Friday, January 22, 2010

No Van Leeuwen; Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's?

As we saw yesterday, almost every food purchase we make necessitates a visit to the mental checklist of forbidden ingredients. Trying to remember everything can be daunting, but don’t get discouraged; your family will thank you for even one chemical avoided.

You won’t become an expert overnight. Slowly, though, you will learn to pass on foodstuffs containing bleached flour, partially hydrogenated oil, hydrolyzed soy protein and FD&C red 40.

And even when you think you know a bit, quandaries arise. For example, two days ago, we had friends over for dinner and we made a chocolate cake/pudding (gooey!) for dessert. Vanilla ice cream would be the perfect accompaniment.

My favorite (and safest) ice cream is Van Leeuwen, which is available in the New York City area. There are no hormones and antibiotics in the milk and cream used, and no synthetic ingredients or unnecessary additives are ever present.

Unfortunately, the store had no Van Leeuwen vanilla, so I had to decide between—in my mind—the next two best options. But how to choose between Häagen-Dazs
and Ben & Jerry’s?

First, I identified the ingredients that caused me concern. In the
Häagen-Dazs, the most worrisome are the milk and cream that can come from cows administered hormones. (I’ve called the company to find this out.) Ben & Jerry’s, on its container, says its milk is from cows not given growth hormones (thumbs up), but its vanilla ice cream contains guar gum.

I wasn’t completely sure what guar gum is, but I chose it over the hormones, which I wanted nothing to do with. Later, I did some research and found that guar gum (derived from guar beans) is a thickener that also prevents ice crystal formation.

In retrospect, the next time Van Leeuwen isn't available, I'll take a pass on ice cream. I don't want to eat foods with non-essential additives, even if they are harmless (which I'm not completely sure guar gum is).

What we are willing to accept in our food is a personal decision. However, we should—at the very least—be reading ingredient lists, which will help us understand that vanilla ice cream is usually more than just vanilla ice cream.

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