Friday, 27 May 2011

Cutting out the additives

It was something of a shock to discover, not so long ago, that table salt often contains aluminum hydroxide, which is added to make the salt pour better. Yet this is something that has been suggested as a potential cause of Alzheimer’s.

The source for this discovery (which I suspect a load of you out there already know) was Raymond Blanc.

There’s always a tub or bag of table salt in the cupboard: I’ve tended to use it for cooking vegetables and pasta, and for when I salt cod.

No more. After reading that information, I lost any remote sense of appetite for such a product. I was already using Maldon sea salt for the table (ironic, eh?) and there was a tub of course sea salt in the cupboard too, so it was hardly as though I was suddenly sans salt.

I haven’t touched the table salt since that time and, last night, the remaining salt itself was poured down the drain and the tub tossed into the recycling crate.

It makes me feel that I’m rather dopey not to have known already. Or rather, I knew that such salts had additives in to stop the salt caking, but it hadn’t really crossed my mind to find out just what they were or to consider that they might be linked to such a serious health condition.

It’s not the only thing I’ve stopped using – or am attempting to do so.

I’d heard years ago – although have scant memory for the detail – that artificial sweeteners have all sorts of questions hanging over them too. Some time ago, I stopped using any in tea or coffee, concluding that it was better to use straightforward granulated sugar.

At the same time, I started drinking more Earl Grey, which I need nothing added to, and camomile, which is also just fine neat. In recent weeks, I’ve stopped taking any sugar in drinks.

The biggest difficulty is Diet Coke or Pepsi. It’s not that I’m addicted, but there are times when I really do want a can of fizz and I’m used to picking up a diet variety.

A quick Google search for ‘health issues aspartame’ reveals a lot of links. There have been claims, over a number of years, that artificial sweeteners can even contribute to weight gain.

Research has suggested that it’s safe, but various governments (at local and national level) have considered banning it, while some supermarket chains have stopped using it in their own-brand foods.

Now, I’m no expert, so I don’t know the rights or wrongs of the claims and counter-claims.

But it does make one think: ‘why risk it?’ Or even if there’s no risk, why bother adding something so completely artificial to one’s food?

I don’t want to get obsessive, but the more I read and the more I think about such things, it seems sensible to maintain as much control over what you consume as possible. And I even have some anecdotal experience to back this up.

Some years ago, a colleague and I did an experiment. The pub over the road from where we worked served Carling on tap. That was what we drank after we'd got the paper away, in the face of the best efforts of a computer network that crashed regularly and with no warning.

But a discussion one evening revealed that both of us suffered headaches or, in my case, odd dreams after even a pint.

We resolved to spend a month drinking the bitter – even though it was from a keg. In all that time, the symptoms that we'd noticed ceased.

I haven't drunk Carling since and, in the years since then, I learned about the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law of 1516, which said that the only things that a brewer could put into beer were barley, hops, malt and water. What a fantastic (and amazingly obvious) idea – and it's still around, which is why you can drink Becks and never get a really bad head.

Not that the Germans – who know a thing or two about beer – are unique on this score: Czech Budvar is the same: strong and with a serious taste, it still doesn't leave me with any unpleasant dreams or thumping heads.

And after all, it’s hardly as if un-processed food and drink with no additives are boring or bland!

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