Hearing people talking about artificial ingredients made me remember something that took place a long time ago.
Back when I was in high school science class (no I didn’t ride a dinosaur to school), we did an experiment. We had a beaker upside down on a rack with a stopper and two tubes coming out of the opening. Using a hand cranked pump, we pulled the air out of it, creating a vacuum. We then connected two small canisters to the beaker. One canister contained hydrogen, and the other, oxygen. There was twice as much hydrogen than there was oxygen. Because of the vacuum in the beaker, the two gasses were drawn into it.
A big bang
The teacher then removed the stopper, explaining that since both of those gases were lighter than the air in the room, they wouldn’t escape. He then struck a match, and when he placed it in the opening of the beaker, because hydrogen is highly combustible and oxygen is a catalyst, a very loud bang and flash occurred. Mind you, this was before a school would be evacuated because a thermometer broke. When the smoke in the beaker cleared we could see drops of water accumulated on the inside of the glass.
We live in a time where pseudo science advocates like Dr Oz, Food Babe, and many others decry the addition of artificial ingredients in the food we eat. Also, statements like “If you can’t say it, don’t eat it” are common in articles promoting “natural” foods.
Natural doesn’t mean better
The truth is, do you want the natural moniker to be the bellwether of whether you eat something or not? I mean, if you think about it, what does natural mean? It has nothing to do with whether a food is healthy or not. Cyanide is natural. Uranium is natural. Hell, cow manure is natural. A cow manure and uranium salad with cyanide dressing. Yum, and all natural.
Artificial ingredients VS. Natural ingredients
If researchers find an ingredient in, let’s say, kudzu (if you are not sure what that is, ask a southerner) that promotes healthy digestion, do we expect Campbell’s to put chopped kudzu in their soup? No, it may taste terrible or there could be other ingredients in the weed that’s not safe to eat. They recreate that one ingredient in a lab. An artificial ingredient. Molecule for molecule it’s the same thing as what’s in the plant. Someone please explain to me what the issue is.
Then there’s this unpronouncible bit. If you learn to pronounce something does it suddenly become OK to consume? What if you can pronounce it but I can’t? It is safe for you but not me? Does anyone see how ridiculous all this sounds?
Back a few years ago, James Kennedy posted a pic of what the ingredients of an all natural banana is.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t pronounce a good bit of those natural ingredients. “Tocopherol”? “Butanoate”?
What if something is natural but you still can’t pronounce it? I’m confused as what the rule would be in that case.
Back to the chemistry experiment
Going back to the high school experiment. We combined hydrogen and oxygen molecules under pressure to create the chemical composition H2O, commonly known as dihydrogen monoxide, or water. We created artificial water. Is there anyone out there that would argue that the droplets on the side of that beaker weren’t safe to consume? Were they moleculary different than what comes out of the faucet?
Do you see where I’m going with this? The fact that a food has natural or artificial ingredients, or whether it’s pronouncible or sounds like something you would find in a chemistry lab has nothing to do with whether it’s healthy or not. Unlike what the aforementioned pitchers of woo above would like you to think.
If only common sense would prevail over hype when it comes to people making decisions about what they put in their bodies.
Yes, people often take the term “natural” too far and assume it has to mean good things if it’s part of our food, while artificial has to mean bad things. You really have to examine things on a case by case basis, but we humans are too lazy or too busy for that. We like the simple, generalized rule, so we tend to default back to “artificial= bad, natural= good”
Wow!! I love this post. We tend to focus on natural ingredients that we did not check what it actually means and how they differ from artificial ingredients. we prefer simple and generalized rules instead of us doing the work to educate ourselves and make the decision for ourselves.