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Deep Dives

Why Is This Snack On Fire?

Because it contains dozens of chemicals and additives, including artificial colors derived from petroleum.

Ever wonder what gives those fiery red snacks their shocking hue? Hint: Those flaming hot corn sticks aren’t coated in the ground up remnants of millions of spicy chili peppers that were grown in real dirt by real humans (that would make them prohibitively expensive, and probably not as addictingly spicy at that). Instead, they are sprayed with a chemical concoction of 31 individual ingredients that add up to the latest and greatest flavors in spicy snacking.

Don’t take our word for it; WIRED magazine, self-professed Cheetos addicts, and even high school students writing for the LA Times have warned consumers about the dangers of overconsuming salty snacks of the artificially spicy variety.

What was that about petroleum?

Ten out of ten eaters agree, petroleum is not food. Unfortunately most of us ingest a derivative of it every day whenever we consume foods with artificial colors: Red 40, Yellow 6 lake, and Yellow 5 are just a few that are commonly used to give spicy processed foods their eye-catching appearance (because let’s face it, who wants to eat a spicy chip that is just plain white or pale yellow)

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has published several reports demonstrating the link between artificial colors and behavioral issues. They are also likely carcinogenic, and were not adequately tested by the FDA or anyone else before being used in our food supply (a common theme).

Other questionable ingredients

In addition to petroleum based artificial colors, many salty snack foods get a flavor boost from MSG, yeast extract, and other flavor enhancers that make it difficult to stop eating the snack, even after you’ve had your fill.

We are willing to bet that everyone reading this has experienced this for themselves – that handful of chips that turned into (oops!) most of the bag, the snack bowl at the party that you just can’t stop going back to – flavor enhancers mess with the body’s internal systems and override the basic functions that trigger satiety, or feeling full.

Let’s follow some simple logic here: Food companies want and need to make money (we all do, right?).  The more food they sell, the better – so the more food we eat, the better. See where we’re going here? Flavor enhancers are beloved by processed food producers because they bump up demand for their products. So they aren’t going to go anywhere – unless we consumers make our voices heard.

Eat real food, not chemistry

Many companies are removing artificial colors from their food thanks to consumer preferences – the same has started to happen with MSG (unfortunately, a slew of new, nicely named flavor enhancers like “Torula Yeast” have taken its place). It is up to us to demand (put simply, to buy) more foods that are flavored with ingredients we can recognize. Love flaming hot Cheetos? We don’t blame you, they’re delicious. But if you’ve got a bag-a-day habit, maybe cut back a bit. On the days you don’t eat them, find a salty snack that has fewer crazy ingredients. Lays potato chips, for instance, are made of potatoes, oil, and salt – three ingredients we can pronounce – and are found right next to flaming hot Cheetos, wherever they’re sold.

Top Photo Credit: The Voorhes

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