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Rating the cakes.

Rating The Cakes

Americans love sweets. What they often don't realize is that many sweets are also fats. As a group, cakes, doughnuts, and cookies are tied with whole milk as the third largest source of fat in the average adult's diet.

The fat in cakes and pastries is insidious because those foods don't taste greasy. Few people could stomach a serving of deep-fried Chicken McNuggets for breakfast, but a McDonald's iced cheese danish has just as much fat--five teaspons.

Others may reward themselves for eating a "lite" frozen dinner by indulging in a piece of cake for dessert. What they may not realize is how "heavy" cake can be. For example, a typical 2.8-ounce serving of Sara Lee pound cake--not the petite 1-ounce serving size listed on the label--has more fat (4 teaspoons) and more calories (337) than an entire Lean Cuisine dinner.

See No Evil, Eat No Evil. Food companies make it easy for people to ignore the high cost of eating sweet baked goods by keeping fat, calories, and other nutrition information off labels. Some manufacturers, such as Entenmann, won't even supply nutrition information to people who call or write.

According to Entenmann's spokesperson, Joann Toy, the company has yet to analyze its products. (As a subsidiary of the $25 billion Philip Morris Company, Enterman certainly can't complain about the analyses being too expensive.)

To fill the information gap, CSPI sent seven of Entenmann's baked goods to Lancaster Laboratories in Pennsylvania for fat and calorie analyses. The results for cakes are presented on page 12, along with company information on 77 of the over 235 cakes we surveyed. (In a future issue, NAH will "rate the pastries," taking a closer look at danish, turnover, strudels, and pies.)

Our findings confirm that the cake aisles of the supermarket are minefields of hidden fat. Nevertheless, there is hope. By choosing wisely, it is possible to satisfy a sweet tooth without simultaneously creating a "fat tooth."

Sweetened Saturates. No doubt about it, cakes are loaded with fat and sugar. Sugar is the first ingredient on virtually every label. Fat provides about 40 percent of the calories in an average cake. But many cakes surpass the average.

Take Pillsbury's new microwave line. Over 50 percent of the calories in most of the mixes come from fat. What's more, much of it is the worst kind: highly saturated coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils.

Nor is Betty Crocker about to be outdone by its major competitor. In addition to the standard Supermoist (make that "Superfat") line, Betty has developed a small group of mixes called Cake Lovers for those who have an appetite for still more fat. Judging by the ingredients, Betty must think cake lovers are also lovers of palm oil, beef tallow, and lard. Eat enough of these delicacies, and your heart may be too clogged to love much of anything.

Grand Grease Cake. With 62 percent of its calories from fat, Pepperidge Farm's Grand Marnier Supreme Cake is in a class of its own. A 2.8-ounce serving has 7-1/2 teaspoons of fat--more than you'd get in a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese. (Many labels list a smaller serving size, but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 2.8-ounce portion is typical.)

This month's "Chutzpah Award" goes to Sara Lee for calling its French Cheesecake a "Light Classic." The label boasts "only 200 calories per serving." But according to USDA figures, Sara Lee's concoction has as many calories as the average cheesecake. Both get 58 percent of their calories from fat. Sara Lee simply makes the calories appear lower by using a smaller size than usual.

It's not just the upscale, special-occasion cakes that are dripping with fat. Drake's Yodels, Funny Bones, and Ring Dings, consumed daily by millions of school-children, average 47 percent fat. And if you've ever wondered what happens to the surplus beef tallow and lard produced by America's giant meat industry, check out the labels on Hostess snacks.

Flour Power. But shopping for the lowest-fat cake isn't always a good idea. That's because some low-fat cakes are loaded with sugar.

Hostess Twinkies and Sno Balls are two examples. Only 13 and 23 percent of their calories, respectively, come from fat. But sugar looms as number one in the ingredient lists.

Angel cakes are fat-free because egg whites provide the moisture that most cakes get from shortening. But they don't have much flour, either. Instead, much of their bulk comes from--you guessed it--sugar.

Rather than trading fat for sugar, it's better to trade fat for more complex carbohydrates--that is, for more flour.

Most companies won't reveal how much sugar they add to their products. But you can assume a cake is high in sugar if:

* the first ingredient is sugar, corn syrup, or another refined sweetener, or

* both the second and third ingredients are refined sweeteners.

For example, the first three ingredients in Betty Crocker's German Chocolate Coconut Pecan Snackin' Cake are, in order, enriched flour, sugar, and brown sugar. It's quite possible that if the sugar and brown sugar were lumped together, the total would exceed the flour, making sugar the principal ingredient.

Cake Patrol. We scouted the grocery aisles for the best cakes. They had to be:

* low in fat (no more than 30 percent of calories);

* low in added sugar (not the first--or the second and third--ingredients);

* made without saturated fats.

Two cake mixes made the grade: Aunt Jemima's Coffee Cake and Betty Crocker's Applesauce Raisin Snackin' Cake.

For those who can afford the high prices, Weight Watchers makes five cakes that appear, at first glance, to make the nutrition honor role. However, a close reading of the ingredient lists reveals that only the Strawberry Cheesecake and Pound Cake with Blueberry Topping are truly worthy. The others--Carrot, Chocolate, Strawberry Short-cake--are made with saccharin, the artificial sweetener that increases, albeit slightly, the risk of cancer.

Keebler's frozen Blueberry Elfin Loaf was runner-up. Unlike Sara Lee's new snack cakes--which are miniature versions of their frozen high-fat, high-sugar cakes--all but one (carrot) of Keebler's Elfin Loaves get less than 35 percent of their calories from fat. Lowest in fat at only 21 percent, the blueberry flavor is a more wholesome snack than most other cakes.

But when it comes to the type of fat, Blueberry Elfin is flawed. In addition to soy oil, Keebler adds margarine made with "soy, cottonseed, and/or palm oil." We estimate that the palm oil contributes no more than one-half gram of saturated fat per loaf. Nevertheless, Keebler would do well to use another oil to make life easier for consumers who can't do their own estimates.

Make Way for Muffins. Cake lovers can expand their horizons -- and their choices--by branching out to muffins and quick breads, such as banana, carrot, or apricot. Many people think these morsels are only for breakfast. But unless you want to wow guests with haute cuisine, muffins and quick breads also make tempting desserts.

Don't confuse quick breads with cakes that have fruit in their names. Most carrot, banana, and applesauce cakes get 40 to 50 percent of their calories from fat, and sugar is almost always the first ingredient. Some carrot cakes have extra vitamin A, but that's the only advantage any of these cakes offer.

In contrast, flour is almost always the first ingredient in quick breads and muffins. And with two exceptions--Duncan Hines Pecan Nut, and Betty Crocker Cinnamon Streusel muffin mixes--none gets more than 36 percent of their calories from fat. The average is a respectable 30 percent.

That's not to say they're impeccable. Among the flaws:

* Some of Pillsbury's quick bread mixes contain artificial fruit made of sugar and oil (see Food Porn, May 1988).

* Betty Crocker's gingerbread and muffin mixes often contain beef tallow and lard.

* Some of Pillsbury and Duncan Hines' muffins contain palm oil.

Kudos to Pepperidge Farm and Sara Lee for keeping their frozen muffins free of all saturated fats. On average, Pepperidge Farm uses less fat than Sara Lee. Its Carrot Walnut Muffins excel in the vitamin department, perhaps because they contain even more carrots than flour.

The Vitamin Game. In contrast, Sara Lee fortifies its muffins with 25 percent of the USRDA for vitamin A, B-1, B-2, niacin, and iron, and 15 percent for calcium. (Most other muffins and cakes supply only 2 to 8 percent of the USRDA for those nutrients.) In addition, the company adds 4 grams of fiber, largely from pea and lupin beans.

Sara Lee is clearly trying to take a bite out of the $5-billion breakfast cereal market. Unfortunately, while its muffins are more healthful than most cakes, they're not as good as cereals. Assuming you eat them with one-percent lowfat milk, most cereals provide no more than one-half teaspoon of fat. In contrast, one Sara Lee muffin supplies four times as much.

The Worst. The following five cakes are among the worst cakes you can buy:

1. Sara Lee "Light" French Cheesecake

2. Drake's Yodels

3. Hostess Ding Dongs

4. Pepperidge Farm's Grand Marnier Supreme

5. Pillsbury's Microwave Double Chocolate Supreme Cake Mix

Each gets about half of its calories from fat, and contains saturated fats such as beef tallow, lard, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil.

The Best. These five cakes are the best we could find:

1. Aunt Jemima's Coffee Cake Mix

2. Betty Crocker's Applesauce Raisin Snackin' Cake Mix

3. Pepperidge Farm's Carrot Walnut Muffins

4. Weight Watchers Strawberry Cheesecake

5. Weight Watchers Pound Cake with Blueberry Topping

Each gets no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, contains no added saturated fats, and has flour--not sugar--as the first ingredient (except the cheesecake, which has skim milk as the first ingredient). Honorable mention goes to Keebler's Blueberry Elfin Loaf, which gets a small amount of saturated fat from palm oil.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Jun 1, 1988
Previous Article:Will fake foods form our nutritional future?
Next Article:The peanut controversy.

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