Monday, October 26, 2015

Meatless Monday, Hot Dog Edition

Hot dogs, though quintessentially American, are like most things regarded as such--the result of the influence of immigrants. In this case, Germans, who brought their sausages on a bun to our shores in the post-Civil War era. No one is really sure how these frankfurters and wieners became "hot dogs"; some claim the term was coined by cartoonist "Tad" Dorgan in 1900. However, "dog" has been used as a synonym for sausage since 1884 and accusations that sausage makers used actual dog meat date to at least 1845. In the early 20th century, consumption of dog meat in Germany was common, as it has been all over the world throughout human history.

Lately, though, eating man's best friend, at least literally, is falling out of fashion, even in Asia, where it is still, horribly, part of their traditional cuisine.

Here in the US, we long ago accepted that while we may not know exactly what hot dogs are made of, they at least weren't made from Fido. A new study by Clear Food, a consumer guide to food based on DNA analysis, confirms this, and that may be considered as the "glass half full" part of their report.
Of the 345 hot dogs and sausages Clear Food analyzed for this report, 14.4% were problematic in some way. Problems included substitutions and hygienic issues. Substitution occurs when ingredients are added that do not show up on the label. Hygienic issues occur when some sort of non-harmful contaminant is introduced to the hot dog, in most cases, human DNA. Here's what we found: 
•Substitution: We encountered a surprising number of substitutions or unexpected ingredients. We found evidence of meats not found on labels, an absence of ingredients advertised on labels, and meat in some vegetarian products.
•Hygienic issues: Clear Food found human DNA in 2% of the samples, and in 2/3rds of the vegetarian samples.
Yes, human DNA, even in the veggie dogs. Now I read through the rest of this article and it's never speculated upon what precisely the source of that human DNA could be. Are we talking fingers and toes here? Spit? Something worse?  Even though it's only present in 2% of the samples, my curiousity is piqued.

If you follow the above link, it will show a nicely laid-out article with easy to follow graphics (so awesome!), and it doesn't just damn your darkness, either, but lights a candle in that it lists the brands of hot dogs that did the best in their tests.

However, their assessments only determined the DNA content of hot dogs, not the wisdom of eating them or any other processed meat in the first place. Unfortunately, eating hot dogs, ham and other processed meat can raise one's risk of colorectal cancer, according to a recent study by the International Agency for Cancer Research, a division of the World Health Organization.
“Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC and found to pose some level of theoretical ‘hazard,'" institute spokeswoman Betsy Booren said. "Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer."
Moral: eating hot dogs and processed meats is more dangerous than eating … yoga pants?!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meatless Wednesday!!

What happens when you don't have a chance to blog about Meatless Monday ON Monday? You just do it on ... Wednesday! After all, it doesn't matter what day of the week you pick to go meatless, except that "Meatless Wednesday" doesn't have quite the same ring.

Now here at Ruth Notes, we advocate for steering clear of processed foods and doing as much of our own cooking as humanly possible. But every once in a while, we get caught needing a meal and not having time to cook. So this post is a tip on how to do not just a cooking work-around, but a meatless cooking work-around.

Spaghetti is an obvious go-to meatless option. Easy to make and lots for left-overs, and especially if you use whole wheat pasta, and a big green salad as a side, a not terrible meal in the health department. But, it does take a while to make, and a certain amount of preplanning, as is true for any kind of cooking. 

I have discovered a nice little secret on the shelf from Barilla called Italian-Style Entrées. They come in many flavors, but I stick to this one, because it is both whole wheat and you guessed it, meatless.

If your goal is to have not just a filling, tasty, meatless meal, but one that manages to be both convenient and not a complete wrong turn for your diet/health, this one's for you. Let's compare its ingredients with the closest thing to it, SpaghetttiOs, that it often is shelved beside. Click on the images to enlarge.



Yeah, see, this really illustrates the difficulty with the labeling system, I know. SpaghettiOs SEEMS to tell us it has only 170 calories, except that is the number for only one serving. There's two servings in that can, according to someone who has never opened a can of SpaghettiOs. So really there's a total of 340 calories. Pretty sneaky, SpaghettiOs.

Barilla uses no such obfuscation, stating plainly that it has 310 calories in the container. Now, if you compare all the other numbers, Barilla doesn't really measure up that well against its canned cousin. SpahettiOs has less fat, less sodium, and less carbs than Barilla. Hm! Well, my Grandma had a saying about that: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." SpaghettiOs has already tried to pull the wool over our eyes once with its serving size business. Let's look at the top of the nutrients list. 

See that heading, "Amount/Serving"? A slash separating two words is used to indicate the word "per," which is a Latin preposition meaning "for each", as in per capita, for each person, or per diem, for each day. In the case of this label, it means amount per serving. As the FDA explains it (emphasis theirs):
The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. Then ask yourself, "How many servings am I consuming"? (e.g., 1/2 serving, 1 serving, or more) In the sample label, one serving of macaroni and cheese equals one cup. If you ate the whole package, you would eat two cups. That doubles the calories and other nutrient numbers, including the %Daily Values as shown in the sample label.
It's worth repeating:  If you ate the whole package, you would eat two cups. That doubles the calories and other nutrient numbers, including the %Daily Values as shown in the sample label.

So this can we had thought contained 600 mg of sodium? has 1,200. Total carbs? 70. Total grams of sugar? 22. Two sticks of a Kit Kat candy bar have 21, fyi. The amount of added sugars doctors say children should not exceed in a day? 24.

To be fair, Barilla does have more fat, 4.5 grams to SpaghettiOs 2 grams/can. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Barilla's fat mostly comes from the "good" fat found in olive oil and also healthy sunflower oil. 

Reading through the ingredient lists of each of these choices is quite a study in contrasts. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity. So, this Barilla meal is mostly made up of cooked whole grain penne pasta. SpaghettiOs first ingredient is water. Water is also listed again, after a long list of chemicals, additives, preservatives, and, of course, high fructose corn syrup. Barilla's list contains only items I recognize as food. Refreshing.

Another aspect of Barilla's that I really like is the fact that it is microwaved in one minute. ONE MINUTE. No nuking it for a few minutes, stirring, and putting it back for more. Just pull back the corner, set timer for one minute. For those times when I need to food up and don't want to spend any time or make any mess to do it, this meal really fills the bill. 

The only down-side to these meals, it seems, is the plastic packaging. It's recyclable, at least, and I absolutely admire it's NASA-like engineering. 

These are pricier than a can of SpaghettiOs, around $2.49 in my market vs. a dollar and change for the can. Making your own spaghetti and freezing the left overs is still the best way to go, budget-wise. Barilla would be among the second best choices. But you, SpaghettiOs, are nowhere on my list at. all.

Did I mention that they are really good, too? I stick by my favorite, Tomato & Basil Whole Grain Penne, and Mr. Notes prefers Spicy Marinara Penne, but there are a many flavors to choose from. 

And some of them even have meat, but that's for another day.

Visit the Barilla website for a gander at the choices, and a rather amusing video demonstration of how to cook the meal.