I hope everyone had a nice holiday season, and has gotten off to a great start for 2014. It’s been pretty quiet here on my blog, as I’ve spent a lot of time away from my computer over the past few weeks. I had a lot of thinking to do, looking back on 2013, and ahead to 2014…and about the present, with all the preparation that comes along with the holiday season. I need to unplug once in a while. I hope you had a chance to do so too.
I usually take a daily walk to get fresh air, and to think or listen to music. Since it’s been really cold, and even snowed significantly last week, I’ve been using an exercise machine instead. One day, I decided to watch an episode of The Chew while I was doing so. I’ve seen chef Michael Symon on The Iron Chef, and generally have been impressed by his creative work. I found myself disappointed with the recipe he shared on that particular episode, though, because it’s chock full of common food allergens, genetically modified organisms, and refined sugar. More on that subject later, but I’m including his recipe as a homemade alternative to processed cakes. Even though the ingredients leave much to be desired, they’re still better than the processed junk, especially if you buy organic ones. I’ll share a link to his recipe in a moment.
It would have been better to write this post before Christmas time, as the product in question is called Ho Hos, but processed junk food was the last thing on my mind a couple of weeks ago! Better late than never, right?
If you want to be BAD, really REALLY BAD (and sometimes you DO – it’s only natural):
Let’s take a look at the ingredients for Hostess Ho Hos, which are probably not much different than Ring Dings, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, or Suzy Qs that kids love. Here’s the list:
Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Reduced Iron, B Vitamins (Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Folic Acid), Water, Partially Hydrogenated (aka trans fats) Vegetable Oils (Palm Kernel, Coconut, Palm), Palm Oil Shortening, Corn Syrup, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Whole Eggs, Invert Sugar. Contains 2% or Less of: Egg Yolks, Polysorbate 60, Leavenings (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), Soy Lecithin, Salt, Soy Flour, Sweet Dairy Whey, Calcium and Sodium Caseinate, Soy Protein Isolate, Cornstarch, Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sorbic Acid (to Retain Freshness).
Yikes! Sugar is the very first ingredient. It’s a Devil Dog in disguise. Drop it, drop it right now, I say! If this ingredient list doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, I’ll tell you why it does for me.
A word of caution: if you’re new to reading junk food labels, then please sit down and take a deep breath before continuing on. I’m so sorry to have to tell you all this, but…
Items of particular concern for me:
Common food allergens: wheat, milk, egg and soybeans.
Probable genetically modified organisms (GMOs):
sugar, corn syrup, soy lecithin, soy flour, whey, soy protein isolate, cornstarch
Questionable food additives:
polysorbate 60, leavenings, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, calcium and sodium caseinate, sodium stearate, natural and artificial flavors, sorbic acid.
Trans fats: partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
I’m not going to get into the specifics of any specific ingredient. I consider it to be a waste of time. A simple guideline to follow is that if a product contains ingredients that your mind doesn’t recognize, then your digestive system probably won’t either. The first warning sign on this label is the long list of ingredients (the fewer, the better). The second is that the very first ingredient is sugar. The third is that you don’t recognize many of the ingredients.
Do you see the red flags? I wish they weren’t there, believe me, but they are. Don’t surrender to them too often, please!
Over the past 20 years, as a food allergic parent who’s been scrutinizing food labels, I’ve witnessed firsthand how food allergen labeling has improved, while the quality of the ingredients has significantly deteriorated. The food industry has been quietly replacing real ingredients, with cheap, artificial ones. Many food additives have not been tested for safety by an independent third party. Even worse, common processed food ingredients are often grown using pesticide laden, genetically modified seeds, which are not labeled so you know that’s the case. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true.
I wish I didn’t have to be the one to break it to you, if it’s the first time you’re hearing it, but the state of our food supply, to say the least, is in complete disarray. Unfortunately, much of the population seems to be completely unaware of the problem. Our busy, distracted lives keep us from worrying about where our food comes from, or how it’s being processed. If my daughter hadn’t had food allergies for so long, I’m not sure I’d have realized all this so quickly, either.
So, as troublesome as it may seem, consider yourself lucky that your knowledge gives you the opportunity to make informed and healthier choices. You are way ahead of the game that way, as stressful and inconvenient as it may be at first.
Is there a better store bought alternative?
The bottom line is that if you aren’t ready to completely give these up, and you want to simply swap these out for a healthier prepackaged choice, you might want to try Gluten Free Swiss Chocolate Rolls, by Shabtai Gourmet. They are free of many common food additives, allergens, and corn syrup. Please note that I have not tried these myself, but found them highly recommended over at CeliacChicks.com.
Again, not the best choice, but a convenient one for anyone who’s not quite ready to make a full transition away from processed, store bought cakes. It’s all about progress, not perfection (unless you are on a special diet to heal your gut, which requires strict adherence, temporarily). We all have to do the best we can, right?
Up for Home Baking? It’s a better choice, but also not a perfect one…
Now that we have established that Ho Hos are a very BAD choice, I’ll share Michael Symon’s recipe for Mo Mos. It’s only a slightly better alternative, so I’ve chosen it to use as a teaching tool more than anything else.
Why am I sharing a recipe that I’m not all that thrilled with, you wonder? For someone who likes to bake, at least it’s a step up from most store bought options. It contains fewer additives, depending upon the quality of the ingredients you use. And unfortunately, quality is something that is rarely talked about on cooking shows. That’s a real problem for me, because if you buy conventional sugar, soy, or corn, for example, you’re likely exposing yourself to genetically modified ingredients that are loaded with pesticides. GMO corn is even regulated as one, believe it or not! Sad, but true. So, if you think paying a little more for USDA organic products is not worth it, think again. It’s what they don’t contain that matters most. When it comes to dairy products, buying organic really matters as well. That’s a whole other discussion for a different day, though.
Another problem is that Mo Mos are heavy on 3 of the 8 most common food allergens (dairy, wheat, and eggs), which I would not recommend that anyone eat every day, let alone at every meal. Who’s to say that the quantity and frequency with which we eat these items isn’t a contributing factor to the development of food sensitivities in the first place? Wheat and dairy are the worst offenders (just think about it, they’re in everything!). If you replace the wheat flour with a gluten free oat flour (keeping it simple), that’s a step in the right direction. Or, try this gluten free recipe instead. For dairy, egg, AND multiple food allergen free, the best alternative will be shared below.
If you haven’t already downloaded my free report, Detox your Diet in 3 Simple Steps, this information might be rather overwhelming for you. Just know that as you slowly upgrade your food choices, the process becomes a lot easier. You just have to take it one step at a time.
I just want to reiterate that I have a lot of respect for Michael Symon as a chef. They certainly don’t make knock offs of processed baked goods on The Iron Chef! There, it’s all about creativity. I just wish he had gotten a lot more creative with this particular recipe, to make it healthier and less food allergen intensive. As more and more people become sensitive to common food allergens and grains in general, and the quality of what’s available has significantly deteriorated, the culinary world needs to step up and start taking these issues more seriously. Unfortunately, cooking shows and networks (and even culinary schools) often are sponsored by guess who – the food industry! I have another story relating to this topic that I’ll share on another day.
Okay, so Ho Hos are a bad choice. Mo Mos are a better choice, IF you are using organic ingredients, just because you’re avoiding many food additives and corn syrup. The best choice I’ve actually shared already. In this post, though, I’m going to rename my Purely Paleo Cupcakes No Nos. Why are they called No Nos if they’re the best choice? There are two reasons. First, they have none of the top 8 food allergens. Second, they are not meant to be eaten every day. No baked good or sweet treat ever should be. Occasional desserts are okay, but try to stick with fresh fruit whenever possible. Real, unprocessed food is always the best choice! Please note that if you have constant sugar cravings, you need to reevaluate your dietary choices.
I was going to provide you with more information about food allergies and such, but I’m going to have to save it for another day. This post is getting to long, even without a recipe!
Please note that I will be focusing more on food advocacy than recipes this month. It’s time our food focus shifted from quantity to quality, and as I stated above, we need professional chefs, like Michael Symon to step up and spread the word. High quality food may be more expensive than your average conventional kind, but I’d rather pay the farmer now than the doctor later, wouldn’t you? I wonder how our favorite celebrity chefs feel about the subject. Do they worry about quality at home, but not on their shows? I’m guessing the answer is yes. I’d love to be a fly in the wall and see what they really eat at home.
All I know is that fresh, pure, minimally processed food transforms lives, and every time we eat it, we make our world – and THE world – a kinder, gentler, less toxic place. And a sweeter one, too! It’s as simple as that.