VEGA News Item

A Fat Lot of Good - 20/07/2012

We must give plaudits where some comment on the food industry is due. That is so for the producers of ‘dairy’ fats such as Pure margarine
– for many years they have trailed the vegan message by offering a number of spreadable fats to complement the dairy alternatives offered by Alpro.

The cow produces milk that is too fatty for many people. So where does the fat go? The fat goes into butter, cakes, biscuits and similar products.

So Pure and margarines of this type, for instance, fats for Jewish cooking such as Tomor, are to be congratulated and they are exploring new crops to squeeze the fats from – for example olives, though the process has been used for many years.

The basic foods of conventional ‘bread and butter’ can therefore be fairly easily met in a vegan diet, though we haven’t considered bread, and that would take more than one account – because bread contains fat, a lot of in some cases, and other nutrients, and some bread contains too much of the other nutrients.

Fat has occupied vegan nutritionists since the days of the Vegetarian Nutrition Research Centre (VNRC) in the closing days of World War II. There were many efforts to produce suitable sources of protein. One of those was a marmite-like product depending on vegetable and yeast protein and a vegetarian form of Bovril.

Chemists of the VNRC therefore developed some similar products such as Barmene and Yeastrel, to which vitamin B12 and other B vitamins were added. It was a very rich source of protein and vitamins and the amount of salt that went with it was reduced. Barmene and Yeastrel introduced a strong umame taste in vegetarian stews and spreads.

After a lot of debate and discussion, eventually the trade added these things to Marmite, to benefit the whole population. But a strong content of salt was allowed, whereas Barmene and Yeastrel relied on lower levels. Unfortunately the two low-salt varieties fell from the competition but at least one of those survived and persisted to this day, for example, as Natex, which conforms entirely to the government’s effort to cut salt in food.

The content of salt in meat products, such as pies and sausages, is high because it is regarded by the trade as essential to prevent food pathogens such as botulism (botula is latin for sausages). If they lowered the salt content more, more food poisoning could result. So that’s one reason to applaud the work of the vegetarian approach to make a less-objectionable product, a fact that has not been particularly emphasised in the present contest over the salt content of meat-derived products. That was another far-sighted effort by vegetarians to anticipate the dangers of food poisoning.

Not all developments in the food industry are to be criticised too severely, because the availability of fruit, including out-of-season fruit, has become greatly increased and is to be applauded. But nutritional information that accompanies these foods, and derivatives of them, is scanty. This is to some extent due to difficulty with labelling. For instance, many claims for health are made and would be accepted – people accept that fruit and vegetables are healthy foods, so that claim can be made unobtrusively because they are a source of vitamins and minerals.

But much nutritional information is not disclosed so there is no way of knowing if they really are health foods, and which are healthier than others. For example, information provided with some of the smoothie products could be more informative to a professional observer, certainly with regards to vitamin C and sugars.

This is similar to the lapse in labelling of bread, where mixed grain cereals are being used, resulting in considerable variation in the content of essential nutrients, such as protein and calories. For instance, a normal loaf contains 10% protein by weight, but it varies according to the cereal crops used so you find that some breads can contain up to 15%. This is achieved by mixing wheat or another cereal with other protein crops such as soya beans and linseed, which have various nutritional benefits complementing and supplementing the wheat content. This too is a natural process which we applaud. It adds diversity and other benefits to breads such as their nutritional value. But how much? The public and professional enquirers should be urged to explore the subject more deeply.

There were efforts at the time of the early work to calculate protein values on the basis of the eight essential amino acids but these have been largely ignored, because they are all now overriding the efforts, though that is not disclosed in the copious banks of information on the wrappers; and some bread of course is sold without any wrappers at all, so it leaves the subject open to debate, which would take a whole instalment of this correspondence, but nonetheless there is no reason that the larger companies associated with these introductions can’t allow the informed customer to work things out for themselves and that is surely what the government is suggesting people should do.

In pursuit of this objective, VEGA launched a Campaign for Real Bread (CAMREB) as part of its Green Plan for wholesome food from wholesome farming in 1976.


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