With warmer and sunnier days invariably comes the ubiquitous ice cream van and few people will easily turn down an ice cream, after all, it ticks many boxes. It provides fats and sugars, both of which will stimulate pleasure centers in the brain and by cooling down blood vessels in the mouth it lowers our overall temperature slightly. Also there are the subconscious childhood associations that stimulate our desire, not to mention the chocolate, with all its dopamine releasing chemicals.
If, like us, you love ice cream I am about to share some important information with you (If you don’t like ice cream, maybe pass it on to someone that does, or someone with children).
Like much of the packaged food available in supermarkets ice cream is rarely made up of the ingredients we would expect. In an effort to cut on costs most ice-cream producers have slowly replaced many natural ingredients with cheaper chemical options. All are of course deemed ‘safe for human consumption’ at the dosages present in a serving. However by trusting organizations that check food safety we may have created a boiled frog situation. We now find ourselves with a myriad of foods containing chemicals, all ‘safe’ in the dosage provided by each individual food they come in. But can we be sure that the combination of those ingredients in all the various foods could not be problematic, especially for children, who tend to be the target of most chemical-laden foods. Plus should we be happy with eating foods with chemicals that are safe or should we really try to focus on foods with nutrients that are … well, nutritious?!?
Simple questions that become more difficult given how we are used to certain foods being available immediately and anywhere… a great comfort that seems to come at quite a price.
Ingredients in ice cream that deserve some attention
High amounts of sugar in ice cream will not come as a surprise. Unfortunately this is often in the form of a fast releasing sugar like high fructose corn syrup (aka HFCS, but now also labeled simply as fructose or fructose syrup), which comes with more dangers than a simple sugar fix. To name but a few, studies have shown that it leads to high triglycerides, arthritis, insulin resistance, adiposity in the mid section as well as possible effects on learning mediated by inflammation in certain areas of the brain.
→ Look out for: High fructose corn syrup, HFCS, fructose, fructose syrup
Next comes the fat content. The amount of fat in itself is not a reason for concern, but the types of fats is. In most cases ice cream will contain some saturated fats (generally from dairy), but it is the vegetable fat/oil content that poses a greater problem. This will be a source of denatured omega 6 oils, which will at best cause inflammation in the body and at worst they come in the form of trans-fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils). Literally the most harmful thing you can eat, with health implications that span even further than high fructose corn syrup. Suffice to say it now has to be present on the label in the USA and Europe has been considering banning them altogether.
→ Look out for: vegetable oils, any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
Unfortunately there are other ways trans fats can make their way into ice creams and that is even if a full ban goes ahead. In fact the moment an ingredient is not classified as a fat it does not matter whether it contains trans fats or not, it will go right under the radar. Refined oils, emulsifiers, flavours and even colours can all contain trans fatty acids. Of these the most common and abundant in processed foods has to be emulsifiers such as mono and diglycerides (also labeled as monoglycerides and diglycerides). As labeling and restrictions or bans on trans fats become more widespread, we can expect an increase in these ingredients in order for manufacturers to maintain the current look and feel of their products without having to radically change the recipe.
→ Look out for: hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, refined oils, mono and diglycerides and be weary of more vague ingredients such as emulsifiers, flavours and colours
Of the questionable ingredients that come in smaller amounts there are a few that you may really want to hear about
Aldehyde C-17 ↔ Sour cherry flavor. A flammable liquid also used in the production of aniline dyes, plastics and rubber.
Amil Acetate (pentyl acetate) ↔ Banana flavor. Also used as a paint and lacquer solvent. It poses hazard for human health (skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation, and potential developmental toxicity)
Benzil Acetate ↔ Strawberry flavor. Also used in detergents, soaps, inks, polishers, lacquers and as a solvent in plastics and resins. In high dosages (unlikely to be reached via food ingestion, but data is unclear) can cause burning sensation, convulsions, diarrhea, drowsiness, vomiting.
Butyraldehyde (butanal) ↔ Hazelnut flavor. Is derived from butane and is also the main ingredients in rubber cement. Also used in the manufacturing of plasticisers, alcohols, solvents, polymers, rubber accelerators and cements, textile auxiliaries, perfumery and flavors. The substance is is irritating to the eyes, the skin and the respiratory tract
Etil Acetate (EtOAc or EA) ↔ Pinapple flavor. It is used as a cleaning agent for leather and other fabrics, as an activator or hardener in paints as well as being used in glues and nail polish removers. It can cause chronic damages to the liver, heart and chest. May cause irritation eyes, skin, nose, throat; narcosis; dermatitis
Piperonal (heliotropin) ↔ Vanilla flavor. Also used as a lice killer. Listed in the National Library of Medicine HSDB Database as “moderately toxic” as well as a “human skin irritant”.
Diethyl glycol (DEG) ↔ Used in ice cream as a cheap substitute for eggs to emulsify and thicken. Also used as an anti-freeze for engines, as a paint solvent and remover and to make polyester resins and plasticisers. FDA asked for a recall of toothpaste containing DEG, but it seems acceptable in ice cream and other edible products (!?!)
Propylene Glycol (1,2-propanediol or propane-1,2-diol) ↔ Used as a preservative, colouring additive and humectant (prevents drying) in foods. Also used as a solvent in plastics and paint, in aircraft de-icing fluid, automotive engine anti-freeze, liquid household and dishwashing detergents, as well as industrial soaps and cleaning fluids. Considered to have a low toxicity.
Sodium benzoate (E211) ↔ Preservative. Also used in fireworks as a fuel. It’s been shown in studies to be a carcinogenic substance, to increase DNA damage as well as hyperactivity in children. Plus when combined with vitamin C or E, it forms benzene another carcinogenic substance and can lead to kidney inflammation and damage.
Potassium sorbate (E202) ↔ Preservative to inhibit the growth of yeast and molds to increases shelf life. It’s been shown to be a respiratory, skin and eye irritant. Some studies have shown to be toxic to human DNA and mutagenic.
Polysorbate 80 (E433) ↔ Emulsifier in ice cream. Also used in soaps and shampoos. It’s been shown to suppress the immune system and it can cause severe allergic reactions including anaphylactic shock. Animal model studies have also shown an impact on gut bacteria that could lead to colitis and metabolic syndrome
So make sure to check the label when purchasing ice cream, or consider making your own. Domestic ice cream makers come in all shapes and sizes and in most cases will be able to make great ice cream in an hour or less.
Otherwise check these two great real food options that taste great and will take almost no time at all to make.
Spring back to action
The worst of the winter is behind us and spring is almost at our doorstep, on some days it may not seem like it still… but it’s coming.
During the cold months a lot of the physiological functions slow down, from muscular contractions to nerve impulses all the way to peripheral circulation. This leads to a general reduction in activity from both a mental and physical point of view, which to varying degrees we are all aware of.
Depending on the calendar and tradition you follow the March equinox may mark the beginning or the middle of spring. In any case your body is waking up and getting ready for resuming activity (at least until you can lie on a beach again!)
A great way to lend a helping hand is to provide your body with foods that can be easily converted into energy to burn. Even better if we use foods that also increase energy expenditure all together, in order to facilitate the elimination of any adipose tissue (read: fat) accumulated during winter.
Yes you have probably guessed it… Coconut oil is such a food.
You are probably already using this oil in cooking, smoothies possibly even in your coffee. How could you possibly increase the amount in your diet??
By having some yummy fudge of course
Not exactly the fudge you may know, more like a fudge 2.0: healthy AND yummy.
For those of you interested in some of the details: ½ a cup of coconut oil will provide just over 16g of MCTs. This amount consumed over the whole day has been shown to increase metabolism between 5-7%. Not a huge amount you may say, but this is an increase in metabolism by eating more tasty foods!
A little info on the other ingredients:
Lucuma. A powder made from the dried lucuma fruit. It is rich in antioxidants, beta-carotene, iron and B vitamins. All useful in giving our body a spring boost. Traditionally it was associated with fertility but recent studies to date have ‘only’ found potential uses in glucose management, blood pressure reduction and as an anti-inflammatory. Although this fruit has been used for many years, I have the feeling more properties will come to the surface with more investigations.
Baobab. A powder made from the dried fruit of the baobab tree (not sawdust from the tree ). This fruit has a good spectrum of minerals as well as an incredibly high antioxidant capacity due to very high levels of vitamin C. I will avoid quoting any of the many antioxidant scales, as comparisons between foods are still unclear due to variations in bioavailability (amount actually absorbed) of the various nutrients. But the high levels of vitamin C will support greater caloric expenditures. In a study it was shown that low levels of vitamin C could lead to as much as 25% less fat burning during a simple 1 hour brisk walk. In addition baobab fruit has been found to offer hepato-protective activity, which is just what we need in preparation for a spring clean.
Goji berries. These berries have now been around as a superfood for some time, but have been used for a lot longer in China and Tibet. Traditionally used as a tonic with a specific action on both the kidney and liver meridian, they seem to fit our purpose perfectly. Preliminary studies indicated possible uses to provide a sense of well being, improve athletic performances and even aid in weight loss. With just two weeks of use providing a significant improvement in energy levels as well as digestive function.
Like all berries they are also packed with lots of nutrients. A full array of minerals, a huge dose of antioxidants as well as probably the highest amount of protein found in a fruit (well certainly in a berry).