Vegetables, antioxidants, fiber – these are all good things, right? Sure, unless they are actually just your cabbage-variety junk food masquerading as healthful food substances.
With gazillions of products on store shelves vying for your attention, don’t think that food and beverage manufacturers are unaware that consumers look for these buzz words, along with pictures of fruits and veggies on packaging. And they’re especially tuned into the guilty feeling that comes with snacking on less than stellar foods — guilt they make no bones about taking advantage of. Below are six examples of these fraudulent products, followed by some tips on healthy substitutes you can choose so you won’t fall prey to this snack-food scam.
Sweet Potato Chips from Food Should Taste Good:
I don’t think even the company that makes this product is quite sure what it is. While “Sweet Potato” is presented in a great big font, further down, in much smaller letters it says “tortilla chips (it’s a cracker too!)” and then the fact that it’s really: “made with sweet potato.”
Yes, it is made with some sweet potatoes, but this chip (or cracker, if you choose) is mostly made from corn. It’s essentially a corn chip, which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for. But don’t get misled by the sweet potato come-on.
Home-made sweet potato chips are quite easy to make. The hardest part is cutting the sweet potato which you can make much easier by using a mandoline-type cutter. The rest is as easy as opening this bag of corn chips in disguise.
Veggie Crisps Mixed Vegetable Snack from Herr’s:
Instead of the slick photo of veggies taking up a good top half of this bag, here’s what would be depicted if Herr’s accurately represented its contents: a bag of potato flour and potato starch, a bottle of canola oil, some “natural” flavors, more oil, and, finally – some tomato paste and spinach powder.
Considering that one little ounce of ‘real’ spinach will give you 56 percent of your daily allowance of vitamin A, 14 percent of your C and 5 percent of your iron, this bag of corn flour chips contains zero of those nutrients, so whatever amount of paste and powder are in them doesn’t amount to much of anything.
All Natural Veggie Sticks from Nice!:
Nice!, the new-ish Walgreens store brand has put a lot of thought into the package design of these potato-flour thingies they call “veggie sticks.” Front and center is a “pot” labeled “spinach” with the “veggie” sticks in them bearing a sign that says “eat your greens.” Maybe they mean the color green, as the small amount of spinach powder these contain doesn’t amount to a hill of, well, spinach.
Fiber Plus Antioxidants from Kellogg’s:
If you just went by the front of this box you may think this product contains everything you need for health and happiness; fiber, antioxidants, coconut and fudge.
With just one bar providing 35 percent of your daily fiber “value,” it sounds like a heck of a deal. But the fiber in these Kellogg’s chewy bars isn’t from whole grains, but rather from chicory root fiber, an additive that food manufacturers love, since it adds loads of fiber to foods, is slightly sweet and mixes well with other ingredients without adding a strong flavor.
Unfortunately, one big problem with chicory root fiber is that individuals can differ greatly in just how much they can tolerate without suffering from gas, bloating, nausea and flatulence. Even small amounts can set some folks rumbling. So considering what Kellogg’s is packing these bars with, perhaps you’d be better off not to try them for the first time on your way to that big job interview.
But it’s not the turbulent chicory root fiber that puts these bars in the “fake” category. It’s the rest of the ingredients, which include high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial colors and partially hydrogenated oil – making this a healthy snack not.
Green Tea Ginger Ale from Canada Dry:
I don’t care how many antioxidants they pump this with — it’s still soda! And a soda with high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient and two preservatives to boot. If it’s green tea you’re looking for there are numerous high quality ready-made brands (such as Honest Tea with honey) to choose from, or you can make your own with boiling water and some tea! I know it sounds crazy, but folks have been brewing tea like that for centuries, I’ll bet you can probably do it, too.
Garden Veggie Straws from Sensible Portions:
The folks that designed the Garden Veggie Straws package must have had a moment of truth about this product. A small moment, perhaps, recorded in very small type way down on the bottom of the package, which refers to it as “potato snack.” But that, of course, is eclipsed by the super-gigantic “veggie” name and basket of vegetables graphic.
Actually, this product is pretty much comprised of potato flour and starch with some rice flour and corn starch thrown in for non-veggie good measure. But then, there’s is the added tomato paste and spinach powder, which in some contorted, regulatory way, allows this product to be out in the marketplace with the term “veggie” in its name. (Oddly, it’s also distributed by no less than the Hain Celestial Group, one of the biggest players in the natural and organic food category.)
Are you really hankering for a healthy snack?
Then here are some simple suggestions for steering clear of scams like the ones mentioned above:
Veggies– the real thing: If it’s vegetables you want to snack on, then make it vegetables, not potato-flour chips! Carrots, peppers, celery – all these veggies travel quite well and can be easily prepped at home for any snack bag.
Organic corn and potato chips: At those times when only a chip will do, the organic section of your supermarket is a much better place to look, with plenty of varieties to select from.
Nuts: Cashews, pistachios and almonds are now widely regarded as “health foods.” Watch out, however, for ones with flavor-enhancing additives. (Actually, nuts taste great with nothing added other than, perhaps, a bit of sea salt).
Fruits: Apples, bananas and oranges look as if nature designed them just for taking on the road with you.
Homemade goodies: Do you make your own popcorn, cookies, bars or fruit mixes from healthy or organic ingredients? Then make an extra batch to take along with you, and you’ll avoid becoming a hungry ‘hostage of the highway’, buying cheap chips and fake veggie products from convenience stores and rest areas vending machines.
Guest post by Kathleen Barnes
As I prepare to put in my garden this year, I feel a little like some whacko-zombie apocalypse fanatic. I am on a fervent mission to find non-GMO seeds and plants.
It’s not as easy as you might think since Monsanto, the father of Frankenfoods and RoundUp (what a pair!) has not only managed to protect itself against lawsuits from consumers whose health is damaged by its GMO products, it has also managed to buy up most of the seed companies and insert genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into their products.
The day is not far off when it will be impossible to buy seeds that have not been modified.
Until very recently, Monsanto had targeted corn, canola, soy and cotton, but now its gobbled up the market for the seeds you and I plant in our backyard gardens. Monsanto now owns 90 to 95 of all seed companies in the U.S. While Monsanto says it has no intention of making all seeds GMO, I can only say: If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.
Let’s back up a few weeks to March 29 when President Obama signed into law, which has been dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act. The bill allows Monsanto to promote and plant genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) seeds and precludes the courts for litigating any cases contending the products are unsafe.
This unprecedented legal protection also gives Monsanto a green light to continue producing and expanding its market for GMO crops and seeds.
The danger now is that according to US laws, Monsanto always wins, even if its experimental crops are proven to be hazardous to human health and even if they cause a runaway crop plague. Now, the American government has given away the judicial power to prohibit the planting and harvesting GMO crops in almost any case.
Zombie apocalypse, indeed!
GMO foods have been scientifically linked to obesity, diabetes, immune system alterations and impaired ability to digest protein. malfunction. The Bt-toxin introduced by Monsanto in the 1990s to kill insects has now been found in the blood of 67 percent of all women, 93 percent of all pregnant women and 80 percent of umbilical cord blood in their babies.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. At least we, as consumers, have the right to know what we’re eating. Well-financed corporate interests helped defeat the GMO labeling amendment in California. Washington state has a labeling initiative pending. More than 60 countries now requires GMO labeling, but not the U.S. This is everyone’s fight, so I encourage you to get involved.
Back home, I’m seeking out heirloom seeds and plants for my garden. I found a good list at Garden of Eatin’ that not only give us a very short list of seed companies that have signed a non-GMO statement for their products and a much longer list of those that are either owned by Monsanto or have at least some GMO seeds.
Today’s revolution is with our pocketbooks. Don’t buy products from companies that have bought into the Monsanto lie.
This is a complex issue that I’ll be visiting and re-visiting frequently in the future. Stay tuned. Your health and mine and the health of the planet for the next seven generations depends on it.
All content is written by Kathleen Barnes and may be used freely if unedited and attributed.
So just how much high fructose corn syrup are you consuming, anyway? If you regularly dine out or eat processed foods, the chances are high you’re taking in more than you might have ever imagined.
Back in the 1980s, when HFCS was a fairly new food ingredient, it was being touted as “better use of an abundant homegrown crop” in a trade publication ad for Cargill
headlined “How the newest ingredient in soda pop helps sweeten the pot for corn growers.” As the ad explained it, a $90 million expansion of the company’s facilities would, when completed, give it “a total capacity of 1.3 billion gallons of fructose a year … enough to fill a trainload that would stretch 154 miles.” Which is an awful lot of fructose – the very component that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has more recently tried to downplay in advertising claiming that HFCS is not really all that high in fructose after all.
But all that extra capacity has apparently been put to use, judging from the way HFCS has morphed way beyond “soda pop” into every conceivable food product that can be made. An example of just how much HFCS is being produced these days comes directly from the CRA itself, which noted in the most recent “Corn Annual” report that total shipments for HFCS for 2011 came to more than 19 billion pounds of the stuff.
Back when that ad ran, in 1982, USDA numbers for “deliveries” of HFCS only amounted to 26.6 pounds per person each year. But that number has been insidiously rising year after year as this test-tube sweetener has found its way into every kind of food, hitting the 60-pound-per-person mark in 1997 (interestingly, sugar intake has actually declined over the last century according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures).
So exactly how much HFCS do these various foods contain? Unless you’re privy to “proprietary” information, as it’s called in the industry, you really have no way of knowing. That’s also true of the actual fructose amount in whatever HFCS “blend” a manufacturer may be using. These unknown fructose concentrations are the subject of a current petition filed with the Food and Drug Administration by Citizens for Health, asking that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose amount above 55 percent, the highest amount the FDA allows. (Read more about the issue here, and sign and support the Citizens for Health petition here).
Finding HFCS in everything from prunes to pickles
What we do know for sure is that HFCS turns up in some very unexpected places, such as the products below.
Progresso Bread Crumbs (Plain): The package says the these bread crumbs will “inspire your passion for the art of cooking…” with “authentic Italian taste,” but you’d be hard pressed to find an “authentic” Italian dish that called for high fructose corn syrup.
Sunsweet Prunes: Referred to on the label as “the American Super Fruit,” there is no doubt that prunes are a healthy as well as a sweet-tasting natural product – and one you would least suspect would harbor an unnatural sweetener like HFCS.
French’s Flavor Infuser 10 Minute Marinade: High fructose corn syrup takes the honor of being the very first ingredient in this concoction, even before water and tomato paste.
Kraft Catalina Anything Dressing: With the claim that it’s “fat free” appearing on four places on the packaging, this product is apparently intended to be used on more than salad, as the name implies. It also has HFCS is listed as its second ingredient, right after tomato paste.
Kraft Miracle Whip: Kraft calls this popular dressing a “secret blend,” but if you read the label you’ll find that it includes HFCS.
Vlasic Bread & Butter Pickles: HFCS is the second ingredient, right after cucumbers – demonstrating how easy it is to make a sandwich with HFCS in every single ingredient and not even realize it!
Mott’s Original Applesauce: Here’s yet another supposedly good-for-you-food bearing a major brand name that’s been adulterated with this cheap and unnatural sweetener. Fortunately, organic unsweetened applesauce is easy to find and just about the same price.
Krusteaz Cranberry Orange Supreme Muffin Mix: How “supreme” could the muffins made from this mix be with HFCS in them?
Heinz 57 Sauce: While the label asserts it will “add zest to steak, chicken & pork,” a glance at the fine print says it will also add HFCS, which is the second ingredient in this sauce after tomato paste.
Campbell’s Healthy Request Vegetable Soup: Also masquerading as a “healthy” product while containing high fructose corn syrup is this new version of an old standard recipe, whose label claims that’s it’s “M’m! M’m! good…for your heart.” But a study, done at that University of California at Davis, found that adults who consumed HFCS for two weeks as 25 percent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, indicators of increased risk for heart disease. And in 2011, researchers at Georgia Health Sciences University concluded that high fructose consumption by teens can put them at risk for heart disease and diabetes.
The upshot is that despite industry claims that high fructose corn syrup is fine “in moderation,” the fact that so many diverse types of popular food products have been spiked with it makes consuming “moderate” amounts highly unlikely – unless you’re in the habit of carefully scrutinizing the ingredients of every processed food you buy (or of purchasing organic products). Not to mention that there may well be even higher levels of fructose in many of those items than you’ve been led to believe.
You might even say there’s a whole trainload of it just waiting for you in the supermarket.
Adapted from Beyond Nuclear, fellow coalition member of the Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network
Citizens for Health, along with the other coalition members of Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network (FFAN), filed a petition with the FDA to drastically reduce the amount of radioactive cesium permitted in food, from a ridiculous 1200 Bq/kg to 5 Bq/kg (see why here, read why here). The Bq (Becquerel) is a measure of radioactivity. The FDA is now accepting comments on our petition and every person’s voice counts, so leave a comment in support here!
Our petition asks for a binding limit of 5 Bq/kg of cesium 134 & 137 combined in food, nutritional supplements, and pharmaceuticals. This is necessary because of continuing exposure to radiation in the wake of the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima, where reactors are still releasing radioactivity, along with atomic bomb testing and routine releases from nuclear power plants. We also ask that testing be widespread and, when technologically feasible, measurements below 5 Bq/kg be taken. Through this effort we would like a database of contamination levels to be established and maintained, with information relevant to researchers, so that movement of the cesium radionuclide in our environment can be tracked since it tends to biomagnify once released.
The current US FDA recommendation – which is not a binding law – for cesium 134 & 137 radioactivity in food is twelve times higher than the limit in Japan. Curious and deserving concern, the Japanese standards before Fukushima were significantly more stringent. Before Fukushima, nuclear waste material above 100 Bq/kg was required to be monitored and disposed of in specialized containers. The new (after Fukushima) limit for debris in the “wide area incineration” program is 240 to 480 Bq/kg. Today, Japan limits the cesium 134 & 137 radioactive contamination in food to 100 Bq/kg and the US FDA recommends that cesium 134 & 137 radioactive contamination in food be kept below 1,200 Bq/kg.
In post-Chernobyl Belaurs studies, reutersbandazhevsky-1, it appears that just 11 Bq/kg of internal cesium contamination can make children suscepitble to heart problems. At 50 Bq/kg, children can start to have permanent tissue damage.
Additionally, in a 2011 report, IPPNW 2011 Report, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), Germany, has determined that the European Union cesium limit of 370 Bq/kg for babies and 600 for adults is woefully unprotective. Such high limits for cesium could be responsible, in combination with other man-made radioactivity such as strontium-90, plutonium-239, and iodine-131 (cesium-137 is a sentinel indicator for the presence of these other isotopes and often does not exist without them), for roughly 150,000 additional cancer deaths in Germany alone if people consume only products contaminated to the maximum permissible limit. This number does not account for incidence of cancer nor any other wide-ranging diseases or genetic disorders radiation could cause.
The highest limit in Europe is half of the 1200 Bq/kg of cesium that the FDA recommends as its action limit. We should note, however, that the US recommendation comports very closely with the 1250 Bq/kg limit for most foodstuffs proposed by EURATOM (European Atomic Energy Community), the body of the EU that promotes nuclear power.
The IPPNW report recommends a 4 Bq/kg limit of cesium-137 and a 4 Bq/kg limit of cesium-134 for children, limits very similar to the 5 Bq/kg we are asking the FDA to implement for everyone. CFH believes it is impractical for the US to have one standard for adults and one for children – it would be difficult to regulate & add to the cost of implementation, so the standard should suit the most vulnerable. The IPPNW report recognizes this fact.
FFAN coalition members, including CFH, will be spearheading public participation initiatives in support of this FDA petition, adding more supporting material through petition addendums, and help educate the public, the FDA, and Congress on the issues. Stay tuned for upcoming updates and Action Alerts!
Sign (add your support through a comment) the Citizen Petition to the FDA here.
Make your voice resonate by signing this petition, Say Bye Bye to Becquerels! as well, which FFAN has created for the general public.
Reading a food package sounds like it should be pretty easy, doesn’t it? You simply pick it up and learn about the product that’s inside. But there’s a war going on in food labeling, a conflict between the words and images that call attention to the package and its actual contents, which manufacturers typically would rather you didn’t scrutinize. So they try their best to ‘sucker’ you in with containers that shout out, in Three Stooges fashion, “Hey, look over here!”
Of course when you shop for “real” food in the produce section or the farmers’ market, there is typically no packaging to read — the food sells itself, so to speak. But when you look at what’s inside most “food-like substances,” as author Michael Pollan calls them, you can see why such diversionary packaging is needed.
So what are some of the ways manufacturers entice us into buying products using misleading claims and pictures? Here are a few examples:
4C Totally Light Green Tea Mix
The hook: antioxidants and ‘green tea’ itself. Green tea has become a favorite of health-food enthusiasts due to some amazing ingredients called catechins and, in particular, EGCG, that appear to be some of the best things a body can consume to ward off numerous diseases and other ailments.
The truth: “antioxidants” is a broad term. The package says each serving contains 70mg of “antioxidants,” but it doesn’t specify what kind are in this drink, and whether they come from the EGCG that make green tea so desirable or merely from the vitamin C that has been added in the form of ascorbic acid. And since this product also contains an artificial sweetener, it can hardly be described as a health drink.
The take-away: The best information I’ve yet seen on this subject came from Men’s Health magazine, which had 14 green tea drinks analyzed for total catechin content and found that Honest Tea green tea with honey came in on top with 215 mg of catechins and 71 mg of the powerful antioxidant EGCG. To see the entire list (on which 4C is not included), click here.
Yoplait Greek Frozen Yogurt
The hook: Greek yogurt with “2X the protein of regular frozen yogurt.”
The truth: If you read my blog last week, you’re already aware that Greek yogurt is a very controversial item and frozen Greek yogurt even more so. It’s possible that frozen yogurt can contain live cultures (the reason we eat yogurt in the first place), but since frozen yogurt can possibly have acidifiers added in the manufacturing process and even undergo heat treatments, it doesn’t necessarily contain live and active cultures by the time you consume it.
While the big selling point on this product is that it has twice as much protein as conventional frozen yogurt, a closer look at the fine print reveals the statement that the “protein has been increased from 3.5g to 7g” per serving, but most likely not from “real” Greek yogurt, but from “milk protein concentrate,” or MPC. As noted last week, this is an undefined, unregulated ingredient that can come from animals other than cows and is the subject of a current legal action against Yoplait and its parent company General Mills for another one of its so-called “Greek” yogurt products.
The take-away: If you are eating yogurt for its health benefits, you’d best stick with a plain, organic variety and dress it up with your own fruit and flavorings.
True Lemon “Lemon for Your Water”
The hook: “100% natural,” “made from lemons.” Water additives are currently all the rage, and this one claims to provide an all-natural way to “flavor the day your way.”
The truth: While the box makes a big point about the product beginning “in the grove with fresh lemons selected for their superior taste,” the first ingredient is citric acid, which is almost always derived from corn, not lemons, made using a mold that feeds on corn syrup. The process of making citric acid from corn also produces manufactured glutamic acid (MSG) as well. The product also “contains soy,” which is hardly something you’d expect to find in a lemon grove.
The take-away: Most water flavorings contain some undesirable ingredients. If you want more than plain water, it’s not all that difficult to make your own flavored versions – eloquently known as “spa water” – as described here.
Hunt’s Tomatoes Sauce
The hook: “100% natural” (with depictions of fresh tomatoes) plus the supposed reliability of a long-established product from a big-name brand.
The truth: Tomato sauce should be one of the simplest of all products – made from ripe tomatoes – which is the impression that you might get when you see a brand like Hunt’s on the shelf. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case. This particular product, is made not from fresh tomatoes, but from “tomato puree” – meaning reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate, along with more citric acid, an ingredient called “tomato fiber,” and unspecified natural flavors. (It’s somewhat revealing that the product name appears to be simply “Hunt’s Sauce,” with the word “TOMATOES” stuck in in a tiny, practically invisible font.)
The take-away: While there are a lot of ‘not-so-great’ tomato sauce products out there, you can also find some really good, organic varieties. Watch out for “tomato puree” which is basically reconstituted tomato paste, and don’t let products with that ingredient fool you with pictures of fresh tomatoes, either.
So the answer to how to read a food package is quite simple: rather than focusing on the claims and graphics the manufacturer wants you to see, go right to the ingredient label. And if that appears to be a list of things that don’t sound like food, just put the item back on the shelf and find something made from real ingredients instead.