ingredients · packaging

Food Fillers. Read What You Eat.


Does is ever happen that you buy food with nice packaging and end up disappointed at the tiny, actual amount of food in the package? That all the space inside the packaging is taken up mostly by air, or pretty silk paper?

Well, food fillers follow kind of the same line of thought, except they’re in food. And it’s not air, and thankfully, not paper. Yet. My point is, they make said food look good, but the real substance you’re after isn’t all that much.

Food fillers are additives or low-cost foods that are used to fill up processed food. These can include lunchmeats, sausages, cookies, cakes, breads, candy, breakfast cereals, granola bars… Pretty much any food that’s doesn’t come in its pure form.

Some reasons why fillers are used are:

  • Lower cost of food
  • Longer shelf-life
  • Minerals and nutrients boost
  • Enhanced flavour

I’d add improved texture and attractiveness, but I’m not sure this refers to fillers only. These characteristics can be obtained without fillers as well.

For a good and brief description of food fillers, check out this link:

You’ll often find fillers if you read the ingredients lists of packaged food items. Flours and starches, vegetable fibers, E-number of unpronounceable chemicals. As a side note, fillers are vastly used in animal food as well. Now back to humans.

When your kids have allergies, you tend to read the ingredients list of every food item you buy. Obsessively. Actually, of skin care products as well. Because those have fillers too. It becomes a habit. You get quicker and better at it. And sometimes, you’re so used to buying the same product that you stop checking.

Please don’t. I know it’s tempting. You’re in a hurry, you’re happy you can trust a few brands and their items. But it isn’t always so. Companies change their recipes of the same product constantly. They want to lower the production cost, improve taste, make the food more allergen-free… Fillers often become part of the equation. And although some of the reasons are understandable if you run a business, it can be to detriment of faithful customers.

It saddened me greatly when the one brand of Hagelslag I could buy at the supermarket decided for some reason to add milk powder to its pure chocolate version. It happened another time when the only pseudo-hotdog buns I could find decided to change the recipe and add lupin flour. Not always a filler, but also used to replace wheat and enhance flavour. Also commonly used in gluten-free products. In both cases, the added ingredients were part of the list of foods our kids are allergic to. There goes the faith.

On occasion, it’s the terminology used to describe a food that changes, not the actual ingredient. I’ve had two cases where I noticed it. Once was with the lactose-free chocolate paste from Damhert. One ingredient item had been changed from rapeseed and palm oil to “vegetable oil”. I wrote to Damhert to ask if the source of the oil had changed and they said no. Then they changed the label back to saying “vegetable oil (rapeseed, palm)”. The other time was with the Albert Heijn mayo that I buy because of the jar it comes in, where again, the type of oil was changed to “vegetable oil”. When I wrote to ask for clarifications, the AH people told me nothing had changed, just the name.

If you’re ever in doubt about the ingredients of a certain food, your best bet is to write the food company and hope they specify the source of the ingredient you’re curious about.

Also, a good hint to detect shifty ingredients lists, is new or rebranded packaging. Don’t be seduced too quickly if you see nifty new packaging strutting around the supermarket shelves. Food fillers are common and can sneak in where you least expect. Even in your favorite brand of organic so and so.

They’re not going away. Food fillers are very useful and profitable for food companies. Not so useful and profitable for our health. Read what you eat. It’s your best way of knowing what goes in your body.

So, I’ve drifted. From disappointing content, to food fillers, to inconsistent ingredients lists. They’re separate topics, yet all part of a story.

The one about what’s in the food. It’s a good read.


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