It has been said that humans are attracted to beauty because it denotes a certain level of genetic perfection. Especially when it comes to choosing a sexual partner, the more flawless the better, to ensure a healthy offspring.
I suppose the very same thing could apply to what we eat: the more colourful, vibrant, juicy and fresh looking, we guess the healthier it must be for us. Looking at a sad little slice of Wonderbread, we all know that something is missing.
Unfortunately, there are some conniving food manufactures out there who have taken this innate, biological instinct of ours, and turned it against us. Since we do purchase foods based on their appearance, we often fall prey to the deceptive beauty of an edible, rather then its nutritional value, and who can blame us?
A perfect example of this would be the lovable dried apricot, whose golden, wrinkly face shows up in pastries, picnics and brown bag lunches. Seems innocuous enough, right? It’s just dried fruit after all. Well, you’ve been duped – have you ever seen a real dried apricot? I suppose you have since you’re reading this blog and you can clearly see the difference in the photo above. No, those are not dog droppings, those are apricots – what they would normally look like if you left them out in the sun for a couple weeks. The apricots on the left, the bright orange ones that you would most certainly buy based on your biological instincts, have been treated with sulfur dioxide to ensure that the colour stays bright and the fruit “healthy” looking. Why would we want to bite into a shriveled, brown blob anyway? I’ll tell you why.
Commercially grown dried apricots may be treated with sulfur dioxide gas during processing due to its antimicrobial properties and its ability to maintain the original appearance of the fruit. Sulfur dioxide is toxic in large amounts. Sulfur dioxide blocks nerve signals from one area of the lungs to another, often causing breathing distress in sensitive individuals. It makes the fruit look healthy and vibrant, but this is merely an illusion. Sulfur dioxide also gives dried fruits a distinctive chemical flavour that you probably wouldn’t notice unless you’ve had the real thing.
Dried fruits may also be treated with other sulfites to prevent rotting and extend their shelf life. Sulfites cause adverse reactions in an estimated one out of every 100 people, who turn out to be sulfite sensitive. People who suffer from asthma are particularly at risk – The FDA estimates that 5 percent of asthmatics will experience a reaction upon exposure.
Foods that are classified as “organic” do not contain sulfites since federal regulations prohibit the use of these preservatives in organically grown or produced foods. Therefore, concern about sulfite exposure is yet another reason to purchase organic foods.
The process of drying fruits naturally does not require preservatives anyway, since drying itself is an effective method of preservation. Dried fruits only lose 2% to 5% of nutrient value if dried without chemicals or additives. They are a healthy food choice, especially for children with a sweet tooth!
Remember to always read labels when purchasing any kind of processed foods, or better yet, don’t buy processed foods at all. Buy organic! By doing so, you will ensure that your food is relatively safe and chemical-free. Personally, I will take the non-L.A. version of apricots any day of the week, since I don’t need my fruits to look beautiful, I want them to be beautiful. Appearances can be deceiving.