So, color me out of The Know. I hadn’t heard of Jell-O cookies until last week when Little Chef and I discovered some on Instagram. Very cool. Kinda’ odd. Jell-O in cookies? Why not?
I won’t mislead you, though. Truth is, I don’t eat the jiggly stuff. It’s a texture issue, mainly. OK, it’s also an ingredient issue. (Don’t worry, Jell-O IS gluten-free. You can read Kraft Foods, maker of Jell-O, allergen statement here. It’s the other ingredients that I’m referring to. )
Before we dig in, please don’t leave a comment about how no one should eat Jell-O because it is unhealthy or has food additives that are toxic or artificial dye or GMOs, etc.
Here, in the Gluten Free Gigi Family, we do not judge. It’s not my job to tell you what to eat. It’s not your job to tell anyone else what to eat, either. We are all individuals at different points on the path to optimal health. Some folks want to eat gelatin with red dye and sugar while others want to nosh on dandelion greens. Some are between those two extremes. So what? I’m here to serve ALL of you. The FACT is many of you want to know about the Ingredients Inside popular packaged foods. I’ve done the research, I’ve spoken to the company and now, I’m sharing my fact-based “Smart Nutrition Backed by Science” with you to make it easier for you to decide whether this product is for you or not.
Do not harm the messenger. ;)
Now, let’s take a look at both types of Jell-O – sugar-laden and artificial sweetener-laden. First, the sugar-full… (I chose strawberry flavor because it is one of the most popular. The ingredients are very similar for all flavors.)
Ingredients Inside: Jell-O
Strawberry Jell-O Ingredients:
SUGAR, GELATIN, ADIPIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE AND SODIUM CITRATE (CONTROL ACIDITY), FUMARIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), RED 40.
Sugar – We all know what sugar is, but I will add this for those concerned about GMOs – much of the sugar used in products in the US market comes from sugar beets, which may be genetically engineered.
Gelatin – If you are vegan, you probably already know gelatin is derived from the collagen in animal tissues. While gelatin can be derived from everything from hooves to horns (seriously), the majority of food-grade gelatin comes from beef or pig skin. (Does this gross you out at all?)
Adipic Acid – This ingredient occurs naturally some foods like beets and sugar cane, but the adipic acid used in foods is man-made via a series of chemical reactions involving ingredients most have never heard of – cyclohexanol, cyclohexanone, nitric acid and the list goes on. While most (about 90%) of adipic acid manufactured is used in industrial applications (like making nylon and plastics), the rest is used in foods.
Besides providing the tartness and gel texture in Jell-O, adipic acid is found in some of the following (again, SOME, not all; be sure to read labels) carbonated beverages, fruit juices, powdered food and drink mixes, imitation flavorings, dairy products and in condiments like pickles and relish.
Certain medicines (some controlled release drugs) and some throat lozenges contain adipic acid, too.
Adipic acid is considered a mild skin irritant, as all acids are. In foods, very small amounts are used.
Disodium phosphate – This food additive shows up in so many foods and requires a bit more explanation than others, so I created a separate resource for you. Please see Food Additives: Disodium Phosphate for the details.
Sodium citrate – This is citric acid, which is frequently used as a food additive. It also occurs naturally in many foods. Some individuals are allergic to citric acid due to culture ingredients (mold and corn). Due to the corn involved in making citric acid, this is likely a GMO product. Learn more about citric acid in Food Additives: Citric Acid.
Fumaric acid – This acid occurs naturally in humans and plants. When exposed to sunlight, human skin produces fumaric acid. This is a common substitute for (or used in conjunction with) citric acid in certain foods as an acidity stabilizer. Fumaric acid found in foods is synthetically produced from another, less stable acid, called maleic acid, which has few other uses.
Red 40 – Also listed as Red Dye #40, Red #40 or Allura Red, this colorant is one of seven colors approved by the FDA. This coal-derived additive is commonly found in gelatins, puddings, candies, dairy products, condiments and beverages.
While Red 40 is one of the most common food additives used in the USA, with no special labeling required to alert consumers that it is in a food, the European Union requires foods containing this colorant to have a label which states: “may have an adverse effect on activity in children” due to research supporting this claim.
Red 40 is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Sweden and Switzerland. The safety of this colorant is highly controversial, as it is associated with hyperactivity in children (ADHD) and the chemicals used to produce Red 40 are suggested to cause certain types of cancer. There is also evidence of negative drug interaction with aspirin.
Now, let’s look at the additional ingredients in the artificially sweetened variety…
Strawberry Sugar-Free Jell-O Ingredients:
GELATIN, ADIPIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), DISODIUM PHOSPHATE (CONTROLS ACIDITY), MALTODEXTRIN (FROM CORN), FUMARIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), ASPARTAME** (SWEETENER), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (SWEETENER), SALT, RED 40. **PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE.
Maltodextrin (from corn) – Maltodextrin is made from corn or potatoes in the US and Canada. The starch from these foods is cooked down and concentrated, then altered with acids and/or enzymes to convert it to its final form as a white powder. Because it may be from corn, it is likely a GMO food.
Aspartame – Known by brands names like Equal and NutraSweet, this additive was discovered accidentally when a medicinal chemist was working on a new drug for ulcers. It was first approved by the FDA to use in dry foods in the mid-70s; however, a neuroscience and his colleagues protested its approval, which was revoked. In 1981, the FDA approved aspartame again for dry goods, and this time, there was no successful protest to halt the approval. Two years later, in 1983, aspartame was approved for addition to beverages. And just two years after that, Monsanto purchased the company responsible for creating this additive (G.D. Searle company) and the NutraSweet company was born.
This additive is associated with a plethora of negative symptoms like migraines, joint pain, tinnitus, insomnia, loss of taste, hearing, vision and memory, to name a few.
According to researchers, aspartame is linked to brain tumors, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, birth defects, and more.
Now you see why I never make recommendations for artificial sweeteners in my recipes. ;)
Artificial Flavor – Your guess is as good as mine. All I can tell you here (per Kraft Foods, maker of Jell-O) is that there are no gluten ingredients, nor any of the top 8 food allergens in their artificial flavorings.
Acesulfame potassium – Another calorie-free sweetener, this additive is reported to be 200 times sweeter than sugar. This ingredient is made by combining acetoacetic acid with potassium and has received the least attention of any artificial sweetener in terms of research. Early studies connect it to similar negative side effects as those associated with aspartame.
So, there you have it, a simple dessert with a not-so-simple list of additives to digest.
How about you? Do you enjoy Jell-O on occasion? If so, which variety – sugar-full or sugar-free and which flavor is your favorite?
And remember, Jell-O is gluten-free. Please see Kraft’s Statement on Allergens here.