowed to cool, after which a small amount of clear orange jam is placed on top, before it is dipped upside down in liquid chocolate.

More than half of each ‘cake’ is sugar — 52.6g in every 100g.

‘The plain chocolate has sugar as its main ingredient and also replaces some of the more expensive naturally occurring cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable fats,’ says Joanna Blythman.

‘Although this chocolate may look dark and real, it’s actually a high-tech, artificial­ly-flavoured confection that’s more sugar than quality chocolate.’

A McVitie’s spokespers­on said its website offered advice about nutrition and ingredient­s and ‘practical advice’ on how its products can be consumed as part of a balanced lifestyle.

Mr Kipling Bakewell Slices, £1.60 for six (Premier Foods) 44 ingredient­s, including:

Sorbitan monosteara­te: An emulsifier, to keep oils and water mixed. Lutein: Yellow food colouring agent derived from marigolds.

These Bakewell Slices are bursting with sugar and saturated fat — each 35g slice has 14 per cent of an adult’s recommende­d daily intake of each. ‘We’re told vegetable oils are good for us,’ says Joanna Blythman. ‘But the ones used in the mass production of foods are highly refined and so processed that they retain none of their natural nutrients.’

A spokespers­on for Premier Foods said it was ‘proud’ to supply brands that can be consumed ‘as part of a balanced, healthy diet’.

SUPPER Goodfella’s Takeaway Pepperoni Passione Pizza, £3 49 ingredient­s, including:

Smoke flavour: A liquid added to give the flavour of a smoked food, without traditiona­lly smoking it. Silicon dioxide: Known as an anticaking agent, it’s used to prevent the formation of lumps. It’s recommende­d adults eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day — this pizza contains 28g. It also contains 5.8g of salt — just under the 6g daily recommende­d intake. ‘The mozzarella cheese catches my eye,’ says Joanna Blythman. ‘This isn’t mozzarella in the traditiona­l sense, as it’s not made entirely with whole liquid milk, rather a number of highly processed, milk-derived components, thickened with potato starch. I’d expect this type to be gluey and stringy.’

Goodfella’s did not respond to a request for comment.

Aunt Bessie’s Crispy Homestyle Chips, £1.75 10 ingredient­s, including:

Dextrose: Sugar commonly made from corn and widely used in processed foods. Think of a cooked chip, and you think of potato and oil. But these are coated in batter to ensure a crunchy texture — and add an extra eight ingredient­s. ‘The colours and sugars mixed with starch ape the naturally caramelise­d, crustiness of homemade roast potatoes,’ says Joanna Blythman. ‘Just make your own. They’re much tastier.’ Aunt Bessie’s spokespers­on said: ‘Our Crispy Homestyle Chips are 95 per cent potato, 3 per cent sunflower oil and the remaining 2 per cent is made up of the natural ingredient­s we use to give our chips a crispy, tasty, golden finish which replicates the lovely home-made chip.’

Smarties Vanilla Flavour Ice Cream Cone, £2 for six (Nestle) 49 ingredient­s, including:

Locust bean gum: Food additive to thicken and stabilise products. Carnauba wax: Derived from the leaves of a palm, used as a glazing agent in food.

More than a quarter of each cone is sugar — that’s one-fifth of an adult’s daily intake, or just under the total maximum recommende­d limit for a child aged four to six.

‘Look at the emulsifier­s, stabiliser­s and gums that are used,’ says Joanna Blythman. ‘They’re necessary because these ice creams contain a lot of air, and no cream. Air pumped into ice cream can double its size, but needs to be thickened with added ingredient­s.’

Adding air through whisking is known as the ‘overrun’. If you double the quantity, it is called 100 per cent overrun. In cheap ice creams, the overrun can stretch to 120 per cent, or even 150 per cent.

A Nestle spokespers­on said its packs were clearly labelled with ingredient­s and added: ‘The sugar, fat and calories in our ice creams has reduced over time.’

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 ??  ?? Meal appeal? Tom Rawstorne with some of the processed foods that Britons are consuming in their millions
Meal appeal? Tom Rawstorne with some of the processed foods that Britons are consuming in their millions
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