Last week I wrote how brown foods are better than white foods, in general terms of health and prevention of diabetes. I wanted today to mention another similar rule: pure white is not a natural color in food. I’m always a bit queasy at these local markets that have huge open bins full of pure white wheat flower, almond paste, mountain root (山药）and other common flours. I’m darn sure that none of these were pure white in nature, so clearly they’ve all been whitened. That’s not automatically a terrible thing, but there certainly is nothing healthier about altering these foods just because the consumer mistakenly thinks whiter is purer or healthier — which it definitely is not.
Pistachios are a wonderfully healthy nut, full of healthy, cholesterol-lowering oils and antioxidants. But one uniquely Chinese trait is to bleach the majority of pistachios on the market, as many consumers believe the cleaner, whiter look is more appealing than the original. While the hydrogen peroxide bleach may not by itself be unhealthy, the bleaching certainly removes some of the vitamins such as B1, as well as antioxidant phytochemicals. So please do your body a favor and don’t buy the pure white pistachios with the dull colors; pay a bit more for the slightly darker shell which has the original green nut and deep red/purplish skin.
The same concept applies to mushrooms; local markets are filled with preternaturally, almost luminescent white mushrooms, which again are an obvious sign of unneeded whitening. A mushroom should not naturally be shiny white, like a piece of printer paper; it should be ivory or darker. Some of you may remember the entertaining story in 2010 about a Chinese primary care student who tested store-bought mushrooms and found that 90% had used a fluorescent whitening agent which was considered “not edible”. Maybe not dangerous, but certainly not needed — and given the chronic uncertainties of food safety, why take the risk at all?
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