The Kitchen Think: It Says Trans Fat Free… But Is it?


I know many of you ditched trans fats a while back… way ahead of the FDA’s decision last week to ban trans fats in our food.

But you should know that just because a product’s label screams “0 Trans Fat!!”, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true.

Nestlé's Original Coffee-Mate Creamer

Nestlé’s Original Coffee-Mate Creamer

Here’s what I’m talking about: Look at the ingredient list on a product. The Nutrition Facts say “Trans Fat 0”… but in the list of ingredients, it says, “partially hydrogenated oil.”  Any oil that is partially hydrogenated is a trans fat.

A little misleading, right?

Here’s something else: The FDA lets food companies claim that a food product is “trans fat-free” if it has 0.5 grams or less per serving… like Fig Newtons and Premium Saltine Crackers. That is NOT trans fat free.

Having worked for several major food companies, I know it takes a long time to reformulate ingredients, especially those that have trans fats, because hydrogenated oils give foods taste and texture and helps prolong their shelf life.

Nilla Wafers are a good example. You get that crisp snap because the trans fat keeps the cookie from going stale and becoming soft. Nestlé’s Coffee Mate is smooth, rich and creamy because the third ingredient (after water and sugar) is hydrogenated oil.

Here’s hoping that the FDA’s ban on trans fat is the first step in recognizing that we need to clean up our food supply. What’s up next? Sodium? Sugar? High fructose corn syrup? Parabens? Nitrates? BHT? Tartrazine? The list goes on and on.

The Kitchen Think: Your Spice Rack May Be Contaminated!


Herbs & SpicesJust as we’re all about to make that deep dive into holiday cooking, the Food and Drug Administration says 12-percent of spices brought into the U.S. are contaminated with insects, rodent hairs and who knows what else.

Please… don’t pass the pepper.

The FDA took a hard look at the safety of spice imports and also found that 7-percent were contaminated with the toxic bacteria salmonella (particularly in pepper, sesame seeds and oregano).

The FDA’s report says Mexico and India had the highest amount of contamination. Most of the problems originated in the processing and storage of the spices… not harvesting. Did you know one-quarter of the spices, food colorings and oils used in the U.S. come from India?

So, what can you do to protect your family?

Cooking will take care of the potential for salmonella poisoning, but won’t help with the bits of insects, hair and other detritus.

The BEST solution is to buy whole certified organic spices (like black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.), wash them and grind them at home with an electric grinder. A lot of work, I agree, and not really practical (not to mention expensive).

Another idea is to buy your spices in bulk from reputable spice companies like The Spice House, Frontier Herbs or Mountain Rose Herbs. They tell you exactly where the spices originated so you can make an informed decision as to whether to purchase.

But here’s my question for you: Will the FDA report change how you cook this holiday season?

The Kitchen Think: Are You Eating Genetically Engineered Food?


You want to know what’s in the food you’re eating, right?

Sure, labels tell you if there’s gluten or artificial sweeteners (or a dozen other things). But they DON’T tell you if what’s inside was made with ingredients that were genetically engineered.

What does “genetically engineered” mean? It’s the lab process of artificially inserting genes into the DNA of food crops or animals. The result is called a genetically modified organism, or GMO.

Label on a Food Product made in the Netherlands

Label on a Food Product made in the Netherlands

Genetic alteration can improve the resistance of a plant or an animal to insects and disease, allow crops to require less water, and enhance taste and quality.

But, just like a product that has preservatives, genetically engineered food should be labeled so we know what we’re buying.

Sixty major food companies, including Monsanto, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Kraft, don’t agree. Monsanto’s website says:

“Such mandatory labeling could imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts.”

Are we supposed to take the word of the biotech industry that the food we’re eating is safe? Why not provide labeling so there is complete transparency and consumers can make a choice?

The FDA doesn’t require or conduct safety studies on genetically engineered food. They should. Even China and Russia require labeling!

If you think the FDA should require labeling of genetically altered food, click here. Who knows what we’ll discover about the affects of genetically engineered food 10 years from now?

Can you say cyclamates?




Kitchen Think: Fed Up With Dannon’s Misleading Labels


There are bugs in some of Dannon’s “Fruit on the Bottom” brand yogurts… and Dannon knows it.

Dannon Fruit on the Bottom YogurtBut it’s not the bugs that bother me, it’s the deception. Let me explain.

Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, Mama’s friend from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells me that Dannon uses cochineal beetles as food coloring in its yogurt.

Dead cochineal beetles are dried and pulverized and made into a red extract known as carmine, that goes into Dannon’s Fruit on the Bottom strawberry, raspberry, cherry and boysenberry yogurts. It’s also used in the Oikos Greek Strawberry Yogurt, two flavors marketed under Dannon’s Light and Fit Greek brand line, and six Activia brand yogurts.

Dannon does it to save money by replacing red berries or cherries with the insect food coloring. And I’ll admit that this is MUCH BETTER than using red food dye or other artificial food coloring.

Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Nutritional Facts

My problem is that Dannon doesn’t disclose that the ingredient “carmine (for color)” on the label comes from cochineal beetles. That’s just wrong.

We have the right to know EVERY ingredient in a product, especially since the Food and Drug Administration requires companies to disclose cochineal beetles or carmine in their ingredients (mostly due to allergy issues). But vegetarians should also know that there’s “meat” in their yogurt.

Starbucks went through this last year when the company disclosed that the beetles were used in their Frappuccinos and other beverages. They’ve since stopped using carmine.

Cochineal extract is used in an amazing amount of food products including spices, meats, sausages, jams, gelatins, desserts, icing, juices… the list goes on and on. Fine—just put cochineal beetles in the ingredient list on the side of the package. I know it’s not appetizing, but it IS the truth.

If what Dannon is doing bugs you, sign this petition asking the company to choose berries over beetles!


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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: