Zion Nat'l Park, Columbine

How about a topping of anti-freeze on your ice cream?

PGSay what?! Antifreeze and ice cream in the same sentence, what’s that about?

Alas, antifreeze chemicals are indeed present in much of the packaged foods and beverages that Americans frequently consume. Last week, I wouldn’t have known that, but here’s how it all went down:

With winter approaching and freezing temperatures predicted, we began to look into how to keep our back yard fountain flowing without causing the motor to seize in the freezing water—so our visiting birds could continue to quench their thirst throughout the winter months. The contractor who installed the fountain suggested an antifreeze product that was safe, safe enough in fact that it is regularly used in the kitchen water systems of RV’s. Hmmm, antifreeze in the water that the birds were going to drink? That surely didn’t sound right. We went online to see what we could find out and woweezowee, did we get a lesson.

A bit of science: Propylene Glycol (PG) is a kissin’ cousin to Ethylene Glycol (EG)—EG being the toxic ingredient in auto engine antifreeze. EG will cause kidney failure if ingested, which could result in death. PG is a lesser version admittedly, yet PG takes twice as long to biodegrade as EG, and the description of PG as having a “lower level of acute toxicity when taken orally” did not alleviate my concerns as I continued to read more.

Propylene Glycol has been classified by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe” for use in food, and is found in many conventionally packaged baked goods, margarine, cake mix, ice cream, canned icing, sauces and dressings, flavored coffee drinks, and whipped dairy products. Oh yeah, PG is also added to soda, beer and some hard liquor. There are some 1200 food items that contain PG, not all of them labeled as such; that “artificial butter flavor” is a PG substance, but since it arrived in the food factory already pre-made as a fake butter, labeling laws do not require Propylene Glycol to be listed as a separate ingredient. Caramel coloring, which is present in nearly all snack foods is all PG; again, it arrives to the snack food factory as PG called caramel coloring, which is how it reads on the label. I used to think that referred to a caramel type of sweetener, until I read more. Yikes!

A few of questions came up for me as I read:

  • What led to the evolution from real food to processed foods with additives, such as PG? That one is easy to answer—PROFIT.
  • PG in food extends shelf life, which means that the manufacturer makes more money. (think pop tarts)
  • PG creates a creamier taste in food that entices consumers to continue to want it and buy it; and yep, you guessed it, that makes the manufacturer more money. (think McDonald’s Big Mac sauce)
  • PG keeps ice crystals from forming in fat-free ice cream—since there’s no fat to hold it together, fat-free ice cream tends to develop ice crystals—and, remember, this all began as a exploration to keep ice crystals from forming in my fountain… So fewer ice crystals and “improved” texture, means more fans of this food, and once again, we’re talking more money being made for the manufacturer. (think Breyer’s)
  • What does it mean when a food additive is Generally Recognized as Safe? While testing, if the lab animal doesn’t die immediately upon ingesting PG, is it deemed safe? Is that good enough for consumers – to not die immediately? Where is the testing that looks at the risk of ingesting PG every day, over a period of years? What about additives and Autism? Alzheimer’s? Multiple Sclerosis?
  • Do we really need food to “taste better”? Doesn’t real food taste just fine in its natural state? Do we need more than salt, pepper, natural sugar and other natural herbs to enhance the flavor? When were consumers lured into thinking that fat-free with a side of PG is somehow better than a moderate portion of real, full-fat, already-quite-creamy-thank you ice cream?

And this, a big-time revelation:

  • The cattle industry loves Propylene Glycol! Wanna know why? Because it makes cows fat. Yep, you read that correctly—cows are given oral doses of PG to offset the state of ketosis, to keep them fat for market preparedness (see below for an explanation of ketosis). If cows are made and kept fat by adding PG to their daily rations, what about human beings who ingest PG daily? Is this contributing to the obesity epidemic? Fat_cow

So, ask yourself this: Do you want to eat a muffin or cupcake that’s been infused with Propylene Glycol to keep it soft and moist so it could stay on the shelf for weeks and weeks at the mini-mart? Do you want to eat ice cream that’s had the fat taken out but that has had PG put in to trick you into thinking it’s creamy? Do you want to drink beer that has a stable head foam from the addition of PG? Is the soft and uniform crumb texture of Betty Crocker Super Moist Cake worth the ingestion of PG? Do you want to eat microwave popcorn that derives its “artificial butter flavor” from an infusion of PG?

As a coach for optimal health, I believe that each of us wishes to be their best—to feel vibrant, to approach each day with abundant energy, to feel connected to our physical self by living a life committed to eating real food—whole foods that nourish and satisfy us, as well as by engaging in regular activity and movement, and to nourish our souls by allowing a few moments of quiet reflection each day. Sometimes however, the commitment to self becomes buried under daily life on planet earth responsibilities; this may be when convenience foods show up to fill the few-minute gap you have between family, job, errands, etc. It’s not that you do not care about yourself—I know that you do—but if you haven’t had time to read about convenience food ingredients, you will not understand the potential concerns that arise when those processed foods take a seat at your table.

As a last note in this rather long blog, I will share that I am exploring my options as an advocate; an advocate for my family, friends and community, as an advocate for those without a voice, and as an advocate for our planet. In my burgeoning role as a full-time volunteer, and as I become more engaged with food and nutrition awareness and access via my Evansville, IN community, it has become more and more apparent to me that the giant food industrial machine does not much care about our health and well-being, nor about the health of our shared planet, but cares a lot for their profit margins. The longer foods last on a shelf, the more chemical additives they can infuse into food to “enhance” the flavor or texture, the more money they spend enticing children to ask for less-than-nourishing food vis-à-vis their advertisements, the more money they spend lobbying our elected officials to influence food policy, the more motivated I am to raise my own voice. I will research, share my findings with you, provide nutrition and cooking classes, and continue on my journey to pursue food justice.

And our backyard fountain? The contractor is going to install an underwater heater to prevent freezing from occurring. Happy birds, happy planet, happy me. Check out the fountain!

[Ketosis is the physical state of fat burning. Ketosis occurs when a shortage of glucose is present. Glucose presence results from the ingestion and metabolism of carbohydrates, at which time glucose is then burned for energy—quite efficiently, I might add. A low or no-carb eating plan leads to the state of ketosis simply by forcing the body to seek an alternative fuel source. If no glucose is present, the body will burn fat, which can work as a fuel source, albeit less efficiently. This is how low or no-carb eating plans work—by changing metabolism from glucose burning to fat burning. Fat burning will result in often-quick weight loss, yet there are considerations worthy of explanation: Carbohydrate ingestion resulting in the presence of glucose is the perfect brain food; glucose readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and feeds our brains with marvelous nourishment. Studies show that cognition is negatively impacted in those who follow a strict low or no-carb eating plan. As well, the metabolism of fat, as in ketosis, gives the kidneys and liver a lot more (unfamiliar) work to do, increasing the chance for their premature wear and tear. And to clarify, when I write about carbohydrates, I am talking about whole food, whole grain, good quality carbs, not those from high fructose corn syrup, or processed white flour products…]

Robin Mallery

Robin Mallery

Robin Mallery is passionate about food! Starting from where and how it's grown, to how far that food travels to the dinner table, to how it is prepared and savored...Robin blends shopping, cooking, and eating tips with her unique Kitchen Zen and mindful meals approach to enjoying real food.

While you are waiting for her to finish the upcoming book, "Kitchen Zen: The Journey to Nourish Body and Soul in Our Changing World", you can find Robin's sporadic blog posts here or on FaceBook.
Robin Mallery

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