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Blithely munching

(article, Kim Carlson)

Caroline, our managing editor, sent me a note yesterday:

bq(blue). Here are the ingredients in a box of SuperMoist cake mix from Betty Crocker.

She might have just walked the 10 steps in to my office to read me this list, but then she'd have to twist her tongue in unnatural ways:

bq(blue). Sugar, Enriched Flour Bleached (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Nonfat Milk, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Starch, Propylene Glycol, Monoesters of Fatty Acids, Carob Powder, Baking Soda, Salt, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Distilled Monoglycerides, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Datem, Monoglycerides, Xanthan Gum, Artificial Flavor, Aluminum Sulfate.

bq(blue). I am pleased to see that several of these ingredients are also key ingredients in anti-perspirants and deodorants. Yum!

[%image reference-image float=right width=300 caption="No more cake mixes."]

Not yum. Ew. What are we thinking when we eat propylene glycol?

We all know that spoiled food tastes bad to us. Our taste buds, along with our eyes and noses, help protect us from things we shouldn’t eat. But what about food whose names sound bad?

“Marinated Olives” has a nice ring to it, and “Carrie's Chocolate Cake” is lovely. “Greens with Baked Goat Cheese Rounds” — delicious. 

But do we really want to be putting propylene glycol — or aluminum sulfate — in our mouths? 

And what about “trans fat”? It sounds like something that should be used to fuel an alternative-energy mobile.

In this week’s feature article, Rebecca Kessler writes that in 1990 it was discovered that trans fats cause big problems: Not only do they raise levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), but they lower HDL (“good” cholesterol). 

I had been dimly aware that we should avoid trans fats for a while — and keenly aware of it in the last few months, since there’s been so much news about New York City banning artificial trans fats in restaurants. 

But I’ll admit, for the better part of the last 17 years — since 1990, that is —  I’ve been “blithely munching” crackers and store-bought cookies and the occasional doughnut. And oh, yes, I've even bought cake mixes a time or two: Betty Crocker's "Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil" is nothing but trans fat, after all.

Sweet, huh? Well, yes, but also stupid. 

I still don't avoid trans fats at all costs, but I'll eat fewer of them — thanks in part to Rebecca’s article, and thanks to the wisdom of Marion Nestle, whom Jackleen de La Harpe interviews in this week's Q&A. 

Nestle’s book What to Eat is a hefty tome, but its message is simple and doesn’t stray far from Michael Pollan’s elegant credo: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

It isn't hard to avoid foods that aren’t good for you. But these days it takes more than our five senses to figure it all out. A little awareness goes a long way, and there's content on Culinate that can help. 

In her most recent Front Burner column, Helen addresses fats in cooking, and on Thursday this week, Matthew will do the same in his column, Unexplained Bacon. 

Today Adam, who writes the blog Amateur Gourmet, exposes the heavy use of fats in Ina Garten's cookbooks (including one of our favorites, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook). If you're not at high risk for heart disease, it's OK to make Ina's desserts sometimes, but they should be occasional treats.

But then, that's what treats are, right? Occasional.

reference-image, l