What is a chemical? A quick dictionary search produces this: “A substance with a distinct molecular composition that is produced by or used in a chemical process.” So what is a chemical process? Pretty much everything is a chemical process, from cooking to cell metabolism to something as simple as shampooing your hair.
But a lot of people would disagree with this definition, and use “chemicals” to purely mean “bad”, “artificial” chemicals, which is pretty one-sided. All matter, every substance, everything is chemicals.
Part of the problem with the incorrect perception of chemicals stems from the ridiculous saying preached by the likes of the Food Babe: “don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce”. I can pronounce foie gras and veal, yet that doesn’t mean it’s ethical to eat them. Everyone can pronounce DNA, but not necessarily deoxyribonucleic acid. Ribulosebisphosphatecarboxylaseoxygenase (more commonly known as RUBISCO) is an essential enzyme in photosynthesis, and perfectly safe to eat, but good luck getting that one right first time.
It is not the case that every “natural” chemical is safe, or that every “synthetic” chemical is dangerous. Moreover, if you drink pure water (H2O) from a stream, and pure water from the by-product of a chemical reaction in a lab, your body would not be able to tell the difference. They are both H2O, that is, an oxygen atom bonded to two hydrogen atoms. If it wasn’t H2O it wouldn’t be water. Your body does not have a “natural radar”, it quite frankly couldn’t care less where this H2O has come from as long as it gets some.
Your body is all chemicals anyway, just chemicals reacting with chemicals (food) to make more chemicals. Yep, everything is chemicals.
The same applies to E300, which you might also know as vitamin C. Whether you take an isolated molecule of E300 from a lab or vitamin C from an orange your body does not care. Yet everyone just assumes that E-numbers = bad. There’s power in a name, and we shouldn’t be afraid of E-numbers just because they don’t sound “natural”.
Before you freak out, please note, I am not saying processed foods are just as good or better than “natural” foods, I am talking about ingredients, about individual molecules. There’s a big, big difference. The video below shows this point really well:
E numbers are not Voldemort; we shouldn’t go through our lives being afraid of names that don’t sound “natural” or that we can’t pronounce. Instead, educate yourself on what these chemicals actually are, rather than just running away from them. Don’t be a chemical-phobe, and don’t even try and tell me you live a “chemical-free life” as you would be dead.
Go on, try living without the chemical oxygen for longer than a few minutes, I dare you.
This fallacy that natural = good and synthetic = bad has gone beyond the realm of misunderstanding and well into dangerous stupidity. There are plenty of “natural” foods and ingredients, such as poisonous mushrooms and arsenic, which are definitely bad for you. So many alternative medicine practitioners say broccoli is great for “detoxing”, but did you know the reason why this is is because it contains a form of the deadly poison cyanide called allyl cyanide? When you chew broccoli the inactive form comes into contact with the enzyme that makes it active, and now your liver has to work that extra bit harder to “detox”. Oh the irony of Mother Nature trying to kill you.
This leads me nicely into another very important point: “the dose makes the poison”. Yes broccoli contains cyanide, but you’d have to eat a hell of a lot of broccoli for it to be toxic. Eat over 60 bananas each day and you’ll probably end up with potassium poisoning. Even water is toxic at very high levels, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it; in fact I highly recommend drinking water every day.
The best example of toxicity that always comes to light is formaldehyde in vaccines. Formaldehyde isn’t that hard to pronounce right? But seeing as it sounds scary and unnatural, and there’s cancer scares, so of course it’s been the target of fearmongering and unfounded claims. But consider this: vaccines contain 0.83% of the formaldehyde in a pear. To put that into perspective, you would have to have 120 vaccines to get the same amount of formaldehyde as in a pear. But you don’t see anyone telling you not to eat pears as they’re toxic and cause cancer, because they’re natural. Add to that the fact that formaldehyde is a natural by-product of respiration and you can see why that phrase is so important (and why I can’t stand anti-vaxxers, but that’s a whole different topic).
The point I want to make, is that a lack of pronunciation skills and understanding about chemistry isn’t a rational argument for avoiding certain foods or ingredients. Everything is chemicals, and everything can kill you in high enough doses. Living a “chemical free lifestyle” sound great, but only if you want to have a lifespan of a few seconds. All the beauty of nature is chemicals, and calling it chemicals doesn’t make it any less impressive or wondrous to behold.