Dirty secrets of the food processing industry

Original story Written by Sally Falloon from Food Matters 

We have always processed our food; this is an activity that is uniquely human. We chop, soak, cook and ferment our food – as well as grind and dry – these are all types of processing.

Traditional processing has two functions: to make food more digestible and to preserve it for use during times when food isn’t readily available. Nutritious, long-lasing processed foods including pemmican, hard sausage and old-fashioned meat puddings and haggis, as well as grain products, dairy products, pickles—everything from wine and spirits to lacto-fermented condiments. Farmers and artisans—bread makers, cheese makers, distillers, millers and so forth—processed the raw ingredients into delicious foods that retained their nutritional content over many months or even years, and kept the profits on the farm and in the farming communities where they belonged.

Unfortunately, in modern times, we have substituted local artisanal processing with factory and industrial processing, which actually diminishes the quality of the food, rather than making it more nutritious and digestible. Industrial processing depends upon sugar, white flour, processed and hydrogenated oils, synthetic food additives and vitamins, heat treatment and the extrusion of grains.

BREAKFAST CEREALS

Let’s look at the processing involved in the typical American breakfast of cereal, skim milk and orange juice. Cold breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion. Grains are mixed with water, processed into a slurry and placed in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a tiny hole at high temperature and pressure, which shapes them into little o’s or flakes or shreds. Individual grains passed through the extruder expand to produce puffed wheat, oats and rice. These products are then subjected to sprays that give a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch.

In his book Fighting the Food Giants, biochemist Paul Stitt describes the extrusion process, which treats the grains with very high heat and pressure, and notes that the processing destroys much of their nutrients. It denatures the fatty acids; it even destroys the synthetic vitamins that are added at the end of the process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially damaged by the extrusion process.

Even boxed cereals sold in health food stores are made using the extrusion process. They are made with the same kind of machines and mostly in the same factories. The only “advances” claimed in the extrusion process are those that will cut cost, regardless of how the process alters the nutrient content of the product.

With so many millions of boxes of cereal sold each year, one would expect to see published studies showing the effects of these cereals on animals and humans. But breakfast cereals are a multi-billion dollar industry that has created huge fortunes for a few people. A box of cereal containing a penny’s worth of grain sells for four or five dollars in the grocery store–there is probably no other product on earth with such a large profit margin. These profits have paid for lobbying efforts and journal sponsorships that have effectively kept any research about extruded grains out of the scientific literature and convinced government officials that there is no difference between a natural grain of wheat and a grain that has been altered by the extrusion process.

THE RAT EXPERIMENTS

Unpublished research indicates that the extrusion process turns the proteins in grains into neurotoxins. Stitt describes an experiment, conducted in 1942 by a cereal company but locked away in the company’s file cabinet, in which four sets of rats were given special diets. One group received plain whole wheat grains, water and synthetic vitamins and minerals. A second group received puffed wheat (an extruded cereal), water and the same nutrient solution. A third set was given water and white sugar. A fourth set was given nothing but water and synthetic nutrients. The rats that received the whole wheat lived over a year on this diet. The rats that got nothing but water and vitamins lived about two months. The animals on a white sugar and water diet lived about a month. The study showed that the rats given the vitamins, water and all the puffed wheat they wanted died within two weeks—even before the rats that got no food at all. These results suggest that there was something very toxic in the puffed wheat itself! Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the pressure of the puffing process may produce chemical changes that turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance.

Another unpublished experiment was carried out in 1960. Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor were given eighteen laboratory rats. These were divided into three groups: one group received cornflakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the cornflakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water. The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. The rats receiving the cornflakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box! (The first box rat died the day the last cornflake rat died.) Furthermore, before death, the cornflakes-eating rats developed aberrant behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock. The startling conclusion of this study was that there was more nourishment in the box than in the cornflakes. This experiment was designed as a joke, but the results were far from funny.

Most Americans eat boxed cereals today. Because these are fortified with synthetic nutrients, the USDA can claim that they are as healthy as the grains from which they are made. Many of these cereals contain at least 50 percent of calories as sugar. Those sold in health food stores may be made of whole grains and fewer sweeteners. However, these whole grain extruded cereals are probably more dangerous than their refined grain counterparts sold in the supermarkets, because they are higher in protein, and it is the proteins in these cereals that are rendered toxic by this type of processing.

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