Sunday, October 5, 2014

corn, corn everywhere (my search for safe-tea)

(Yes, I'll admit, the pun was intended.)

I know I've shared several blog posts about my journey with celiac disease, but I haven't shared much about my quest to go corn free. It's because, even after a year and a half, I am still learning new things about this allergy every day. There are still things that shock me about the use of corn in America and products that I never would have thought would make me sick.

It's crazy to me how much corn is used in our country. In EVERYTHING.

The weirdest part of this is that most people don't know this. Most people think of corn as an ingredient in bagged tortilla chips or packaged tamales or sweet things with high fructose corn syrup, but in reality you would be hard-pressed to find an item on any American grocery store shelf that doesn't contain corn in some form or another.

This is what has made it so difficult in my journey to health. At first, I thought I would just have to avoid foods that had corn, corn starch, and corn syrup. Boy, was I wrong. I cut out the vegetable oil and the non-dairy butter  and the yeast and the baking powder and the vinegar.

Still, I was getting sick. I did more research and learned that corn can go by more than 170 different names, most of which don't even say the word "corn".

Maltodextrin (which is added to most grain products)
Citric Acid and Lactic Acid (and many other food acids)
Dextrose (a sugar in most packaged foods)
Xanthan Gum (a binding agent used in most gluten free foods)
Vitamin A (used as a fortifying vitamin in juices and milk products)

Ingredient labels for Rice Chex and Greek yogurt. As you can see, both of these gluten
free and considered-healthy foods have a huge number of possible corn-containing ingredients.
(Click the picture to enlarge.)

I don't have all of them memorized. I have a list that I have to check every time I shop for food, which gets exhausting. The worst part is that these ingredients aren't always corn derived. Most of the time, yes, but sometimes no. Any time I find a new product, I must email the company to figure out whether the ingredient(s) in question might be derived from corn. Sometimes a company is straightforward and answers the question. Other times, the representatives refuse to answer because the ingredients are proprietary (or because they just don't know what is in their products).

It's taken the better part of a year and a half to cut out as much corn from my diet as I can. Even now, there are reactions from foods that don't have corn labeled on the packaging that, upon research and shared experiences with other corn allergy friends, do indeed contain it.

Like anti-mold sprays on most produce, anti-cracking agents on egg shells, vitamin enriched bottled water, and cleaning sprays on meat.

Then we move on to packaging. Yes, packaging. As if we corn-allergy-sufferers didn't have enough to worry about, our country is now using corn based plastics and cornstarch based papers in which to package the food. While I'm all for finding new and innovative biodegradable materials, they are usually made from corn and this is a problem for those of us who react to small amounts in our food.

Not long ago, I saw an ad that Kia is now using corn based plastics in their cars. Upon further investigation, I found that these new cars have 53 pounds of eco-friendly, corn-based plastics. I will admit that my initial reaction to this included a groan and a hand to my forehead. While I'm not skin sensitive to corn at this point in my life, I know others who are, and this is a huge concern.

Courtesy of Live Corn Free
The reason for this post is that I recently read a few articles on hidden ingredients in tea. The various writers investigated the ingredients found in tea and teabags, and were shocked to find out how much junk was really there. Pesticides and corn-containing "natural flavors" were in many of them, whether in the tea itself or the packaging. Many of these teas, banned throughout Europe and much of Asia, tout health benefits when they could actually be detrimental to tea drinkers' health.

I used to drink tea, and sadly had to quit when going gluten/corn free. I knew I was reacting to something in the tea, but I could never figure out what the issue was since my teas were labeled as gluten and corn free. (I will tackle the issue of product labeling another day...) After reading the article, I decided to embark on my own investigation to see if there were any gluten free/corn free/pesticide free teas on the market. While doing my research, I learned more about the pesticides and/or GMO ingredients in most of America's tea. I learned about the natural flavors used and where they are derived from (usually corn, but sometimes soy or wheat). I learned that loose leaf teas are often sprayed with dextrose or maltodextrin to keep them from molding and to enhance flavor. I learned about the packaging of the tea bags, which often contain either corn starch or corn based PLA. Honestly, I learned a lot more than I ever really wanted to know (ignorance is bliss, right?)...but I finally found some teas that might be trustworthy and safe to drink!

**Please note, company ingredients can change at any time, so please trial at your own risk!**

Numi Tea: Their teas are organic with no natural flavors and no pesticides. The company is devoted to being eco-friendly, and their bags are made from manila hemp cellulose and directly sourced bamboo.

Traditional Medicinals: This is another company that does not add natural flavors to their teas. They are part of the Non-GMO Project and do not use pesticides on their tea ingredients. Their teabags are made from manila hemp and raw cotton. (Just be aware that some of their flavors include extracts - stay away from these, as they are often corn derived! The representative I talked to mentioned they are in the process of doing away with these.)

If and when I find any others, I'll add them to the list! Let me know if you have any to add. Happy (tea) drinking!