Sneaky Sugars & Chemical Junk: Skip the Boxed Stuffing

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s always a time for fun, family and cooking.

I like to think I watch what I eat – especially during the holiday season – but it still stunned me to learn from EWG’s Food Scores that 100 percent of stuffing mixes have added sugar in them.

Not only that, but nearly half of them have ingredients I’d rather avoid because they raise potentially “higher” concerns for health, including links to cancer, and about a quarter have ingredients that raise “moderate” concerns.

Take these, for example:

  1. Kraft Stove Top Stuffing Mix is a traditional staple in a lot of American homes (I know it was in my grandmother’s kitchen). It scores an 8 on EWG’s Food Scores, where the rankings go from “1” for best to “10” for worst. Kraft’s mix contains the chemicals BHA & BHT, which are both on EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives and may be linked to cancer.

    What’s more, one serving of Kraft’s Stove Top contains 29 percent of your recommended daily intake of sodium or salt, according to the U.S. Institute of Medicine. Kraft’s mix may also contain genetically engineered ingredients since it contains corn and soy. Unlike citizens of 64 countries with mandatory GMO labeling, American consumers are left in the dark because there’s no legal requirement to label food made with genetically modified ingredients. But what we do know is that this Kraft Stove Top mix also contains partially hydrogenated soy and cottonseed oil, ingredients that are known to be a source of unhealthy trans fat. Uh… yuck.

  2. Hormel Country Crock Homestyle Stuffing scores a “10,” Food Scores’ worst rating. A single serving gives you 43 percent of your recommended salt for a whole day, and it also contains high fructose corn syrup and more than 10 chemicals of concern, including a secret mix of chemicals under the general label “flavor” and the chemical preservative BHT. In animal studies, BHT has been linked to liver tumor growth, developmental effects and thyroid disruption. The BHT alone seems like a good reason to pass on this one.
  3. Another product from a well-known brand, Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoning Stuffing, gets a “5” in EWG’s Food Scores. That’s not too bad, but it’s in the “yellow” range because of its nutritional content. This stuffing, too, is dosed with high fructose corn syrup and delivers 35 percent of the recommended daily sodium intake in a single serving. It is also made with hydrogenated soy oil, which is a source of manmade trans fat. Here’s what Food Scores says about that:

Manmade trans fats are produced when vegetable oils are subject to extreme temperatures or pressures to solidify the fat and increase shelf life, flavor stability and palatability (FDA 2013). These modifications benefit the manufacturer but are detrimental to the consumer's health. Health experts at the Institute of Medicine recommend “that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible” (IOM 2005). The CDC estimates that eliminating manmade trans fats could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and up to 7,000 deaths each year (Dietz 2012).

Pepperidge Farm didn’t seem quite so appetizing after I read that.

So for this most American of holidays, I am definitely going to skip the boxed stuffing and make my own. But keep in mind that even then it can be hard to avoid added sugar, because many popular bread brands you can use to make your own stuffing are sugared up at the bakery. Again, EWG’s Food Scores can help you find bread that has the least sugar.

A good culinary rule is to choose real food instead of “food-ish” substitutes. Try this stuffing recipe from the Smitten Kitchen, or tell us about yours in the comment section of this blog. And if you really can’t let go of your box of Kraft Stove Top stuffing mix, then at least get to know what’s in it or take a look at some better stuffing mix alternatives in EWG’s Food Scores.

We’ll have even more reason to be thankful if we can avoid all that added sugar and industrial chemicals.

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