Lets Break Down the “Three Ingredient” Facebook Craze

You have probably seen the latest Facebook and Pinterest craze lately saying you can make these fabulous “Three ingredient” or “Four ingredient” recipes.  Hey, great!   That sounds like a possible whole foods recipe, right? I would excitedly open the recipe to find the details… only to be disappointed.

I thought I would do a blog post and break one of them down for you.  Hopefully it will inspire someone to think about these foods. I especially wanted to make sure that anyone starting out on a whole foods diet isn’t confused into thinking one of these would fit the bill.

So, lets get started with “3 Ingredient Banana Bread”. The “Ingredients List” is:

  • 1 (15.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 overripe bananas

Three Ingredients?

Don’t get me wrong.   You can make some surprisingly good foods with just three ingredients. (For example some of these recipes (but not all) would be tasty, and even qualify as whole foods.)  But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Well, eggs and bananas certainly qualify as ingredients.  Yellow cake mix, on the other hand, is a food (some would argue “food-like”) product made out of many ingredients.

Ingredients are single items like:  eggs, milk, onions, or even sugar (even though white sugar is not something we eat, it’s still an ingredient).  

Ingredients are not items like “cake mix”, “boxed pudding mix”, Nutella or anything else that is made up a bunch of ingredients itself.  If the recipe includes something like that, you need to count of its ingredients in your count too.

Closer to 20

ingredient-listSo, lets take a closer look at the banana bread.  Once upon a time, if I were going to make that I would have used Pillsbury Moist Supreme yellow cake mix.  So would my sister. :)   The ingredients list for that cake mix is on the right and has 18 ingredients.  (Many of which are made up of several ingredients themselves.)

WHEW!  Well, this may indeed be a LONG post but here we go!  

First ingredient is:

SUGAR - What that tells us, being it’s the FIRST ingredient, is that our mix has more sugar than any other ingredient.  CRAZY!!

There has been so much research on sugar (including many newer scientific studies) that we can’t deny it’s just plain bad for you!  Excess sugar consumption is considered one of the key causes of diabetes and obesity in children and adults and is tied to many other health problems. 

Not only can you become physically addicted to sugar it  can cause hyperactivity, anxiety, inability to concentrate and crankiness in children.  It reduces the body’s ability to defend against bacterial infection (serving as a food source for the bacteria,) can lead to ovarian cancer, interferes with the body’s absorption of calcium and magnesium, can aggravate arthritis, has been tied to learning disorders in school children,  gallstones,  heart disease, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and I could just go on and on! 

You don’t have to look far to find the cons on sugar that’s for sure.  I think most everyone agrees now a days that too much sugar is just bad for you. Just google sugar health risks and you’ll find a lot of information like this WebMD article.


OK, so, lets tackle this.  It says “enriched” what this really means is that they have to put vitamins and minerals back into it because they stripped all the good stuff out of the wheat already.  What did they do with the stuff they took out?  They sell it for use in other products (for a profit) and replace it with cheaper (by some reports possibly toxic) ingredients.  Why did they take it out in the first place?  It lasts longer on the shelves for one thing.

They add the major vitamins back (the law says they have to),  but not many of the really beneficial micro-nutrients, phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants which had been stripped out.   These and fiber were in the wheat before man got a hold of it and thought it had to be messed with.  The only kind of flour we eat now is 100% WHOLE wheat or 100% WHOLE spelt.  It should say the word WHOLE behind the word wheat and needs to say 100% too. (“Made with whole wheat” can mean there is some small amount along with enriched bleached flour.  “Whole grain” can mean all of the good stuff was removed but a little of it was put back. Sneaky, those guys!) 

What does the word “bleached” mean?  Regular whole untouched flour (the good stuff)  is not white, it’s a brownish color. These days, we’re used to “white”, so many people found this unappealing to bake with and were not able to sell their products.  Companies could wait (several months) for this to lighten naturally and more healthily (waiting also improves the taste BTW.)  But they decided they would speed it up and add a chemical bleaching agent such as benzoyl peroxide (this is used in medication to treat acne as well). 

Now WHO in the world decides that this would be a super thing to add to our edible foods?  Oh wait, I know!  Companies who’s top priority is profit, not our health… that’s who!  If we keep buying these things, they win.  But there are flours out there that are still good for you!  You have to do your research and find them.  You could buy the WHOLE wheat organic berries and grind them yourself.  Otherwise there are bagged products out there like King Aurthur brands and their ingredients include Certified 100% organic hard whole wheat flour and that’s it!  Not bleached but using lighter varieties of wheat and aged so it’s whiter.  There is a lot more I can share here, but you get the picture.

PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL - It is hard to have missed all of the news on hydrogenated oils. Studies have indicated that hydrogenated oils with their trans fats are one of the worst thing we can put into your bodies!  If you didn’t hear the news, listen up:

What does Hydrogenated mean?  it means to charge with or cause to combine with hydrogen.

Let’s take hydrogenated oils and see what this substance really is and why it’s so incredibly bad for you. Hydrogenated oils are oils that are often healthy in their natural state, but are quickly turned into something very different through the manufacturing and processing they undergo. This is one ingredient on our “NEVER buy” list.  Research this PLEASE! Especially if you have kids! 

NOTE:  In the 1900’s (1 in 30) deaths were from cancer and in 1990’s it was (1 in 4).   They started hydrogenation of oils in 1912 and it was adopted by the food industry shortly after.

How Are Hydrogenated Oils Made?

(Compiled from several sources, especially this article.)

Step 1. The hydrogenation process begins with an unsaturated fat.  Generally manufacturers will be using poorer quality oils like cottonseed oil, soybean oil (this is what’s used in the cake mix we speak of), canola oil and corn oil.

Step 2. The oil is then heated to high temperatures (500 degrees all the way up to 1000 degrees) to remove impurities.  This process also damages the oils, causing them to oxidize.

Step 3. The oil is then mixed with a very finely ground metal catalyst.  Nickel and aluminum are a common metal used.  A metal catalyst is needed to make the hydrogen reaction possible.  Some of these metals can remain in the final product!

Step 4. The oil is then placed under high heat and high pressure inside a reactor vessel.  The oil and nickel/aluminum catalyst are then introduced to the hydrogen atoms which are forced into the molecular structure of the oils.  This turns the oils into partially hydrogenated oils (not all double bonds are replaced with hydrogen bonds) or fully hydrogenated.  Note that trans fats, the fats that we know are harmful to our health are produced during partial hydrogenation.  If the oil is fully hydrogenated then it is no longer an edible substance.  It also no longer contains trans fats, but that does not make it a good food to eat.

Step 5. If the oil was partially hydrogenated, emulsifiers are added to get rid of the lumps produced during the previous steps.  Emulsifiers are basically soap like substances that help break up larger molecules into smaller ones to produce a smoother product. 

Step 6. The oil is then heated again to “clean” it.  Most oils are damaged with heat because heat changes the molecular structure of the oil itself, rendering it less nutritious or even dangerous for your health.

Step 7. The oil is bleached, because at this point the product will have a grey color that consumers would not want to purchase.

Step 8. The product is then mixed with synthetic vitamins and minerals, and a natural yellow color as it is illegal to add a synthetic yellow.

Quite the process isn’t it! As you can most likely tell by now, partially hydrogenated oils are not your friend.  It’s best to stick with natural fats like coconut butter, avocados, nuts, seeds, and even moderate amounts of organic ghee from grass fed cows (clarified butter) if you’re open to it. These are fats that the body recognizes, and the fats inside many of these foods actually HELP protect the body from oxidative damage.  Fat is good, just be sure to eat the right kind of fat.

WHEAT STARCH - Starches are long complex chains of simple sugars.  Particularly when it comes to grains (and especially wheat), we have a tendency to grind it, puff it, flake it, roll it, and generally beat it into submission so we can form it into any number of processed foods. This has the effect of doing some of the work of our digestive systems before the food even goes into our mouths.

It’s really no wonder that these foods are turned into sugar so efficiently within minutes of being in our bodies.  At this point it is very nearly just a sugar. This is not a good thing and should be avoided. If nothing else, the fact that it has plenty of calories and virtually no nutritional value is one reason to leave it out of your foods if you can.

BAKING POWDER - (BAKING SODA, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE)  You have to really do your research on this as well.  Some baking powder and baking soda are made in labs and filled with chemicals!  Are you surprised?  I’m not!  Seems to be the normal these days.  So just be sure to watch what your getting and read labels and CALL the company if your not sure what something is.  It’s the only way to be sure your getting the good stuff!  They are out there, you just have to look.  Here is a good choice (and no, I don’t get paid to say that) this is just what we have found.  This can be purchased on Amazon or from the Whole Foods Market. 

 Frontier baking powder

By the way, studies have shown a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. 

DEXTROSE: The dictionary term for that is… the dextrorotatory form of glucose (and the predominant naturally occurring form) – Oh gee, surprise…sugar, just from a different source!  When taken in large quantities your body cannot use it immediately, high glycemic index dextrose is quickly stored as fat in the body. This can lead to excess weight gain and eventual obesity and other  health problems. 

CORN STARCH - I have pretty much the same issues with corn starch as with wheat starch.

ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS - If you take a close look at the rest of the ingredients, you’ll notice that this and salt are pretty much the ONLY sources of flavoring in this “food.”  Unlike flavoring which come from the real ingredients in a food, some chemicals used in artificial flavors have been linked to a host of different medical conditions. 

PROPYLENE GLYCOL MONOESTERS - I had to do research on this because I have NO clue what it was.  I just don’t buy anything with it in the label because I don’t know what the heck it is!  LOL   This is what I found out:

It’s function is an emulsifier. It is used in cakes, ice creams, pastries, cookies, dips, jams, spreads and many other processed food items. It also helps prolong the shelf life of baked goods (this alone makes me want to stay clear).  Propylene glycol monoesters can cause mild irritation of the eyes or skin, similar to an allergy, on prolonged contact. It is also high in cholesterol.  Can be lethal in high doses (good thing this is listed on the 2% or less area!)  haha  All jokes aside.. I would not want this in my food NOR does it HAVE to be there. 

SALT – Not all salt is created equal but hey, salt is one of the better ingredients in the list!  To bad it’s almost last on the list! 

For your own use I recommend Himalayan Pink Salt:  Himalayan Crystal Salt is mined from deep within the Himalayan Mountains, the tallest mountain range in the world. This crystalline salt was probably formed thousands of years ago when the upheaval of minerals and earth once laying at the bottom of the earth’s ocean floors was thrust upwards to form these majestic mountains. Kept in a pristine environment that is surrounded by snow and ice year round, this salt would not be affected by the pollution now present in most of the world’s seas and oceans where sea salt is produced. And you have to admit, it’s pretty! Pretty in Pink!   

 Himalayan salt


MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES - Again, I had no clue what this is so I don’t buy things with this in the ingredient label.  This is what we found out about it:

It’s another form of an emulsifier and shelf life stabilizer (anything to get that food to last for YEARS on the shelf so they can make…YUP, you guessed it…MORE MONEY!  Food manufacturers typically use them to extend a product’s shelf life. Made in part of fatty acids, they are similar to triglycerides, the predominant fat in food according to the Harvard School of Public Health, except they are classified as emulsifiers rather than lipids. These synthetic fats are produced from glycerol and natural fatty acids, from either plant or animal origin.

The great thing about being categorized as an emulsifier (for the food companies anyhow) is that they can still label the box as “contains 0 grams trans-fats” even if these are entirely made of trans-fats. (Can you say “legislative loophole”?)

CELLULOSE - definition would be: an insoluble  substance that is the main constituent of plant cell walls and of vegetable fibers such as cotton. It is a polysaccharide consisting of chains of glucose monomers. In recent years, cellulose has become a popular food additive due to its unique chemical and physical properties when combined with water. Although cellulose can be found in most plant matter, the most economical sources for industrial cellulose are cotton and wood pulp

So why is it used in our foods?  

  • Cellulose is much cheaper to obtain from wood, than real food ingredients and is manipulated in a laboratory to form different structures (liquid, powder, etc) depending upon the food product it is used in. This make me a little ill!  
  • Humans cannot digest cellulose. It has no caloric value. The food industry tricks consumers who eat foods with a high cellulose content to feel full physically and psychologically without having consumed many calories.
  • According to the FDA “In humans, virtually 100 percent of orally ingested cellulose can be recovered in the feces within four days, indicating that absorption does not occur.” This substance just passes through your body, while lining food industry pockets. Nice!
  • Cellulose can by used as a supplement to bulk up foods with fake fiber. Next time you see “added fiber” on the label, take a look at the ingredients, it usually contains cellulose.  

WOW!  Really??  So we eat wood now?  HUH Who would have thought we would ever do that in our life time!  And PAY these people for so graciously adding it to our foods.  Hey, way to go!  Now THIS really does insult our intelligence!  Check out the videos at foodbabe.com!  Very interesting!  

XANTHAN GUM - Thickener, emulsifier.  Made using bacteria to ferment various grains.  Likely used here to provide more strength and “stretchiness” of the final product lost due to the low levels of gluten in the other ingredients (missing in the bulk of ingredients.)

While it is generally considered safe, it can cause some bloating and gastric distress in people who are sensitive and colic in young children.  Overall, not really a risky ingredient.  I’d just prefer that they used real ingredients instead to achieve the same texture.

CELLULOSE GUM - Take wood or cotton fibers, dissolve them in acid and extract the woody cell walls and you get this stuff.  A very cost effective way to improve texture and make a product move filling.

Not considered harmful. We can’t digest the stuff and it pretty much passes right on through without providing any nutritional value whatsoever.  Just the same, I’ll take some cake but hold the trees please.

POLYSORBATE 60 - Modified oil (usually, corn, palm or petroleum based) that does not spoil.  Helps make baked goods stay “moist” and prevent them from becoming “stale.”  

While generally considered safe, there are reports that it can cause damage to reproductive organs and may be involved with organ toxicity!  Because of this, the FDA allows only 0.66% of a “food” to be made out of this stuff. But why allow it at all?  

It’s all about shelf life and simulating the experience of eating a real food. I’d rather avoid it.

RED 40 - OK NOW this one really gets me upset but I will try to stay calm here!

Red food coloring is the most commonly used dye in the U.S., according to Center for Science in the Public Interest. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in candy, cereal, baked goods, gelatin powder, drugs and cosmetics. Synthetically derived from petroleum and coal, the additive is also known as FD&C Red No. 40, Allura Red and Red 40.

Although most of the dye you ingest is excreted from your body, Red 40 has potential for serious side effects, states the CSPI.  Serious side effects?  This stuff was banned in 7 countries!  But not the US of good ol A.  So yes, it IS serious!  It should NOT be in our foods poisoning us.

And yet again, they insult our intelligence but yet we keep buying their edible “food like” items?  Why?  Because we’re all addicted!  And they know how to keep us addicted.  That’s what they are good at.  Again, I can go on and on but man this should tell it all right?  This stuff should also be banned here in the USA!  Period!  

YELLOW 5 – By adding dyes and coloring to foods and a variety of products, companies can make them look more tasty or appealing to consumers. Companies have relied on this technique for ages in order to save money and sell more products. For centuries, we’ve used natural dye from natural ingredients to color food, clothing, and other products. Around the turn of the 20th century, scientists began formulating synthetic colors, derived from coal tar and other alternatives. This was done in order to reduce costs and avoid possible toxins in some of the natural compounds. 

How is this affecting your children (seeing they still use yellow #5 in most mac N cheese today yet) A few studies were done on children with ADHD. The analysis affirmed that removing foods and products that contain artificial food coloring can help relieve the symptoms of children already diagnosed with ADHD.  If you do your research, there are many other things that are affecting children!  

TBHQ - This is a preservative derived from Butane!  The following excerpt is from this NaturalNews article.

“The FDA allows amounts of up to 0.02% of the total oils in food to be TBHQ. This may not sound like a lot, but it does tend to make one wonder why there needs to be a limit on the amount if it is apparently a ‘harmless additive.’ Mind you, anything which derives its origins from butane could hardly be classified as safe, no matter how small the dose.

“Consuming high doses (between 1 and 4 grams) of TBHQ can cause nausea, delirium, collapse, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and vomiting. There are also suggestions that it may lead to hyperactivity in children as well as asthma, rhinitis and dermatitis. It may also further aggravate ADHD symptoms and cause restlessness.”

No thanks!

CITRIC ACID - Used as a preservative or to increase sour flavor.  It can be extracted from natural sources or produced artificially.

This is another “generally considered safe” ingredient.  Considering that our body produces as much as 2KG of its own citric acid daily and the fact that it is the last ingredient, it is probably far to low of a dose to be risky.

On the other hand, citric acid is used extensively in foods these days and this just adds a bit more to your diet.  Too much can cause tooth decay and can result in some serious problems. (See this article for details.)

The Verdict

There are two ingredients on the list I’d feed my family and that we would consider wholesome.  Salt and baking soda (if it contained different ingredients) .  None of the rest of the ingredients need to go into the body of me or my family.  

Even the “safe” fillers and enhancers can stay on the shelf as far as I’m concerned.  At best they don’t bring anything positive to the table. At worst they might actually be harmful.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>