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Food for thought part 4…

What’s in Your Food?
A Closer Look at Dried Fruits & Nuts

As many parents are opting for healthier meals and treats, it means making a bee-line for the produce aisle or for the sundries like raisins, figs and, when allergies aren?t at issue, nuts. They?re fresh (or dried). They?re all-natural. They allow you to encourage good nutritional habits. They?re safe. Or so it seems. As we make healthier choices, it?s also important to be aware of what?s going into the production, growing and maintenance of them as they make the journey from the ground to the table.

The questions to ask are:

  • Were pesticides used? If so, which ones?
  • Which preservatives were used?
  • Are they naturally grown or genetic derivations?
  • And now, with a year of various produce companies and the FDA announcing recalls because of harmful bacteria, we must ask: is this safe for my family to eat?

Many food manufacturers produce or use sundries in their products: from Ocean Spray to Sunmaid to Nabisco, names we trust in fact. But their nutritional value might not outweigh the potential toxicity. Sunmaid raisins ? both the red and golden varieties not marked ?USDA Organic,? Fig Newtons (a Nabisco product) and many other dried fruits and dried-fruit related products contain sulfur dioxide. But, you wouldn?t know that unless you read the tiny fine-print on the side of the box opposite the side with the nutritional information.

What is sulfur dioxide? – Sulfur dioxide (SO2), also a greenhouse gas, is a preservative used because it inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeast and molds; retards rancidity by slowing air oxidation of fats and lipids; and blocks the natural ripening and enzymatic processes that occur after harvest. And according to Hassan Gourama, an Associate Professor of Food Science at University of Pennsylvania, SO2 ?keeps raisins and other dried fruits from losing their light color by blocking both enzymatic browning and a nonenzymatic browning reaction between reducing sugars and amino acids called the Maillard reaction. The reaction darkens raisins, alters their flavor, and reduces essential amino acid levels.?

Sulfur dioxide is part of the chemical group sulfites. The FDA has estimated that more than 1 million asthmatics are sensitive or allergic to sulfites. Since 1986 the FDA has required that sulfites are listed on the labels of products where they are used as preservatives regardless of the amount used. (Sulfites are banned for use on fresh produce.)

But the problem may not only be in the preservatives. A main cause of acid rain is SO2, which means that some sundries may be exposed to harmful cellular degradation by substance long before they are even harvested, unless they are grown inside the confines of greehouses.

What can you do?

Read labels carefully and avoid the products that contain sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, sodium and potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite orpotassium metabisulfite

Choose USDA-certified or organic-growers certified products.

Being aware of what is in your food and how it is produced is an important part of the quest for healthier diets and lifestyle for our children and families.

Next and final installment in the series?a closer look at your produce.

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