“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore
Recent supply chain issues and food shortages have led manufacturers to get creative. One stopgap now running rampant is food upcycling. Meant to reduce waste and increase sustainability, the practice is now being used with less virtuous motives. The result is a reduction in food quality and safety that should make consumers weary.
Upcycled foods contain ingredients that would normally be considered unmarketable and unconsumable. These include damaged or overripe produce and byproducts like peelings, stems, seeds, and pulp. Typically these ingredients would not be used for human consumption. In the past, these components would be thrown away, used as compost, or redirected toward livestock feed. Instead, they are now becoming common ingredients in packaged foods.
Whole Foods declared upcycling foods as one of the top ten food trends of 2021, stating that, “Peels and stems have come a long way from the compost bin. We’re seeing a huge rise in packaged products that use neglected and underused parts of an ingredient as a path to reducing food waste.”
While food waste is a huge problem and increasing sustainability in the food cycle is important, upcycling food waste should be done thoughtfully and with protective measures in place. There needs to be little oversight into where the raw materials are coming from and how they are used. Instead, these ingredients are widely being used as fillers. The practice is being scaled too large and too quickly. Scraps destined for the landfill are entering our food, reducing their quality and safety.
Frozen packaged smoothies and protein bars are being packed with produce scraps that would otherwise be considered unconsumable. There seems to be no guidelines in place to separate slightly bruised produce from that which is spoiled— or leftover pulp that is high in fiber but devoid of other nutrients.
Consumers are being deceived into thinking these upcycled foods are healthy and nutritious. Upcycled plant foods are more likely to be pasteurized with heat or pressure. All this processing destroys nutrients. A smoothie made with upcycled scraps won’t have the essential enzymes and probiotics found in fresh fruits and vegetables. They also are more likely to have GMO additives such as corn-derived citric acid—which often contains msg and herbicide residue.
The easiest way to avoid upcycled foods is by choosing fresh whole foods. When you reach for packaged foods, know that you may be getting more than you bargain for. Don’t fall for the green marketing. While upcycling sounds sustainable and positive, these types of upcycled foods should not be part of a healthy, nutritious diet.
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What To RememberFood upcycling has grown exponentially in the face of shortages and supply chain issues.Upcycling uses unconsumable scraps and byproducts as ingredients in processed foods.These upcycled foods lack nutrition and cause safety concerns.Avoid these ingredients by choosing fresh whole foods.
Pope, Sarah. Why You Should Avoid “Upcycled” Foods. The Healthy Home Economist: https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/upcycled-food-safety-nutrition/
Share, Ellen. (June, 2021). Upcycling Peels and Stems May Affect Food Safety. Thermo Fisher Scientific: https://www.thermofisher.com/blog/food/upcycling-peels-and-stems-may-affect-food-safety/
Moshtaghian, H., Bolton, K., & Rousta, K. (2021). Challenges for Upcycled Foods: Definition, Inclusion in the Food Waste Management Hierarchy and Public Acceptability. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 10(11), 2874. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods10112874
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