Perhaps millions of Americans have very fond memories of macaroni and cheese from their childhood. At the end of 18 century, the future president Thomas Jefferson fell in love with mac and cheese while visiting northern Italy so that he decided to start a manufacturing in America. After 1802 when Jefferson served his favorite “macaroni pie” at a state dinner the dish has become one of the most liked quick fix American meals.
Double standards of Kraft Foods
But times change, people change. People’s health is greatly affected by the quality of food. Mass production of food squeezed by lust for profit maximization has led to flood of nutritionally poor food surrogates containing strange chemicals and decorated with bright synthetic colorants. Now you can “enjoy” eating Kraft’s mac and cheese with no cheese, being exposed to GMO ingredients or writing petitions begging to remove dangerous chemicals from what is left from used-to-be mac & cheese. Now if we want to live healthy lives we have to carefully watch what our food industry offers to us and our children.
But there is no gloomy future without a silver line. I hope you remember that artificial colorants Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 have been linked to certain health issues such as asthma, skin rashes, migraines, and hyperactivity in children. Kraft does not use these food colorings in the United Kingdom due to wide health concerns. But the Macaroni and Cheese sold in the United States include them to make the food look brighter yellow (and hence Dye Diet Nutritional Values are low: ~ 0.5 – 0.7 units) . Under the public pressure, Kraft announced last year that new pasta shape varieties for children in the U.S. will no longer include Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. There will also be a decrease in the sodium and saturated fat content, and six more grams of whole grains will be added. Rejoice, mac & Cheese lovers!
Truly Awesome Mac & Cheese
Here is even more good news: The Truly Awesome macaroni & Cheese Dinner, distributed by Kroger Co. and sold at Ralphs groceries, does not contain artificial colors. Natural beta-carotene and annatto colors are used instead. Accordingly, Fooducate rating system assigns a very descent green B grade to this packed product. Of course, it is still highly processed food anyway but other than that it seems to be OK.
Dye Diet Calculator also does produce good calculation results based on toxicity and nutritional properties of the ingredients: Health Risk = 0.0 that means there is no health-damaging ingredients in the product and so it can be consumed in moderation causing no health issues. The Nutrition Value = 1.71 which falls into moderate to good range (above 0.9 units) and indicates that this mac & cheese product is closer to food than to food surrogate definition.
GMO threats exposed
Certainly, “truly awesome” is more human-friendly than artificially colored mac & cheese of Kraft Foods. However, what cannot be seen neither from Fooducate approach nor from the nutrition facts on the label are food ingredients made with use of genetically engineered products (generally referred as GMO). Those are cheese culture and cheese enzymes. In accord with the Wikipedia: Rennet is a mixture of enzymes used to coagulate cheese. Originally it was available only from the fourth stomach of calves, and was scarce and expensive, or was available from microbial sources, which often suffered from bad tastes. With the development of genetic engineering, it became possible to extract rennet-producing genes from animal stomach and insert them into certain bacteria, fungi or yeasts to make them produce chymosin, the key enzyme in rennet.
To address the issue, unlike Fooducate and other food rating systems, Dye Diet Calculator exposes potential GMO threats by placing flashing warning signs against every suspicious ingredient so that customer may decide to take a potential risk or avoid.
Bottom line. Although on the pack it says that the Truly Awesome Mac & Cheese is loaded with the delicious cheesy taste kids love and contains whole grains, calcium and iron, I would not consider it for my family except for incidental use. Also they fail to warn us that every serving of the “truly awesome” comes loaded with 26% of daily sodium and 25% of fat. Rather than to be “loaded with the taste of salt and fat” I strongly prefer food “loaded with nutrients” especially as for children. We all know too well where the flavor in packed foods typically comes from. Therefore homemade mac & cheese is always a better and healthier solution. Enjoy your mac & cheese, please!