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Fill’er Up

Ever wonder why a fast food burger is so cheap when it claims to be “real meat”? Or why you may always feel so sick when you eat certain foods?  And what exactly is soy lecithin or cellulose gum?

The World Of Fillers
The food industry has seemed to perfect an efficient way to produce high quantities of food at a very low cost. They have developed food fillers – additives in processed foods that healthy_unhealthyoffer dietary fiber or some other non-nutritive purpose to help bulk up the weight of food with less expensive ingredients. This is often the case in the meat processing industry with products like hamburgers and sausages and is also found in packaged goods. In many cases, it does not involve the interest in the health of the consumer.

There has been a growth in curiosity about food fillers since the wide-spread McDonald’s pink goo debacle (more info here: http://huff.to/1asIo8a). All of the rumors and hype around the content of McDonald’s food by consumers forced McDonald’s to create a rebuttal and openly expose their food preparation process (not sure the final product is much more appealing than the pink goo 😉

There are generally two types of fillers:

Non-meat fillers
These fillers are often made up of starchy, high carbohydrate binders that have low nutritional value and include fiber additives like wheat, corn, flour, cottonseed and cellulose fibers from bamboo and other plants. They tend to include maltodextrine, a processed food additive made from starch and can include soy proteins.

Meat Fillers
You’re gonna love this one. Many types of filler in the meat industry are composed of MDM – mechanically deboned meat – or, in other words, pieces of the left-over animal carcasses that are not typically ingested. You will mostly find these fillers in poultry meat (mostly poultry in shapes or solids like chicken nuggets and deli meat – not fresh, whole chicken breasts in the package).

These fillers are used to extend the meat further (ie. hamburgers) and typically contain more protein. Ingredients usually include soy proteins, yeast, plants, etc. You might find a little cereal, a little blood, some internal organs ….no, I’m not making this up. Think SPAM. Didn’t you always wonder what was in that little can?

So What Do We Look Out For?
Our Americanized food often contains these fillers and hides them in the ingredient lists of packaged food with names we don’t recognize or comprehend (I am often perplexed myself!). What to look out for:

  • Typically, if you can’t pronounce or recognize the name of any ingredient in an ingredient list on a package, you should try not to consume it. Mystery ingredients are often fillers.
  • Foods formed in shapes (nuggets, dinosaurs, sticks) are often the culprit of fillers.
  • High-fructose corn syrup = not good. It can turn a normally healthy food into a not so healthy food and is often accompanied by other cheap and processed ingredients.
  • Artificial colors or flavors – not so much. These are “non-food” ingredients.
  • Soft drinks, including juice, soda, diet soda, etc…do not offer much nutritional value and are often comprised of just sugar and artificial ingredients. Even 100% juice removes the beneficial fiber.

It goes back to the same premise – Try to eat organic, whole foods and avoid processed and fast food when possible.

Healthcare Management Degree Guide recently completed a comprehensive research graphic called “Food Isn’t Food Anymore: The Frightening World of Fillers”. It’s a helpful resource in identifying what to look out for in food labels. It’s worth looking at the easy to read graphs: http://www.healthcare-management-degree.net/food-fillers/

How do you keep a tab on what ingredients to look for when shopping? Hint: I added a “Food Notes” onto my phone so when I food shop, rather than spin my brain on remembering what to look for and what to avoid, I reference my list and continue to add to it as I learn.

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