“Betty Crocker is certainly free to make virtually carrotless carrot cake, and Tropicana is free to make berryless and cherryless juice,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But consumers shouldn’t have to turn the package over and scrutinize the fine print to know that the color in what are mostly junk foods comes from cheap added colorings.”
I'm not holding my breath waiting for the FDA to force corporations to admit that they're using cheap, artificial ingredients to increase their profits. The FDA has been turning a blind eye to misleading labels for decades. If you've been to one of my book signings, you probably heard me talk about how shocked I was 24 years ago when I discovered that Jiffy Blueberry Muffin mix contained zero blueberries, so it was one of the things that caused me to start cooking from scratch. Red dye 40 and artificial flavors are way cheaper than cherries, and the same is true for artificial blueberries and artificial carrots. That just sounds so wrong -- artificial carrots! What's in an artificial carrot, anyway?
corn syrup, flour, corn cereal, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and/or soybean oil, a small amount of “carrot powder,” unspecified artificial color, and Yellow 6 and Red 40
And what exactly are you saving when you buy the mix? You're not saving money. Even if you used real carrots in your carrot cake, it would cost you less to make it from scratch. You might be saving five minutes because you have to grate the carrots. One of the first things I realized when I started baking from scratch was that it was only saving me two or three minutes for most things because it only reduced the number of ingredients to be added by three or four.
The really unfortunate thing about these so-called foods, however, is that they are filled with artificial ingredients, empty calories, and genetically-modified ingredients (corn syrup, corn cereal, and partially hydrogenated cottonseed and/or soybean oil in the artificial carrots alone) -- and they are completely void of any nutrition. And if we eat empty calories, we have no room left to eat the nutritious food that our bodies need.
You will even find nasty surprises in convenience foods that seem to be good for you, such as mashed potatoes. What more do you need other than potatoes boiled in water, a little milk, butter, and spices? Well, if you're making mashed potatoes that will be shipped for thousands of miles to be served in a fast food restaurant, apparently you need far more than 25 ingredients! This is what you're eating when you have mashed potatoes at KFC:
Potatoes, Salt, Maltodextrin, Whey Product [Containing Whey Solids, Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Product), Calcium Phosphate, Calcium Stearoyl-2-lactylate, Calcium Hydroxide], Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Soybean and Cottonseed), Mono and Diglycerides, Artificial Colors, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Calcium Stearoyl-2-lactylate, Spice. Freshness Preserved with Sodium Bisulfite, and BHT. Liquid and Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Soybean Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavor, TBHO and Citric Acid Added to Protect Flavor, Beta Carotene (Color), Dimethylpolysidoxane, An Anti-foaming Agent Added.
It's been 24 years since I read the ingredients on that muffin mix box and started to wonder if my unborn baby might grow up healthier if she didn't eat all the convenience foods I grew up eating. Starting to cook from scratch seemed like a winning scenario all the way -- it would save us money and we'd be eating real food. I had nothing to lose. And today I am so glad I decided to try! My children all reached adulthood without any of the "normal" childhood illnesses that plagued me as a child, and as I'm getting uncomfortably close to the half-century mark, I'm healthier than I was when I was a teenager.
There are so many things in this world that we have little or no control over -- like air and water pollution and who-knows-what is being emitted from cell phones and all of our other beloved electronics. With so many diseases at unprecedented levels in our society, and with so many things in our lives that did not exist half a century ago, it's hard to always know which variable is causing what disease, but we do know that diet plays a huge role -- sometimes being the primary cause of diseases like heart disease and many types of cancer, and sometimes contributing to the disease by not keeping our immune system in top condition to fight off things like the common cold and influenza.
And the other completely unexpected benefit of cooking from scratch is that you will eat far less junk food. I am not going to take the time every day to make french fries and cookies, which means I'll be spending my time eating nutritious food and filling up my body with the best fuel available. Plus, when you're making foods from scratch, you will be highly unlikely to make something that has a disproportionate amount of sugar and fat. Do you know anyone who puts TEN teaspoons of sugar in a glass of iced tea? Probably not, yet that's how much sugar is in a can of soda -- or more accurately, that would be the sugar equivalent of the amount of high fructose corn syrup that is in a can of soda. Most soda would taste absolutely disgusting without all the sugar.
The more you know about your food, the better you will eat -- and research actually proves this. But I didn't really need a study to tell me that people will eat better if they are more connected and knowledgeable about their food. It just makes sense. Who really wants mashed potatoes with 25 ingredients or carrotless carrot cake or blueberry muffins with artificial blue bits rather than real blueberries?