Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Step Away from the Baloney!

Step Away from the Baloney!
Sarah Reid, RHNC

I’ve always been a bit put off by the constancy of colour and texture in my supermarket’s deli case. Where else has it always been perfectly acceptable to consume meat that’s a shade of pink reminiscent of Barbie’s car? Most of us would prefer not to think of what goes (or doesn’t go) into the deli slices slapped onto our sandwiches, but along with the colouring, preservatives, and seasonings are some hidden nasties you’re better off knowing. The infamous baloney now has almost 20 ingredients – a long way from it’s roots in traditional Italian cuisine.

The infamous SPAM (introduced in 1926) is actually for the most part pork! The pig shoulder and ham are minced to more or less of a paste and “secret spices”, binding potato starch, salt and preserving chemicals are added before canning. Other “formed meat” products common in the grocery store sometimes use meat by-products (including lips, intestine, stomachs, tongue and heart) and (more commonly) processed soy proteins to bulk up the small amount of expensive “authentic” meat expected by consumers. Binders and starches, usually wheat, corn, soy or seaweed based, help the distinctive circles keep their shape. Oils, milk products and brined injections of salt, sugar and water help boost the final sale weight of the slices and keep with the expectation of providing a consistent texture, taste and level of moisture, even on day 14.

To protect their billion-dollar industry from product losses due to spoilage, a wealth of preservatives lace their way into the protein component of a deli meat. Traditional salt and sugar are added in massive amounts, nitrites and nitrates get folded in, and all of a sudden the highly perishable “meat” can last in it’s BHT-ridden packaging for almost three weeks. Nitrates usually become nitrosamines, carcinogenic substances known about in the medical community for years, promoting tumours on the esophagus, larynx, mouth, liver and stomach.

Should your meat be smiling at you?

Not all the preserving agents used in sliced meats will necessarily pickle you or give you cancerous tumours, though. Some of the deliberate additions to the products have a more devious activity in mind. To fight the risk of Listeria bacteria on mass-produced cold cuts, in 2006, the FDA approved the spraying of six viruses onto the meat prior to their packaging and sale.

To block out the flavour of these preserving chemicals and microbes and mask the natural “essence” of the meat by-products while enhancing the qualities of sugar, salt and other additions, many lunchmeats contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) or “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” (which is the same thing). Neurosurgeons have successfully linked the compound with headaches, sudden cardiac arrest, and toxic damage to brain neurons.

Think about the last time you had a ham & Swiss at the coffee shop or a turkey on rye at the deli. Most adults don’t eat all that much processed meat on their own, excepting a few hot-dogs and cafe lunches every year, but the additions to your child’s bologna sandwich slices just  might have you pausing before you hit the checkout.

Sarah Reid is a Holistic Nutritional Consultant with her company NEW-trition