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Pop-Tarts

March 12, 2011

What is this? In a presentation given by Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, director of the Rudd Center at Yale University, he asked this question. Can you tell what this is?

ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), SUGAR, SOYBEAN AND PALM OIL (WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS), DEXTROSE, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CRACKER MEAL, CORN SYRUP, WHEY, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF SEMI SWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, COCOA BUTTER, DEXTROSE, SOY LECITHIN), MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, COCOA BUTTER, MILK), COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), MOLASSES, SALT, WHEAT STARCH, CALCIUM CARBONATE, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE), NONFAT MILK, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, CARAMEL COLOR, VANILLA EXTRACT, EGG WHITES, SOY LECITHIN, GELATIN, MONO-AND DIGLYCERIDES, XANTHAN GUM, SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE, DATEM, YELLOW #5 LAKE, RED #40 LAKE, BLUE #2 LAKE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, YELLOW #6 LAKE, NIACINAMIDE, REDUCED IRON, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), FOLIC ACID.

This is the ingredient list from a chocolate chip Pop-Tart. As Dr. Brownell points out, this could be any of thousands of products. He points out that the most amazing part of this list is that it contains 56 ingredients, yet it is still called food. However, even more amazing to me is that it contains nothing to help a person maintain their mental health through the day. And why is this important? Why does it matter that our foods have not only less sugar, but also fewer ingredients? It’s important because you feel what you eat and you only feel as good as the food you eat. Further, it’s important because this is a food stuff that’s regularly being used for breakfast and snacks. And if you start your day with things that are devoid of nutrients, high in sugar, and made of chemical compounds that we can’t even pronounce, we will be left feeling hungry and miserable for the rest of the day. If you don’t believe that a Pop-Tart is missing most of the ingredients to help with how you feel, take a look at the first eight ingredients: fat (highly processed oils) and sugar or items processed as sugar (refined flour).

Remember that sugar, or actually too much sugar, causes us to over-eat, feel irritable, have medical issues including inflammation (which is related to depression), and weight gain. If we remember this, it is easy to see that consuming a product like this, with 36 grams of refined carbohydrates, would leave us in a worse place through the day if consumed for a meal or even a snack.

But, perhaps this over abundance of sugar and chemicals in Pop-Tarts would not offend me so much if they were only marketed as a snack food. But the fact is that they are now being marketed as a nutritious food. The new Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts 20% DV Fiber Frosted Strawberry toaster pastries are advertised as having 20% of your dietary value of fiber and being made with whole grains. What this means is that these Pop-Tarts contain 5 grams of dietary fiber in each serving–which is certainly better then the “less then 1 gram” of the traditional Pop-Tarts. But where is the information about the rest of the ingredients? It’s no where. They don’t talk about it or even mention it. Why would they? Really, what would they say: besides the whole wheat, the other 55 ingredients do nothing but help our bottom line? I suppose that wouldn’t sell many Pop-Tarts.

Further In a side by side comparison of regular Pop-Tarts and their new 20% DV Fiber Pop-Tarts counterparts, the supposedly healthier version has only one gram less of sugar. 1 gram! So, what has happened is that the healthier version has added some fiber, but has not reduced the amount of sugars or carbohydrates. In fact, the new “healthier” version of Pop-Tarts has eight of the first ten ingredients as either being processed in the body as sugar (refined flour) or as actual sugar.

Surely extra fiber is impressive and the fiber content has increased five fold. This is true. However, if we we stop to think about what it mean to have 5 grams of fiber we find that it really isn’t that amazing after all. If we were to make a comparison to a whole food such as an avocado, we would find that 1/2 an avocado has 4.5 grams of fiber, no added sugar (or anything else added for that matter), and 12 grams of slow release carbohydrates (not to mention untold amounts of vitamins, healthy fats, and minerals).

In the end, the reality is that those 5 grams of fiber aren’t that hard to come by in other natural, healthy foods, but they come at quite an expense when consumed in a Pop-Tart. In the end, the addition of all that sugar more than negates any health benefit one might have gained from the extra fiber. And in the end, all that sugar will just leave you feeling hungry sooner AND tired, moody, and irritable.

What can you do? For starters never buy a box of Pop-Tarts again. Not even for a special treat. Make more informed decisions. Buy products that have health benefits, or at the very least won’t hurt you. If you want sweet, try a medjool date. One date contains all the sweetness you could want plus natural fiber, minerals, and vitamins.

Instead, vote with your wallet. Tell Kellogs that what they are selling is junk and is not needed or wanted. Tell Kellog’s they can and should provide food rather then this box of sugar, colors and chemicals which they are trying to pass off as a good option.

But if its Pop Tarts you crave, try this homemade alternative adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Pastry
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) organic, unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large organic egg (rich in omega-3)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) organic milk (rich in omega-3)

1 additional large egg (to brush on pastry)

Cinnamon Filling (enough for 9 tarts)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or more to taste
4 teaspoons whole wheat flour
1 large organic egg, to brush on pastry before filling

Jam Filling
3/4 cup (8 ounces) jam (no added sugar)
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

Alternate fillings: 9 tablespoons dark chocolate chips (at least 70% cocao)

To make cinnamon filling: Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and flour.

To make jam filling: Mix the jam with the cornstarch/water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use to fill the pastry tarts.

Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter with your fingers, pastry blender or food processor until pea-sized lumps of butter are still visible, and the mixture holds together when you squeeze it. If you’ve used a food processor, transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Whisk the first egg and milk together and stir them into the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive, kneading briefly on a well-floured counter if necessary.

Divide the dough in half (approximately 8 1/4 ounces each), shape each half into a smooth rectangle, about 3×5 inches. You can roll this out immediately (see Warm Kitchen note below) or wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Assemble the tarts: If the dough has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″. [You can use a 9″ x 13″ pan, laid on top, as guidance.] Repeat with the second piece of dough. Set trimmings aside. Cut each piece of dough into thirds – you’ll form nine 3″ x 4″ rectangles.

Beat the additional egg and brush it over the entire surface of the first dough. This will be the “inside” of the tart; the egg is to help glue the lid on. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each rectangle, keeping a bare 1/2-inch perimeter around it. Place a second rectangle of dough atop the first, using your fingertips to press firmly around the pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides. Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Repeat with remaining tarts.

Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.

Bake the tarts: Remove the tarts form the fridge, and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Cool in pan on rack.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jay M. permalink
    March 12, 2011 9:30 pm

    Part of the trickery is in having been inundated by a lifetime of beautifully produced advertisements where food engineers depict Pop Tarts with golden pastry and luscious fruit filling. The truth is that there is only a micro layer of filling and the golden pastry turns to wallpaper paste in you mouth. The idea of eating a Pop Tart is much more attractive than the actual eating of a Pop Tart. Bottom line is that they are a clever way to get us to shell out top dollar for low quality, colon clogging, mood crashing crap in fancy box made of American forests. Thanks for getting the word out about this deception!

    • The Therapist in the Kitchen permalink*
      March 13, 2011 6:18 am

      I agree. $32 billion is a lot to spend on advertisements. That is what the food industry spends on food marketing and it surely is not on broccoli and pears. Thanks for the comment!

  2. March 13, 2011 12:10 am

    A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch. ~James Beard

    • The Therapist in the Kitchen permalink*
      March 13, 2011 6:16 am

      Thank you for your response. It’s interesting that you mention James Beard. He is a chef who has become admired by all. At the core, as I see it, he is someone who believes in food without preservatives and additives. I fully agree that counting calories doesn’t make sense and takes all the joy out of food. My issue is not with calories, but with the things that are put into ‘food stuffs;’ things like high fructose corn syrup and colorings.

      Again, thank you and if you have any other comments or suggestions I welcome you to leave them. -the therapist in the kitchen

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  1. Fiber, Lentils, and Mental Health « The Therapist in the Kitchen

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