Chips Are Not Food: Part 2
Chips Are Not Food: Part 2
When examining chips, we have to also consider that many chip products marketed as “natural” are made with corn, and canola oil, both of which are usually genetically modified. If chips do not use organic corn and organic canola oil, or do not specifically state that they are non-GMO, then you must assume that the ingredients are genetically modified. And there are many reasons for not eating GMO foods (see my blog Avoiding GMO Foods for more information).
(A caution for those with celiac disease and those on gluten-free diets: most “gluten-free” foods contain GMO’s because the primary ingredient in most gluten-free foods is corn, and about 85% of the conventional corn grown in the USA is genetically modified. The only gluten-free foods that don’t contain GMO’s are those which don’t use corn, soy, or canola oil, those that state the ingredients are non-GMO, or if they do use corn, soy, or canola, they use certified organic versions.)
Finally, when examining chips we must also consider the flavorings, which usually include excessive levels of refined salt, often MSG, and other chemical compounds (preservatives, etc). Even in natural food products, MSG can be hidden in ingredients referred to as Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, or simply in substances referred to as spices or flavoring.
While a certain amount of salt is required in the diet, the refined salt used in snack foods has had all the natural minerals stripped out of it, leaving only sodium chloride. Truly natural unrefined salts contain only about 35% sodium, the rest being a mix of other minerals, including a fair bit of magnesium. While refined salt is a technically alkaline substance, in the body it creates acidity and steals magnesium and potassium. These days however, one can find natural chips made with unrefined sea salt or Himalayan salt, which is a step in the right direction.
Can We Build A Better Chip?
There was a time when movie theaters used coconut oil to make their popcorn, but then it was revealed that the amount of saturated fat in movie popcorn was up there with chowing down on about three Big Macs. Theaters responded by switching to canola oil, at that time perceived to be a healthier oil because it was not saturated. Unfortunately, they had gone from bad to worse, since canola oil is almost always genetically modified, and, as a polyunsaturated oil, it is subject to breaking down under high heat.
Now that we know coconut oil can actually be good for you, and that the body requires some natural saturated fats, the ideal movement would be for chips to be cooked in coconut oil. This would prevent the damage from bad oils but would not save us from the acrylamide, unless non-starchy substances were used for the base of the chips (tofu chips, anyone?). And indeed, there are now some chip products made with coconut oil, and others that use avocado or olive oil, all of which are better options than chips deep fried in canola or seed oils.
“Those fats and oils that are appropriate for cooking or sautéing and will withstand fairly high temperatures are those that have been in use for thousands of years, including olive oil as well as the more stable saturated coconut and palm oils and the animal tallow. An oil such as sesame oil with its special heat-activated antioxidants can be blended with coconut oil and olive oil to form a very stable, good cooking oil.” (Source)
One healthy alternative to chips is air-popped popcorn which, since it doesn’t use the high heat of oil-popped popcorn, has a much lower acrylamide level. Use organic popcorn of course. I like to mix organic butter with some flax or coconut oil, and then top with natural salt (Himalayan or Celtic) and some nutritional yeast, for a cheese-corn flavor.
Researchers from the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, discovered that a serving of popcorn has up to 300 mg of antioxidants, almost double the amount found in a serving of most fruits. They also found that the hulls of the popcorn have the highest concentration of antioxidants and fiber. Popcorn was found to have such a high level of antioxidants because it is made up of only 4% water, while fruits and vegetables are more diluted, being made of up to 90% water. (Source)
Now I am definitely not a fan of cooking food with a microwave (see this newsletter), but in the case of popcorn I would make an exception (if I had a microwave oven). This is because microwaved corn contains lower amounts of acrylamide than other methods of preparation, even air popped.
My feeling is that the popcorn is not “cooked” in the same manner as other foods we might put into a microwave oven. Rather, the microwave heats the moisture at the core of the kernel that allows it to explode into popped corn. And, since popcorn is mostly fiber, there is not much in the way of food compounds for the microwave frequencies to damage. (As a side note, this study supporting microwaved popcorn also determined that sweet popcorn contains higher amounts of acrylamide.) (Source)
One advantage popcorn has over chips is that we can make it with a healthy fat content. By air-popping or microwaving, and adding good quality oils (butter, coconut oil, flax oil, or olive oil) afterwards, we can make a somewhat healthier alternative to commercial chip products.
However, there is one major caveat concerning microwave popcorn: The pre-made packets of popcorn and “butter” that we put directly into the microwave oven, contain PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) which is a likely carcinogen. Furthermore, if the product contains artificial butter, it has another dangerous chemical that can damage the lungs when inhaled.
“So why is microwave popcorn harmful? Designed to prevent oil from leaking through the bag, conventional microwave popcorn has a coating (the same one that’s used on non-stick cookware) on the inside of the bag: a chemical called flouorotelemor (PFC) that can break down to form perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). When heated, the PFOA can migrate into the food. PFOA has been linked to both cancer and birth defects in animals and epidemiological studies suggest that they may reduce baby’s birth weight in utero. Also of concern, new studies by Environmental Health Perspectives have shown links from high levels of PFOA to higher rates of thyroid disease.” (Source)
But, there is a solution to this, which is to pop your own organic popcorn in the microwave using a glass or silicone popper.
My Personal Solution: Bread
I find that my usual use of chips and crackers is as a delivery system for food when I am snacking. Food such as bean dip, cheese, humous, salsa, etc. Upon reflection I decided my best carbohydrate option for a food-delivery system would be the highest grade of natural bread. Here, where I live, we have a few natural bakeries which produce bread like our ancestors ate, when bread was the “staff of life”.
The bread I chose comes from Wildfire Bakery, which uses un-hybridized wheat, thus avoiding the “Wheat Belly” syndrome, whereby hybridized wheat causes an insulin spike akin to that of sugar. Modern wheat also contains a form of gluten that is more likely to be the cause of celiac disease and gluten intolerance. (Source)
One often overlooked problem with “natural” whole grain breads is that, since they still contain the germ of the wheat, flour that is too old can already be rancid. This is why you might notice a slight sweet taste to cheap, commercial whole grain breads: they add sugar to mask the slight bitterness of the rancid wheat germ in their products.
Wildfire bakery, like many such bakeries, grind their own flour fresh, avoiding this potential for rancid flour, while providing a taste sensation unlike any other commercial bread. As well, this bread is cooked in a wood-fired oven, and while I can’t find the source, I read some time ago that high temperature electric ovens warp the gluten molecules in a manner that is more damaging than gluten cooked at a lower temperature in wood fired stoves.
And, according to one source, whole grain naturally baked bread produces compounds which might act as a counterbalance to acrylamide in bread.
“As the crust bakes and the Maillard reaction occurs (the browning process that also forms acrylamide) there is a simultaneous reaction of another amino acid, which creates an antioxidant called pronyl-lysine which is simultaneously created when the starch and sugars react with amino acids, in this case, an amino acid called l-lysine. Pronyl-lysine is believed to increase cancer-preventing enzymes with researchers suggesting that pronyl-lysine can lower the risk of colon cancer.”
It also appears that whole grain bread contains more pronyl-lysine in the crust than white bread does, and “pronyl-lysine is up to eight times more plentiful in the crust in comparison to the interior of a loaf”.
Finally this bread is raised with a sourdough starter rather than commercial yeast, which also has some distinct advantages when attempting to reduce our acrylamide intake.
“Another study on Lunasin– a polypeptide that has been demonstrated to exhibit marked anti-cancer activity – examined the synthesis of this cancer preventative peptide (protein) by lactic acid bacteria during the process of sourdough fermentation. It was a small study, in vitro, however, the findings were that the fermentation of grains by lactic acid bacteria increased the concentration of Lunasin (by 2–4 times) to levels that the authors concluded might suggest new possibilities for exploring biological synthesis and formulation of functional foods.” (Source)
As far as helping the body to cope with acrylamide, it appears that, like with all toxins, our best friend in this circumstance is glutathione, and there is some evidence that glutathione can mitigate the damages caused by acrylamide. (Source) And other evidence that acrylamide toxicity “significantly decreased levels of reduced glutathione (GSH) in the liver, kidney, and brain”. (Source) (This particular study also found that two highly protective compounds were hesperidin and diosmin, two bioflavonoids commonly used to treat hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and poor circulation.)
For those in good health, taking glutathione precursors such as vitamin C, milk thistle, whey protein, NAC, selenium, or glutamine (along with eating asparagus, avocado, and broccoli), will keep your levels of glutathione up. For those who have been in poor mental or physical health for most of their lives (usually these people are poor methylators), or who are seriously ill, the solution is Liposomal Glutathione.
In conclusion, for the most part I use the aforementioned natural bread for my carbohydrate base when snacking or having a quick bite, but I’m not going to say that I don’t ever hang out with Fatty, Salty and Crunchy (in fact we used to be good friends). But the older you get the more you have to pick your poisons selectively, and now when I want a savory snack, and my bread just won’t cut it, I prefer to use popcorn and roasted nuts, thereby getting less toxins and more nutrients, but still satisfying my desire for crunchy bone marrow.