Let’s continue the dialogue from last week’s column alerting food shoppers of the hazards at the supermarket, and how to avert them — especially contradictory or misleading claims that lurk among the ingredients listed on packages and labels. Here are your defensive maneuvers.
Strategies for Going Solo: Many products from olive oil to ground meats contain blends from different sources. The former frequently combines oils from Italy, Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Cyprus. While these might all be organic, the integrity of the product is compromised by the variety of sources with differing standards of growth and production.
Ground beef is more problematic, since a contaminated batch from a single source renders thousands of widely distributed “hamburger” meat a national food poisoning menace and huge expense (and headache) for food stores and the Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA) recall process.
It is, therefore more prudent to read labels carefully as you look for single-source olive oil; and if no single source ground meat can be found, either ask your butcher to grind your beef or fowl picks to order, or buy your own meat grinder for homemade hamburgers or meatballs.
Jumping on the Gluten-free Bandwagon: Gluten is the protein found in certain grains and their hybrids, including wheat, rye and barley. Like its namesake, gluten is the “glue-like” substance that gives bread and pasta their wonderful chewy texture, and provides a load of nutritional value. But for those suffering from Celiac Disease or a sensitivity to the protein, gluten is the enemy.
There are a slew of gluten-free products on the supermarket shelves from crackers and pastas to baked goods and even soy sauce. These are all made with a variety of gluten substitutes, such as, quinoa, whole grain cornmeal, nut flours, brown rice, millet, teff, buckwheat (grouts) and amaranth.
Sly food producers and advertisers in a ploy to boost sales are misusing the gluten-free label on food and beverages that never had a trace of gluten. So just ignore the white noise on labels of raisins, apricots, dried cranberries, canned and sun-dried tomatoes, seafood and alas, wines, Champagnes, tequila, vodka, iced teas and pure juices that boast of “gluten-free” status.
A Foot Note: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has defined “Free Range” or “Free Roaming” in vague terms, whereby, “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” This gives Farmer Fred a wide scope of interpretation so that his chicks need only see the light of day for a brief period where they can stretch their legs in the pasture, then return for the bulk of the day to the crowded coop or barn. So be leery with egg cartons stamped, “free range.” Best choice is organic eggs, without hormones or antibiotics in the chickens’ feed.
It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature: “All natural” is a murky claim that misleads the trusting consumer. The tag line is not synonymous with organic (grown and produced without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers), GMO-free (absence of genetically modified organisms) or even hormone or antibiotic free. While there are no clear-cut parameters set by the FDA for manufacturers touting their products as “all natural” — simply free of artificial colors and flavorings could probably pass the test. So if the product’s only claim to fame is “all natural,” toss it out of the cart.
Also, watch out for such ambiguous and even deceptive claims as, “zero fat,” “cholesterol free,” “light,” “made with real fruit,” “immune boosting,” “superfood,” “multigrain” and “made with organic ingredients.”
Bittersweet Enemies: While sugar is one of the most energy-depleting toxins, other sweeteners are equally as harmful. High fructose corn syrup is an empty calorie, GMO monster that creeps into everything from breads and cereals to condiments and snacks. It has been linked to obesity and increasing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, along with hiking bad cholesterol levels. The artificial sweetener Aspartame is a notorious neurotoxin and carcinogen laced in diet sodas and sugar-free foods including yoghurts, sauces, salad dressings and flavored waters — a bitter pill to swallow.
Savory Olive Oil Dip
My honest, down-home single-sourced olive oil dip is a safe bet to enliven crusty breads, pastas and sandwiches.
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons champagne or white balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon Italian parsley or basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
Method: In a glass mixing bowl combine ingredients. Gently whisk. Chill.
—For additional recipes, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit freerangeclub.com