Clean Label Starches: Better for You or Just Another Bait & Switch?

By January 8, 2017 Portfolio No Comments

(Originally written for and posted @ www.theingredientguru.com)

clean label starches

Well, the answer depends on whom you ask. If you ask the food manufacturers, clean label starches are definitely a better choice over more traditional modified food starches. Not because clean label starches are actually better for you, but because they allow processed foods to have a cleaner looking list of ingredients.

Both starch additives are derived from ingredients such as corn, potato, tapioca and wheat. Both are modified from their original native state to withstand extreme food processing conditions, such as ultra high heat and homogenization.

So what’s the difference?

It all comes down to HOW the starches are modified.

Chemicals (usually acids) are used to make modified food starches. As a result, the FDA requires them to be labeled as “modified” food starches. On the other hand, clean label starches are produced by physical means, such as purification and heat treatment. Since no chemicals are used, a clean label starch may simply be referred to as “starch.”

Modified food starches and clean label starches both act as thickening agents, emulsifiers and stabilizers in many processed foods. Both are added to improve “mouth-feel” as well as maintain a desired texture and taste.

One example is yogurt. Take a look at the list of ingredients of a popular brand of fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt:

dreamstimemedium_2233139INGREDIENTS: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Cane Sugar, Non-GMO Corn Starch, Organic Natural Vanilla Flavor, Organic Carob Bean Gum, Organic Vanilla Bean Specks, Gellan Gum

One of the biggest hurdles manufacturers face with fat-free products is texture. This is where starch additives come to the rescue. They produce a thick and creamy yogurt in the absence of fat.

Just Another Bait & Switch

“Corn starch” sounds cleaner and more natural than “modified corn starch.” But from a health standpoint, clean label starches are no better than their chemically treated counterparts. Clean label starches are just another bait and switch in my opinion.

Both starches are nutritionally void. And it’s not always clear what ingredient the starch was originally derived from. In most cases it’s genetically modified corn, but not always.

There are also concerns regarding cross-contamination during the manufacturing process. So be extra careful if you have any food allergies and/or sensitivities.

Some argue modified starches are difficult to digest, especially for those with digestive disorders. And, there’s buzz about modified starches containing up to 10% maltodextrin, a complex sugar and a common hiding place for monosodium glutamate (MSG). But without access to industry formulations, we’ll never really know!

As always, you need to read the ingredient lists to know what’s in your food. But even then manufacturers keep coming up with new ways to trick consumers. When it comes to food starches, both the chemically modified and clean label versions are nothing more than highly processed additives manufacturers use to make foods highly palatable.

Healthy Alternatives

Bowl of fresh mixed berries and yogurtWhen it comes to Greek yogurt, there are several truly clean options available. But, only if you buy it “plain” and spice it up at home. Some of my favorite brands include:

  • Wallaby
  • Maple Hill Creamery
  • Strauss

I top my yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. If a little sweetness is needed, I add a drizzle of raw honey or pure maple syrup. A little bit goes a long way!

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