What’s In It?

Every morning, I get up bright and early, stumble downstairs, and brew myself a fresh pot of coffee.  I then liberally coat the bottom of a coffee cup with powdery Coffeemate, so when I pour the coffee it automatically mixes with the Coffeemate and produces a hot, steaming concoction of caramel-colored goodness.  It tastes pretty good, too.

img_6278Coffee with Coffeemate in the morning is a matter of standard routine.  But today I thought — what’s in this powdery stuff, exactly?

The answer is written on the side of the container.  There’s corn syrup solids, hydrogenated vegetable oil (which, according to the label, might include “coconut and/or palm kernel and/or soybean,” just to keep you guessing), sodium caseinate (which the label helpfully discloses is a “milk derivative”), dipotassium phosphate (but fortunately, the label points out, “less than 2%” of that stuff), mono- and diglycerides, sodium aluminosilicate, artificial flavor, and “annatto color.”

Hmmmm . . . “sodium aluminosilicate”?  I suppose I at least should be happy that there is a “milk derivative,” and “corn syrup” and “vegetable oil” in there among the chemical compounds that Walter White probably lectured on in his high school chemistry class.

Is there value in these kinds of product labels?  I think so, especially if you’ve got allergies to certain foodstuffs and want to find out whether a particular product might provoke a reaction.  But labels that list a bunch of chemical compounds — a group which includes virtually every label these days — aren’t especially illuminating.  I’m not going to research “dipotassium phosphate.”  Instead, people tend to make judgments based on products they know.  Mom had Coffeemate, in both its liquid and powdery forms, around the house in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and I doubt that the formula has changed much over the years, so it seems like a safe option to me.

And that dipotassium phosphate and sodium aluminosilicate really hits the spot!

Advertisements

When Federal Regulation Goes Too Far

Government regulation is the price we pay for living in a civilized society.  But when ill-advised government regulations threaten to limit the selection of craft beers available to the brew lovers among us, it’s time for the feds to dial back and understand their proper role.

In this case, the government actor is the Food and Drug Administration.  It’s the entity that makes sure that Americans don’t consume diseased foods or drugs that have harmful side effects.  No one disputes the need for such regulations, of course.  But the FDA has also promulgated a regulation that would require restaurant chains to offer full nutritional information for all of the beers they have on tap.  In order to comply with the regulations, which go into effect next year, brewers will need to perform expensive tests that allow them to specify the number of calories in their beer, the protein content, and so on.

usa-whitehouse-beerThe tests are a cost that can easily be borne by the major breweries that crank out millions of bottles of beer a year — but not so much for the small, local craft breweries that prepare tantalizing artisanal offerings in small batches that typically vary from season to season.  Think of that rich Winter Warmer you enjoyed when the cold snap hit last weekend, or the tart Summer Shandy you found so refreshing on a hot July afternoon.  The cost of the tests might cause the craft breweries to dial back on the number of their interesting offerings, which would be a shame for us, and them — and for the people employed in the craft beer industry, which has been booming in Ohio and elsewhere.

I’m all for labeling consumables where people might logically want to look at the label to determine calorie count, cholesterol levels, carbohydrates, sodium content, or whatever other ingredient might be an area of dietary focus.  And if brewers want to market their suds based on one of these areas — like with low-carb beer — then by all means let’s make sure those statements are accurate.

But craft beer is not one of those consumables where ingredient labels are useful.  No true beer-lover makes a decision on whether to order a particular craft beer based on its protein content or calorie level.  They just want to know what kind of beer it is (“hmm, that Belgian-style ale sounds good”) and its alcoholic content, which is typically disclosed already at any decent craft beer establishment.

Inspect the breweries?  Sure.  Make certain that they are clean and aren’t producing a product that might make people sick?  Absolutely!  But don’t implement pointless regulations that wouldn’t make a difference to craft beer consumers, and in the process cut down on our choices.

Doesn’t anyone in the FDA drink beer?  If not, perhaps they should consult with President Obama.  He seems to like a cold one now and then.

The Salt Monster

In an otherwise forgettable episode of Star Trek, Dr. McCoy meets a woman whom he believes to be a former lover.  Instead, she turns out to be a hideous, shape-changing Salt Monster who kills humans by extracting all of the salt from their bodies through giant suckers on her hands.

Today, I have a sense of what the salt monster must have felt like after a satisfying high-sodium meal.  Yesterday I unwittingly ate something that was high in salt, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a mouth that felt like the salt-studded rim of a margarita glass.  I brushed my teeth again and drank lots of water before going back to bed, and when I woke up this morning my tongue still tasted like it was dipped in seawater.  When I’ve had an unfortunate close encounter with salty foods, the physical effect extends beyond the desiccated mouth region to encompass the rest of my body, which generally feels like crap.  Studies indicate, of course, that too much salt increases your blood pressure, and that high blood pressure in turn can make you a candidate for a heart attack or stroke.

I try to avoid salty foods, but it isn’t easy.  If you go to the grocery store and randomly look at ingredient labels on food items — a government initiative that even free-market types must admit has achieved the important social good of allowing people to know what they are consuming — you will be amazed at the reported levels of sodium.  Virtually every processed food is loaded with salt, either to add flavor or enhance preservation or both.

The American Heart Association has some helpful tips on how to identify and avoid salty foods, both at the grocer and when eating out.  My approach is to learn from experience.  When I wake up feeling like the Salt Monster, I remember what I ate the day before and I resolve to avoid it in the future.  It’s why I don’t eat chips, it’s why I never eat Chinese carryout anymore, and it’s why you won’t find canned soup in our cupboards.