We’re all in a rush from time to time. In order to solve our need for a quick meal we often run to the nearest “health food” restaurant. Now, when you’re at a chain health restaurant often enough the “healthy” ingredients are often laced with preservatives, sugars, gums and other substances.
If you’re sensitive to chemicals or you are on an anti-inflammatory diet or healing journey these preservatives may hinder your progress. So while this article isn’t written to scare you out of the smoothie shop. I want you to be aware of what goes into restaurant food so that you can make educated decisions going forward.
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Common Preservatives Found in Restaurant Food
Artificial preservatives are chemicals that get added to food ingredients. Some of the most common artificial preservatives sodium benzoate, sorbic acid, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), according to Global News.
“The majority of preservatives used today are artificial rather than natural. Several of them are toxic and several others have potentially life-threatening side effects. Researchers have reported that artificial preservatives such as nitrates, benzoates, sulfites, sorbates, parabens, formaldehyde, BHT, BHA and several others can cause serious health hazards such as hypersensitivity, allergy, asthma, hyperactivity, neurological damage and cancer.” – “Internal Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research.
Signs A Restaurant Uses Fresh Ingredients You Should Look For
I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking for a restaurant to eat at I’ll always look for the telling signs that they are using fresh ingredients. Some of these signs include:
- A menu that is changed at least seasonally, if not even more often.
- A menu that utilizes a lot of fresh seasonal produce.
- As well as a menu that doesn’t have that many options.
The more options a menu has the more food they have to stock.
Since it’s not conducive to stock fresh ingredients for 24 entree items, restaurants have to resort to frozen or prepackaged ingredients and rely heavily on pantry items, such as dried pasta, instead of freshly made.
Although, even when you do find that small restaurant with a menu that changes daily and utilizes more fresh produce than you could possibly eat, they still may be using food additives in order to keep their “fresh” ingredients fresher longer.
Citric Acid is Commonly Used in Restaurant Lemon Juice (Not the worst offender)
One example of this that I was very surprised to learn about was that restaurants would press their lemon juice once per day or less and then dump citric acid in it so that it would keep longer. Basically, degrading health supportive alkaline forming lemon juice into something no better than the prepackaged lemon juice you can buy at your local SAD (standard American diet) supermarket.
Although citric acid doesn’t sound so bad, it can be harmful to people who have very weak immune systems and toddlers. Although citric acid is found in fruit and can be processed from citrus sources it is more likely to be processed in the much cheaper fashion that is popular in the food industry today.
This process involves feeding black mold sugar and then harvesting the citric acid they excrete as a byproduct for this process.
Yes, I’m referring to the black mold found in houses. This black mold has been associated with respiratory and immune issues among the young, old and infirm. So in some cases citric acid has been associated with allergic reactions.
The problem is that if you are one of these people (or just someone who wants to keep chemicals out of their bodies) and you order something with lemon juice in it, chances are you aren’t being told about the citric acid they may have added.
So citric acid is commonly used in commercial juice and smoothie bars since they need so much lemon and orange juice.
A friend of mine from culinary school was surprised to see that a very successful and hip restaurant that highlights fresh ingredients was using citric acid. It is also sold in restaurant depots all over the world reiterating its use.
How to Avoid Citric Acid In Restaurant Food
Some tips for avoiding citric acid in restaurants…
- Ask for your food NOT to be cooked with lemon juice.
- Ask for lemon wedges on the side of items such as salads, juices, smoothies and salmon so you know they have been freshly cut.
Lots of coffee shops and smoothie restaurants use sugar syrup in their drinks to make them sweeter. Syrups are high in sugar and made with synthetic ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. Especially avoid sweet drinks labeled sugar free. These drinks likely have maltodextrin in them.
Natural Preservatives that Work
Long before refrigeration, food had to be preserved. People have been using simple solutions for food preservation including salt, sugar and vinegar. While these natural methods of preserving foods is generally considered to be healthier.
If you have a condition that is effected by too much sodium or sugar you still need to be careful.
What is the Best Way to Preserve Food?
In my humble opinion the best way to preserve food is to put it in the freezer. Most foods can be frozen successfully without any chemicals added to them. Well sealed food that isn’t exposed to freezer burn or thawing will last for up to 6 months.
In addition to freezing food you can also can it. Canning is a great way to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables for years to come. So while freezing is easier than canning, canned food will last a lot longer.