Never mind how much or how little trans fats there is in a serving or a packet of potato chips. Or a donut. By the time you finish reading this post, you might not want to ever eat them again.
I must say this is disappointing for me. Although I don’t eat chips a lot, sometimes not even one pack a year, I do enjoy them. But the biggest disappointment for me was the discovery that even supposedly “healthy” chips, like Kettle – which, incidentally, I was the first to import into Singapore and sell at Brown Rice Paradise long before they started selling everywhere else – is apparently not all that good after all.
Donuts, fortunately, I can happily live without. But if you are a fan of donuts, this might spoil your appetite for them too.
What did I discover?
It was a letter posted on the website of Dr Mercola, which is probably the most popular health website on the internet. Recently, Dr Mercola posted an article titled More reasons to avoid potato chips.
It started off with a letter from a Mr Dennis Meizys, who works for a company that is researching how to convert used vegetable oil into biodiesel. Mr Meizys job was to go around looking for used oil from food companies. He writes:
Contrary to what you might think, it seems the worst abusers of vegetable oils were not McDonald’s, but potato chip and donut manufacturers.
One manufacturer replied to my offer to purchase their used oil with the explanation that they hardly have any used oil left-over after the process. Tens of thousands of gallons come in, barely hundreds come out.
The reason? This manufacturer recycles the oil until it is entirely absorbed by the food. All that dirty oil eventually ends up in the potato chips themselves.
One problem that occurs after re-using vegetable oils is that FFA’s (free fatty acids) concentrate. The manufacturer volunteered this fact and noted that their solution is to chemically treat the oil to reduce the FFA’s, after which it is sent back to produce more potato chips. Mmmm — re-used vegetable oil treated with chemicals to reduce free fatty acids!
It turns out that these oils are so bad that biodiesel manufacturers shun them! In other words, they are difficult to catalyze into methyl-esters (biodiesel) and producers are reluctant to use them for engine fuel, yet people still eat the potato chips!
That brings us to the last time I ate a donut, those nicely-colored sweet confections. If you only saw the waste products… Did you ever go inside the donut shop and look at how much oil they have in those vats? Now consider that they only dispose of 55 gallons every 6 months!
One closed-down shop asked me to pick up their barrel of used vegetable oil from their parking lot because it was leaking and causing ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE. I tried to drain the oil out, but it was so thick and sludgy that it clogged my pump. I was considering using a heavy-duty sewage pump to drain it, but decided not to, because the thick, smelly contents of that barrel were not usable as an ingredient for fuel, and refining it would be too expensive.
The material had an uncanny resemblance to sewage. The only reason I knew it wasn’t, was that it had a sweet, donut-like smell to it, but entirely unpleasant.
Scientific facts like knowing the carcinogen content of these “foods” is interesting, but if you want real motivation to avoid junk foods, go to the back of the “restaurant” were they dispose of their environmentally-harmful by-product and take a look.
Maryland Green Power Co.
Elsewhere on Dr Mercola’s site, there is another article titled The most dangerous chips to eat.
Dr Mercola informs that the California-based Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) has filed notices with the state’s attorney general against several potato chip manufacturers… that would require them to place labels on their products warning consumers about the high levels of acrylamide – a cancer causing chemical.
Manufacturers who sell their products without such warnings are in violation of California law, California Proposition 65.
According to an ELF report, potato chips exceeded California’s required warning levels for acrylamide by as much as 910 times!
The offenders include:
- Cape Cod Robust Russet: 910 times
- Kettle Chips (lightly salted): 505 times
- Kettle Chips (honey dijon): 495 times
- Pringles Snack Stacks (pizza-flavored): 170 times
- Lay’s Baked: 150 times
Like I said, I was most disappointed to learn that Kettle Chips are among the worst offenders, because I used to sell them in my natural and organic foods shop.
In fact, just hours before I read that report, I was at Carrefour looking at the ingredients list of different brands of chips and I thought Kettle came across as a “model” of how potato chips should be made. The chips contained just 3 ingredients: potatoes, oil (I think it was sunflower, certainly not partially hydrogenated) and salt.
Remember Michael Pollan’s article about not eating foods that contain more than five ingredients? I was just thinking about holding up Kettle as a fine example. I was really disappointed. But, at the same time, I was glad I was no longer running Brown Rice Paradise and selling those chips.
Is there nothing left to eat?
Of course there is.
At this time of the year, lots of “vegetable chips” are being sold together with other Chinese New Year cookies. Most of the cookies are made with margarine, full of trans fats and taste awful anyway. So they are best avoided.
But the chips are relatively ok. They are thinly sliced “lily bulbs” and deep fried, most probably in palm oil. So no trans fats there.
Ya, maybe they re-use the oil a few times. So if you really want a healthier version, buy the lily bulbs from the wet markets and fry them yourself – using coconut oil, butter, pork lard, sesame oil… whichever oil can take relatively high heat, just make sure the oil does not smoke.
But even if you buy them ready cooked, you can be quite sure that they don’t reuse the oil until it turns into sludge that biodiesel companies would reject.
These chips are mostly done by food hawkers and small, home-based businesses. These people don’t have the technology to re-use oil to the same extent that potato chip manufacturers do.
And, by the way, the lily bulb chips are quite delicious – almost as addictive as potato chips.
Don’t eat too much.