These days it seems the internet is full of news about the horrifying ingredients in our food, or the ghastly processes through which they’re produced. Sometimes I just feel like giving up, as it seems that everything I see, touch or eat is killing me in one way or another.
If you’ve gotten discouraged, remember the silver lining: consumer awareness (and outcry) is the one thing strong enough to force the Big Food manufacturers to change their ways. As 2013 draws to a close, there are at least five big examples of this happening: food companies that were tired of the negative press, and decided to replace gross or toxic ingredients with something better. The funny part is, most companies did so very quietly.
“The reason companies don’t publicize it is that they don’t want to bring attention to these ingredients. They want to slowly start to remove them until they’re all gone,” Vani Hari, who runs the site FoodBabe.com and has pressured companies to remove artificial dyes and other ingredients, told the AP.
Well, it’s never easy to admit you’ve been wrong. And touting the total removal of the product after the fact is a much better PR opportunity.
Here are five foods that got healthier while you weren’t looking:
In late 2012, a vegetarian teenager discovered that Gatorade contained brominated vegetable oil, a synthetic chemical that is created when vegetable oil is bonded to the element bromine. BVO is used to keep citrus flavorings evenly dispersed throughout certain beverages, but when consumed in high amounts over a long period of time, BVO can build up in the body and cause toxic effects, including neurological damage. The teenager, Sarah Kavanagh, started a petition asking Gatorade maker PepsiCo to remove the ingredient.
In January 2013, the company announced that it would comply, although about 10 percent of drinks sold in the United States contain brominated vegetable oil, including Mountain Dew, also made by PepsiCo; Powerade, Fanta Orange and Fresca from Coca-Cola; and Squirt and Sunkist Peach Soda, made by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
2. Starbucks Frappucino
In March 2013, Starbucks customers across the United States were horrified to learn that the pink color of their Strawberry and Creme Frappuccino came from crushed parasitic insects. “NPR points out that cochineal can cause asthma and allergies — sometimes severe — in some people;” for this reason, the FDA has required that companies note these reactions on the labels of foods and cosmetics containing cochineal and carmine (which is another name for food coloring made from scale insects).
According to Inhabitat, studies have also linked cochineal to “anaphylactic shock in factory workers exposed to the substance,” wrote Care2′s Kristina Chew. Shortly thereafter, Starbucks said it would stop using a red dye made of crushed bugs based on comments it received “through a variety of means,” including an online petition, and switch to a tomato-based extract, reports the AP.
3. Kraft Mac & Cheese
In early 2013, previously mentioned food blogger Vani Hari teamed up with blogger Lisa Leake to pressure Kraft Foods. They wanted the grocery giant to remove toxic dyes, including Yellow #5 and #6, from its products, especially those targeted to kids. As Organic Authority reports, “Hyperactivity in children has been linked to artificial food colors, including Yellows #5 and #6″ and the dyes have already been banned in the UK, where Kraft still happily sells dye-free versions.
At first, Kraft rejected the consumer request, but they’ve since reconsidered. In November, the company announced that it would replace the petroleum-based dyes with natural spices including paprika, annatto and turmeric in three of its mac and cheese products.
4. Chick-fil-A Dressings and Sauces
While there are still plenty of reasons to avoid Chick-fil-A, some menu items have become less toxic. The AP reports that the chain “has been removing artificial dyes and high-fructose corn syrup from its dressings and sauces. The Atlanta-based chain is also testing a ‘clean ingredient bun’ but has not alerted customers.”
5. Kroger Breakfast Cereals (and more)
The fight over high fructose corn syrup has been waged for years. Despite industry assertions that it’s no different than sugar, HFCS has been linked repeatedly to negative health effects, not the least of which are obesity and autism. But, as consumers have steadily become more savvy, rejecting products that contain HFCS in favor of those that don’t, industry has relented. “Kroger Co. decided to remove it from store-brand cereals following surveys with consumers in 2011. The supermarket chain isn’t alone. Over the past decade, the use of high-fructose corn syrup in packaged foods and drinks has fallen 18 per cent to 6.1 million tons last year, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.”