Wednesday 24 July, 2019

Beware: You might be eating fake foods!

That "strawberry milkshake" may not even contain strawberries.

That "strawberry milkshake" may not even contain strawberries.

By Meisha-Gay Mattis

We’re all aware that consuming processed foods is endangering our health, but what about consuming fake foods? Yes, you read that correctly. There are many fake foods on the market.

These are not necessarily processed foods, but they are not what we are made to believe that we’re actually consuming. It’s like the ‘plastic rice’ problem we heard about last year. However, it was easy for the people who found these fake grains to identify the problem while or after cooking. Other fake foods aren't necessarily that easy to identify, unless you do some extensive research.

I’m talking about wood chips and sawdust, contained in some of the products we consume religiously. These foods are becoming more prevalent in our society, and the onus is on you to check your food supply and be sure of what it is that you're actually consuming.

Now let’s check out some of the actual fake foods that we may be eating on a regular basis.



Lobster -  Oh, this is such a prized (and pricey) delicacy. If you travel to the States often, then you ought to pay careful attention to this one, particularly if you love going to fast food chains that serves what appears to be lobster. What you're really being served is langostino, which according to research is neither prawn nor actual lobster. Maybe it isn't entirely ‘fake,’ but it's definitely a ripoff and not what you’re paying for.

Sushi - The next time you're having sushi, you may want to ask if that tasty tuna is real. One hundred per cent of the reported sushi restaurant that were tested in the USA were found to be serving escolar, sometimes labelled ‘butterfish,’ ‘oilfish,’ or ‘waloo/walu.’

Escolar, a type of snake mackerel, cannot metabolize the wax esters naturally found in its diet. These esters are what gives the flesh its oily texture, hence ‘oilfish.’ These wax esters are known to have a laxative effect, causing severe diarrhoea.

Coffee - Don’t be swayed by the ‘100% real coffee’ labels you see. Many brands don't just contain coffee berries but things like twigs, roasted corn, grounded roasted barley and even animal skin to reduce their manufacturing price. My advice: stick to local coffee.

Tea - You may not be a coffee lover, but if you're a tea drinker, you might be consuming some fake stuff, too. It was reported to the United States Congress that other plants and even grass cuttings and sawdust have been added to tea to increase volume.

Spices - When some foods require cutting during the manufacturing process, it makes it easier to add other elements and deceive the consumer, as in the case of teas and coffees. To make nutmeg cheaper, it is often cut with pepper, and turmeric is at times cut with corn. If you ask me ‘ain't nothing like the real thing,” so try to avoid powdered seasonings and spices and stick to the ingredients in their original form.

Fruit juices - Almost all fruit juices will contain approximately 60 per cent apple juice, even if the label says ‘grape,’ ‘berry’ or some other fruit flavour. This is because apples are the cheapest fruit available, and concentrated apple juice is even more affordable to make these so-called ‘100% juices.’ High fructose corn syrup — fake sugar— is then added to sweeten the deal.



Olive oil - As the demand for olive oil increases, so have the fake versions. These are often mixed oils, ranging from sunflower seed to peanut and soybean. According to a Business Insider article, “consuming fake olive oil can have serious health consequences, such as a 1981 case in Spain where 20,000 people consumed so-called olive oil that was in fact rapeseed oil, containing a poisonous toxin called aniline.”

Honey  - You might be thinking that all honey comes from bees, but newsflash: some honeys are made with illegal antibodies, and some are watered down and cut with high fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners to decrease costs to the producers.

Parmesan cheese  - Did you know that a cheese can only be referred to as parmesan if it’s from the Parma region in Italy? I honestly can live with the mislabeling, but not with the wood pulp that is added to these cheese powders to prevent clumping—all while still expecting consumers to pay premium price.


How can we protect ourselves?

To some people, this might feel like nothing, but this helps to answer the questions others have  as to why we’re not feeling and looking our best, even when we think we are careful with what we eat.

My number one tip is to purchase local foods as much as possible. Approximately 60 per cent of the food consumed on Jamaica is imported, and we have zero quality control in such cases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the States has several loopholes that make it possible for fake food items to be on the market and consequently, we import them.

Learn to read and understand your labels, although not all labels list every single ingredient and none of them will have a sign screaming, ‘fake food!’ However, there are little cues to look for. Try to decode ingredients you can’t pronounce or having difficulty pronouncing, because nothing screams ‘fake food’ like a slew of ingredients that sound like their names were generated by a computer.

Let's take a fast food strawberry milkshake for example: a few years ago, that milkshake was made from milk, strawberries, sugar and water. Today, if you look at the list of ingredients, you’d be shocked to find: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone,  ethyl acetate, ethyl amylketone,. And guess what? No strawberries.

Also do your own research, because your life literally depends on it. And most importantly, ask questions when you are purchasing your foods. You make feel as if you're being annoying, but you can’t compromise your health. 

Contributed by Meisha-Gay Mattis, founder of Bodhi, a Kingston-based holistic wellness company. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer. Email for more information or visit any of the following 

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