Keep Thanksgiving Dinner from turning into a ‘Chemical Feast’

Posted by
November 10, 2011

Fresh cranberries, sugar and water, cook up fast to make a delicious sauce.

It’s that time of year again when our minds are filled with visions of a bountiful Thanksgiving table, surrounded by family and friends enjoying the first feast of the holidays.

Here at Food Identity Theft, we’d like to help you avoid turning your holiday celebration into a chemical feast.

First and foremost, our eyes need to focus on food labels, lest we end up filling our shopping carts with a mind-blowing medley of unnatural ingredients in everything from the soup to the pumpkin pie.

The problem is the short cuts we’re prone to take, encouraged by all those commercials. Many of the components of what we might consider a “traditional” Thanksgiving meal have labels that read like a rogue’s gallery of culinary culprits, starting with:

The Salad

How can a simple bowl of greens and veggies go south so quickly? Look no further than the dressing. Kraft Free Thousand Island Dressing is an example of chemical lab in bottle. For $4.89 you get High Fructose Corn Syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, two preservatives, maltodextrin (an ingredient containing MSG) and natural flavor (which might include more MSG).

A much better choice is Annie’s Naturals Organic Thousand Island Dressing. It is made from real organic food ingredients: whole egg, onion, apple cider vinegar and tomato paste.

Pass the Rolls please

There is no excuse for bread or rolls with an ingredient label long enough to run down the entire side of the package. Bread basically consists of four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.  But take a look at the ever-popular Pillsbury Crescent Rolls and you’ll find hydrogenated oil, artificial flavor, TBHQ (a preservative) and “Yellow 5”. No wonder the Pillsbury Dough Boy is laughing at us.

Healthier alternatives are easy to find. Just about every supermarket has a bakery department where you can find rolls, breads and baked goods made with more wholesome and familiar ingredients.  Just be sure to read the label!

How about some Cranberry Sauce?

Homemade cranberry sauce is amazingly easy to make: fresh cranberries, sugar and water, cooked in a pot make a quick and delicious holiday dish.  Still, some of us prefer the canned variety. But if you buy Ocean Spray “Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce” ($2.49 at many stores) you will also be buying a whole lot of High Fructose Corn Syrup, with some additional corn syrup thrown in. Fresh cranberries sell for the same amount or less. Or, a can of Whole Foods 365 Organic Cranberry Sauce (50 cents cheaper in our location)  is made with organic sugar and lemon juice.

Oh boy, Stuffing!

We’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like stuffing. Sometimes it’s even more popular than the turkey itself. Stuffing can be a delicious side dish with an amazing array of variations. It basically consists of bread (or corn bread), herbs and seasonings. Variations can include celery, rice, eggs, fruits, even oysters.

So how is it possible that such a simple and delightful dish could morph into a chemical creation like Stove Top Stuffing Mix? Kraft should be credited for fitting so many noxious ingredients into one small box: processed flour, High Fructose Corn Syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate, numerous preservatives, including BHA and BHT, and more ingredients containing MSG. This product is an insult to the turkey and to the whole idea of Thanksgiving as a “traditional” feast.

A bag of real stuffing mix can be found in most stores. For example, Baron’s Traditional Herb Stuffing Mix, while it’s not made from whole grain flour, does have normal food ingredients such as bread, onions, sage, rosemary and celery. There are also organic options at Whole Foods Markets or most natural food stores, or you can make your own. Many delicious and easy-to-make stuffing recipes can be found online.

Green Beans are good for you, right?

Absolutely. It’s what we do to them that turns green beans into the chemical-laden concoction known as “Green Bean Casserole.”

The problem with this popular side dish  is one of its main ingredients, cream of mushroom soup, which can be a hotbed of bad ingredients, including monosodium glutamate and numerous other ingredients that contain the culprit Manufactured Glutamic Acid (yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, and soy protein concentrate, to name a few).

But there are prepared mushroom soups with decent ingredients, for example Imagine Creamy Portabello Mushroom Soup. Or you can skip all the fuss and simply steam your green beans and top them with toasted almonds and butter. Simple is good.

Finally, the Turkey is done!

Ah, the turkey. The iconic Norman Rockwell painting comes to life as the featured player of our feast. But be on the lookout when shopping for your holiday bird and avoid anything labeled “Deep Basted,” or any similar description.  “Deep Basted” means the turkey was injected with numerous chemical flavor enhancers and other noxious substances.

What’s Thanksgiving without Pumpkin Pie?

It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, but not all pies are created equal. If you’ve opted for a frozen pie, read those ingredients! The list typically goes downhill right after the first one — pumpkin. From there you can often find High Fructose Corn Syrup, artificial flavors and colors–and hydrogenated oils in the crust.

The solution: either a bakery pie with good ingredients (which some, but not all bakeries use) or an old-fashioned homemade pie. Making a pumpkin pie is pretty simple; the stores are filled with canned pumpkin which should contain one ingredient only–pureed pumpkin. If you buy canned pumpkin pie mix (which also contains a sweetener and spices), be sure it doesn’t have High Fructose Corn Syrup and check for ingredients that actually belong in a pumpkin pie, such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc. For the crust you can buy a ready-made pie shell with decent ingredients, or use a graham-cracker crust ready to fill, a good one is from Arrowhead Mills.

We wish you and your family a happy and healthy holiday dinner. Stay tuned for the scoop on holiday cookies and treats in an upcoming blog.