Monthly Archives: November 2013

Are we getting ready to say goodbye to trans fat in our food supply?

We sure hope so!

Last week the FDA proposed the almost complete elimination of trans fat from food products in the U.S. This is an argument that has been debated for the last three decades and this long-awaited move would force manufacturers to rid their products of ingredients containing trans fat.

This important action would effectively remove partially hydrogenated oils from the FDA Generally Recognized as Safe (or GRAS) list. In response to this, companies that include partially hydrogenated oils in their products would then have to prove that these oils are safe to eat. It would be exceptionally difficult for any company (regardless of its size or political weight) to actually do this. There’s basically no scientific data that would support a statement that infers that partially hydrogenated oils aren’t harmful. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of trans fats, a conclusion that the F.D.A. cited in its reasoning. The agency emphasized that the ruling, which is open to public comment for 60 days, was preliminary. But food producers seemed to take it in stride, in part because many had already made adjustments, and Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the agency’s commissioner, signaled that the draft rule might be made final.

Artificial trans fats are a “double whammy” for the human body. They lower good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol. There’s nothing nutritionally beneficial about trans fats. In addition they are blamed as a major culprit in the increase in heart disease in the United States. A somewhat deceptive labeling system has kept many Americans in the dark about what they’ve actually been consuming. For years, manufacturers have been allowed to list a 0 on the Trans Fat line of a nutrition label if the product that label is on carries less than .5 g. of trans fat per serving.

And while efforts to reduce trans fat in the food supply have been effective, partially hydrogenated oils are in thousands and thousands of food products. In fact, consumers would actually never suspect the presence of oils in some of those products. For instance, oil of any sort probably wouldn’t be the first thing a consumer would think of when reflecting on the possible ingredients of YooHoo Chocolate Drink – but partially hydrogenated oils are in there.

For many years partially hydrogenated oils were considered healthier than saturated animal fats like butter. They are cheaper for manufacturers and so they became extremely popular. And while there’s been a major reduction in the consumption of trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils are still pretty popular ingredients in prepared and packaged foods. While we used to eat about 4.6 grams of trans fats daily, we’re now down to about 1 gram per day. That’s enormous progress. But we’re still consuming these oils which are implicated in the rise of heart disease far too often.

Partially hydrogenated oils are trans fats. Consumption is dangerous for all people. They add nothing nutritionally sound to our diets. They add to the incidences of heart disease throughout our country.

All in all, Foodfacts.com thinks this is a pretty easy call. While it will cause food manufacturers to reformulate thousands of products (which will be incredibly costly and time consuming), eliminating partially hydrogenated oils from our food supply will be worth it in the long run. Ingredients that are known health hazards need to be banned sooner rather than later in hopes that we will reverse devastating health trends (like heart disease and obesity), not just here in the U.S., but across the globe.

Our Thanksgiving Table: Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing

There are so many different traditions for Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing (including whether or not the turkey is stuffed or the dressing is baked alongside the turkey). One of the more common recipes for stuffing or dressing is Cornbread and Sausage. It’s a savory/sweet side dish with Southern roots that’s happily eaten at Thanksgiving tables all over the country.

Let’s gather round the FoodFacts.com Thanksgiving table as we alter the traditional Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing a bit to make it a lighter, healthier and less caloric side dish to the main attraction. O.k., we didn’t just alter the stuffing recipe a little … we took the sausage completely out of the equation, while still allowing you and your guests to enjoy a savory and satisfying stuffing experience!

The history or stuffing (or dressing) may predate Roman civilization. The earliest recipes for stuffing can be found in a Roman cookbook that was written in the late 4th century AD. Recorded in this book were recipes for stuffed chicken, rabbit, pig and dormouse (which, believe it or not, was considered a delicacy in ancient Rome.) In these ancient Roman recipes, featured ingredients in stuffing were vegetables, herbs, nuts and ancient grains like spelt. It was not unusual to find various organ meats included like liver and brains.

In England prior to the sixteenth century, stuffing was called “farce”. Then in the Victorian era, it became known as dressing. Because stuffing was common in England prior to the establishment of the American colonies, it is easy to assume that the Pilgrims, after deciding to make the turkey the focal point of the first Thanksgiving feast, would have naturally chosen to stuff it.

And undoubtedly, after that first Thanksgiving, stuffing recipes have evolved pretty dramatically. Cornbread or white bread? Stuffed inside the bird, or baked alongside? Eggs or no eggs? There are plenty of competing methods for preparing the much-loved and traditional Thanksgiving stuffing. Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing recipes abound and this is one of the most popular preparations at Thanksgiving in millions of homes.

Sadly, though, the typical Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing boasts over 500 calories per serving, with over 38 grams of fat (oh my) and over 900 mg of sodium. That nutritional data isn’t exactly side dish worthy. Put the stuffing next to your turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie and the numbers might actually resemble two or three full days of food consumption!

Stuffing really needs to lighten up a little. So here’s our suggestion:

6 corn muffins (prepared from a good organic mix, like Shiloh Farms), crumbled
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion diced
2 large diced Portobello mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried sage
Half teaspoon dried rosemary
2 cups hot vegetable broth
1 tablespoon almond butter
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Crumble the corn muffins into a large mixing bowl
3. Melt two tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan
4. Sauté vegetables and garlic until softened – 4 to 5 minutes
5. Add vegetables to crumbled corn muffins
6. Stir in the herbs gently, evenly distributing in the muffin-vegetable mixture
7. Stir the almond butter into the vegetable broth
8. Pour over the muffin-vegetable mixture a little at a time until moistened throughout. Use additional broth if necessary. Mixture should be moist, not overly wet and no liquid should be evident at the bottom of the bowl.
9. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Transfer dressing into dish and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Cover dish with foil.
10. Bake for 30 minutes covered. Remove foil and return to the oven to bake for another 30 minutes until brown.
11. (Or you can stuff your turkey with the unbaked mixture and roast your turkey as usual – adding additional time per pound for the stuffing as per your roasting instructions.)

Portobello mushrooms add a savory flavor to any dish and make for a very enjoyable stuffing without the additional fat and calories from sausage. This stuffing is about 100 calories per serving, only 4.4 grams of fat and 45 mg. of sodium.

While Cornbread Portobello Mushroom Stuffing certainly puts a new twist on tradition, it really is a rich and flavorful dish. Unusually “meaty” for a meatless side, you’ll find that this recipe makes for a great inside-the-bird stuffing or an equally great baked dressing.

Our invitation to dinner will be open until Thanksgiving Day! All month long, FoodFacts.com will be taking a look at better preparations for all our favorite holiday foods. By the time we reach the end of November, we’ll have a great meal planned that we’ll all be able to enjoy that fits easily within our healthy lifestyle! And don’t worry … we aren’t going to forget dessert!

Wrongful death suit brought against manufacturer of Red Bull

Last week, a New York family brought an $85 million lawsuit against the makers of Red Bull Energy Drink. The Brooklyn construction worker was 33 years old when he passed away after a basketball game in 2011. His family claims that his death was a direct result of consuming Red Bull prior to that game.

While Monster Beverage Company is facing at least two lawsuits claiming wrongful death as a result of consumption of the company’s energy drinks, this new case is believed to be the first of its kind filed against Red Bull. This only adds to the growing concerns regarding energy drinks and their health effects. Currently, the FDA is investigating the possible dangers of these beverages and exploring their classification as dietary supplements.

Energy drinks have been linked to health difficulties ranging from dizziness to hospitalization. Last year, the FDA released a list of “adverse events,” including death and illness, from June 2005 to late 2012 in which consumption of energy drinks (specifically those marketed as dietary supplements) may have been involved. And according to The Daily News, between 2004 and 2012, the F.D.A. received 21 reports from doctors or hospitals in which Red Bull may have been associated with a variety of health issues.

Cory Terry, the deceased construction worker profiled in this wrongful death lawsuit, was known as a regular Red Bull consumer. The medics who arrived on the scene did seem to link his consumption of the product to his death in their report. Terry’s relatives are suggesting that drinking Red Bull had something to do with his passing.

Doctors noted the cause of Terry’s death as idiopathic dilated cariomyopathym or DCM which is a form of heart failure. It can be caused by a variety of conditions including viral infection, heredity and alcoholism. We don’t know if DCM has ever been linked to energy drink consumption.

What we do know is that many popular energy drinks pack a pretty powerful stimulant punch, using ingredients like guarana seed extract and taurine in addition to caffeine. Both guarana and taurine have stimulant effects. It is true that emergency room visits caused by energy drinks have more than doubled in the last five years. And because many of those drinks are classified as dietary supplements, manufacturers are not following the same regulations for caffeine content as beverage manufacturers. The FDA limits caffeine content to 70 mg per 12 ounce serving of a beverage. But that same regulation doesn’t exist for a dietary supplement. Some energy drinks can contain up to 500 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of 14 cans of caffeinated soda).

Energy drinks are especially harmful for children and teenagers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated emphatically that energy drinks should never be consumed by children. The American Medical Association has endorsed a ban on the marketing of energy drinks to children.

Here at FoodFacts.com, we’ve got most energy drinks sitting squarely on our “avoid” list. We’re not happy with the idea that as long as manufacturers can claim that these products are dietary supplements, we won’t know how much caffeine they actually contain. And with the use of ingredients like taurine and guarana seed, the stimulant effect of any energy drink may well be more than the average consumer expects.

That being said, we’re also not sure if anyone can draw a straight line between the death of Cory Terry and Red Bull. If he drank Red Bull regularly it might be difficult to prove that when he consumed it that final time it was a direct cause of his heart failure.

We anxiously await decisions from the FDA that offer solutions to the problems concerning energy drink ingredients. In the meanwhile, let’s steer our kids clear of these products.

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/10/29/2854701/red-bull-energy-lawsuit/

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese gets a little less “colorful”

Kids get a big kick out of food products that look like their favorite characters – and parents get the benefit of knowing before they serve their children a meal that it’s going to be eaten without protest. Unfortunately parents also know that most of the time the food products that are manufactured in the shapes of popular characters don’t often come with the most desirable ingredient lists. Artificial food colors are often included in the list of those ingredients.

The use of artificial food dyes in the American food supply is rampant and quite controversial – especially when those dyes are in children’s food products. The major food colors used in the U.S. are Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Blue 1. Each of these dyes has been linked to ADHD symptoms in children. Artificial colors are already banned in various countries. If they aren’t banned, many countries require the use of a warning label on the food containing the dye alerting consumers that consumption of the product may affect a child’s behavior. Nothing like this is currently required by the FDA and there are thousands and thousands of products in the use that use these dyes. Children are consuming those products every day.

According to a Kraft company spokesperson, Kraft is taking a step forward in the food coloring controversy. Beginning in 2014, Kraft has given its line of character-shaped macaroni and cheese a recipe makeover. Part of that makeover is that the product will now be using spices instead of artificial food coloring to give the pasta its famous orange-yellow hue.

In addition to the great news about the elimination of artificial colors, Kraft’s new recipe includes six additional grams of whole grains, a lower sodium level and reduced saturated fat content. The company acknowledges that this is a result of its customers communicating with them. Because of that communication, beginning in 2014, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are out of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese products in fun shapes like SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and How to Train Your Dragon 2.

While we’re all thrilled to hear that Kraft is making real improvements to some of its products, FoodFacts.com has to wonder why those changes aren’t being made to its classic elbow-shaped macaroni and cheese products as well. Since its new recipe that does not include artificial colors will work out fine for its character-shaped line, we’re pretty sure that same recipe can be used in those classic products without a problem.

When questioned about this, the company responded by saying that switching ingredients in products isn’t a simple task as they cannot alter the product consumers have come to expect. We don’t think that’s the best answer for a few reasons. In the first place the original SpongeBob Macaroni & Cheese didn’t taste any different than the classic Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Product. So if the new ingredients are acceptable in the character-shaped versions, they’ll be equally acceptable in the classic.

In addition, the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that’s sold in Europe doesn’t contain artificial colors. For those products, paprika and beta-carotene impart color. Consumers are fine with it. We certainly hope that Kraft understands that we’d like to see every blue box it’s selling to consumers free from artificial colors. We’re pretty sure they’ll make their existing customers happy – and that they’ll find new customers who had previously avoided their products because of those artificial colors.

This is definitely a step in the right direction for our food supply. Can’t wait to hear more from Kraft in the future that takes it even further!

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/01/health/kraft-macaroni-cheese-dyes/

Our Thanksgiving Table: Candied Yams

We’re all looking forward to a happy, healthy Thanksgiving shared with family and friends seated around a table piled high with our holiday favorites! We’ll all be indulging a little this holiday season. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t feature traditional recipes that make the best of the fall harvest.

Let’s gather round the FoodFacts.com Thanksgiving table. This week, we’ll be putting a healthier spin on candied yams – a traditional dish for many this holiday season.
Yams are a very healthy food choice. They’re a great source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin C, manganese and vitamin B6. They have an earth flavor and are naturally sweet. Yams make for a pretty filling side dish. In addition, they are a truly authentic addition to your Thanksgiving feast.

Yams and sweet potatoes were grown on American soil pretty consistently by the time Christopher Columbus landed on our shores in the late 15th century. When the colonists put together their first Thanksgiving meal, it would be safe to assume that yams were a component. By 1880 Americans were enjoying some sort of variation of candied sweet potatoes. American cookbooks, such as the widely published 1893 Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer featured a recipe for glazed sweet potatoes.

Unfortunately, candied yam recipes tend to focus more on the sweet goodies in the average recipe than the yams themselves. The average  recipe contains over 400 calories per serving, 15 grams of fat and plenty of sugar. We have to remind ourselves that it’s this is only one of a variety of sides accompanying our turkey. It would behoove us to discover a more healthful recipe than our traditional method that often calls for plenty of brown sugar and corn syrup as well as marshmallows – which while tasty, offer nothing to the dish nutritionally.

So here’s our idea for a better candied yam recipe. You’ll need:

4 yams
1 jar of good quality sugar free apricot preserves (Nature’s Hollow would be a great example)
¼ teaspoon of orange zest
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Nutmeg, ground cloves (just a pinch of each)
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup finely chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Boil the yams just until tender (about 25 minutes). Cool completely.
3. Remove the skins from the par-boiled yams.
4. In a medium saucepan combine the jar of sugar-free preserves, butter, orange zest and spices. Stir over medium heat until melted.
5. Slice potatoes into rounds about ½” thick. Layer the slices in a 9” baking dish. Pour half the glaze over the layer. Layer the remainder of the potatoes and pour the rest of the glaze over. Sprinkle with the chopped pecans. Cover with foil.
6. Bake 375° for about 30 min. Remove foil and bake 15 min. longer. Cook until yams are fork tender.

This variation on the traditional recipe for candied yams produces a rich and flavorful dish. And in the final analysis, it is really worth the makeover. This new recipe has 206 calories per serving, 5 grams of sugar, 30 mg. of sodium and 11 grams of fat. It isn’t just lighter and lower in calories. It’s really a healthier alternative.

O.k., we’ll admit it – this dish does not include marshmallows so you may experience some resistance from the die-hard traditionalists. We actually think they’ll change their minds after they taste it.

FoodFacts.com will be inviting you to sit down to our Thanksgiving table every week until the big day. We’ll share all the wonderful nutritional information about the fruits of the fall harvest featured in our Thanksgiving feast and hopefully, give you new ideas on how to prepare that bounty in new and different ways. We’re already getting hungry just thinking about it!