If you want some insight into the food industry, take a stroll through your grocery store’s candy aisle. There, on the labels of such products as Mike and Ike and Good & Plenty, you’ll find what perhaps is a surprising claim: “Fat free.” This is completely true, but it’s also utterly insulting. These empty-calorie junk foods are almost 100 percent sugar and processed carbs. You’d be better off eating fat.
think you’re stupid. In fact, their marketing strategies rely on it. In the case of candy makers, they’re hoping you’ll equate “fat free” with “healthy” or “nonfattening”â€”so that you forget about all the sugar these products contain.
It’s a classic bait and switch.
And the candy aisle is just the start.
That’s why the Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide has scoured the supermarket to crack the packaged food labeling codeâ€”now you can make sure you get exactly what you’re paying for. Never be fooled by misleading
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Organic Junk Food
Kraft Original Macaroni and Cheese
The Claim: “USDA organic”
The Truth: It’s organic so it must
be healthy, right? Not so much. For an extra 60 cents per box, consumers save 20
calories and 1 gram of fat. They also gain 2 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber,
and 50 milligrams of sodium and they lose 6 percent of their daily iron. The
point is, even organic junk food is still junk food. Your body processes organic
refined flour and powdered cheese the same way it does conventional, so at the
end of the day it’s still a high-calorie, low-nutrient
What You Really Want: If you must have mac,
pick one with a label that reads like the recipe you’d use to fix it at home.
Annie’s line of macaroni and cheese contains about eight ingredients per box and
cuts the fat by 72 percent over Kraft Organic.
100 Percent Misleading
Tropicana Pure 100% Juice Pomegranate
The Claim: “100% juice pomegranate blueberry”
The Truth: Drinks may be labeled 100 percent pure juice, but
that doesn’t mean they’re made exclusively with the advertised juice.
Pomegranate and blueberry get top billing here, even though the ingredient listÂ reveals that par, apple, and grape juices are among the first four ingredients.
These juices are used because they’re cheap to produce and because they’re veryÂ sweet-likely to keep you coming back for more. Labels loaded with of-the-momentÂ superfoods like acai and pomegranate are especially susceptible to this type ofÂ trickery.
What You Really Want: To avoid the huge sugarÂ surge, pick single-fruit juices. POM and R.W. Knudsen both make some reliably pure products.
A Not-So-Juicy Cocktail
Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry
The Claim: “Juice drink”
The Truth: Words like “juice drink” and “juice cocktail” are
industry euphemisms for a huge dose of sugar water. In this case, the product isÂ also adorned with a cluster of other claims that attempt to hide this simpleÂ fact. (Most of Ocean Spray’s juice products suffer from a serious lack of juice;Â this particular one, with just 18 percent juice, is one of the worst offenders.)
Ocean Spray, to be sure, is not the only juice purveyor guilty of this sleightÂ of hand: Dozens of manufacturers, including Welch’s, Minute Maid, and SunnyD,Â perpetrate similar nutritional injustices.
What You Really Want: Every juice that hits your lips should be 100 percent juice.Â Period.
The Claim: “Chocolate drink”
The Truth: Ever notice the conspicuous absence of milk in
the title of this popular drink? The first ingredient in this kid-favorite is
water, the second high-fructose corn syrup; in fact, nonfat dry milk does notÂ appear until the ninth ingredient, three slots below partially hydrogenatedÂ soybean oil. As a result, Yoo-Hoo offers less than half the calcium and vitamin D provided by the real thing.
What You Really Want:
Yoo-Hoo is fine for the occasional indulgence, but for a kid in need of
nutrition, real milk will always be the better choice. Organic Valley’s
Chocolate Lowfat Milk comes in 8-ounc cartons for automatic portion control.
The Claim: “All Natural Flavors”
The Truth: The FDA doesn’t have a definition for this claim.
Case in point: 7UP now boasts that it’s made with 100 percent naturalÂ ingredients. That’s because they’ve switched from carbonated water to filteredÂ water, from citric acid to natural citric acid, and from calcium disodium EDT toÂ natural potassium citrate. Got it? Here’s the kicker: The soft drink is stillÂ sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, which can’t be made without the help of
What You Really Want: A healthy choice,
like lemon and seltzer. 7UP’s tactic is employed primarily by companies makingÂ junk food (see also: Natural Cheetos). Considering that the calorie counts are nearly always identical with their “unnatural” brethren (in the case of 7UP, calories and sugar counts are the exact same), concentrate on the bigger issues and find reliably healthy drinks and snacks.
The “Health” Food That Isn’t
Healthy Choice Sweet & Sour Chicken
The Claim: “Healthy Choice”
The Truth: A company can call itself whatever it wants, but
that doesn’t give credence to the name. Healthy Choice even provides a handful of nutritional stats-430 calories, 9 grams fat, 600 milligrams sodium-to back up the name, but they neglect to mention the 29 grams of added sugars used in this dish. The six different forms of sweeteners in the ingredient list combine to
give this less-than-healthy choice almost the same amount of sugar as a Snickers bar. Many Healthy Choice selections are reliably nutritious; this is not one of them.
What You Really Want: Dinner that doesn’t taste
like a bowl of ice cream. While fat and calories are important considerations in everything you eat, be sure to read the fine print. Companies with healthy label claims often pull the bait and switch, going low in fat but then elevating the sugar or sodium to up the flavor quotient.
The Freezer Burn
Tofutti Vanilla Almond Bark
The Claims: “No butterfat”; “no cholesterol”
The Truth: Though both of these claims are technically true,
they paint a false sense of security in the person looking for a healthyÂ indulgence. Ignore front label claims (Tofutti is not made with dairy, so byÂ definition it can’t have butterfat or cholesterol) and flip the package for theÂ straight scoop; here you’ll see that this ice cream substitute still has 15Â grams of fat and 16 grams of sugar per serving-as high as most full-fledged iceÂ creams.
What You Really Want: If you’re lactose
intolerant, both Soy Delicious and Soy Dream make reliably low-cal non-dairyÂ creams. If you’re just looking for a healthy ice cream fix, try Breyers Double Churn.
(Kind of) “Real” Food
Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Nuggets
The Claims: “Made with real chicken”; “made with real cheese”
The Truth: Yes, there is actual chicken in these
“nugget-shaped patties,” but it shares space with 17 other ingredients,Â including textured soy protein and modified food starch. The mac with “realÂ cheese” does have cheddar, but it also has 34 other ingredients, including theÂ carb filler maltodextrin. Rule of thumb: If a product makes claims about itsÂ realness on the package, be skeptical.
What You Really
Want: To eat more food and fewer science experiments. While it’s trickyÂ with our industrialized food complex, stick to items with as few ingredients asÂ possible. If they’re chicken nuggets, that means chicken, bread crumbs, and oil. Foster Farms Breast Nuggets fit the bill.
The Cheeseless Cheese Pizza
Mama Celeste Original Pizza
The Claim: “Original Pizza”
The Truth: Ever had a pizza without cheese? Well, if you eat
this one you will have, since Mama Celeste doesn’t use a single shred of realÂ cheese in making this problematic pie. What does she use? Imitation mozzarella,Â which is the second ingredient on the list and is composed mostly of partially hydrogenated soybean oil, endowing each serving with 5 grams of nasty transÂ fats. Also watch out for the attachment of the word “flavored,” as in
“strawberry-flavored”; it’s a surefire sign that the product is utterly
What You Really Want: Cheese, strawberries,Â or whatever you think it is you’re getting. If the name or flavor in the food’s title isn’t one of the first few ingredients, find another product.
The Absent Avocado
The Claim: “Guacamole”
The Truth: This “guacamole” dip is comprised of less than 2
percent avocado; the rest of the green goo is a cluster of fillers and
chemicals, including modified food starch, soybean oils, locust bean gum, andÂ food coloring. Dean’s isn’t alone in this guacamole caper; most guacs with theÂ word “dip” attached to them suffer from a lack of avocado. This was brought toÂ light when a California woman filed a lawsuit against Dean’s after she noticedÂ “it just didn’t taste avocado-y.” Similarly, a British judge ruled that PringlesÂ are not technically chips, being that they have only 42 percent potato in them.
What You Really Want: If you want theÂ heart-healthy fat, you’ll need avocado. Wholly Guacamole makes a great guac, orÂ mash up a bowl yourself.
The Unnatural Fruit
Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bar
The Claim: “Naturally and artificially flavored”
The Truth: While the FDA requires manufacturers to disclose
the use of artificial flavoring on the front of the box, the requirements forÂ what is considered “natural” and “real” are not strict: Even trace amounts ofÂ the essence or extract of fruit counts as natural. So yes, there is fruit inÂ this bar, but it falls third in the ingredients list, behind HFCS and cornÂ syrup.
What You Really Want: An honest snack with
nothing to hide. LĂ¤rabars, one of our favorite snacks in the aisle, are made with nothing more than dried fruit and nuts.
The Hidden Trans Fats
The Claim: “Zero gram trans fats”
The Truth: FDA allows manufacturers to make this claim when
their products contain less than 0.5 gram of trans fats per serving. It may seemÂ insignificant, but 0.49 gram of this nefarious fat can add up
What You Really Want: Keep total trans fatÂ intake to no more than 1 percent of total calories-about 2.5 grams per day for most adults. That means reading the ingredients list (especially those that proclaim to be trans-fat free) looking for “partially hydrogenated,” “shortening,” or “interesterified.”
The Conspicuous Trans Fats
Pop Secret Homestyle Popcorn
The Claim: “Made with a sprinkle of salt and a taste of butter”
The Truth: The taste of the butter is actually the taste of
partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which imbues on this greasy bag a total ofÂ 18 grams of trans fats-more than seven times what you should safely consume in a day, according to the American Heart Association. No area of the supermarket is more riddles with these fats-proven to increase the risk of coronary heart disease-than the snack aisles, so be on high alert.
Really Want: Unadulterated popcorn. Buy a low-calorie bag like Smart Balance Smart Movie-Style, then flavor it at home with a bit of heart-healthy olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese, and fresh herbs.
Home Pride Wheat Bread
The Claims: “1 gram of fat per slice”; “wheat bread”
The Truth: This over-trumpeted claim (since when has bread
contained much fat, anyway?) tries to distract from the fact that each slice has three times more sugar than fiber. Whatever wheat that went into this bread was stripped of all of its meaningful nutrients. Perhaps most concerning, the ingredients list here is more than a dozen items long, many of them unpronounceable additives, chemicals, and preservatives. Whatever happened to
the days when bread was just flour, water, and yeast?
What YouÂ Really Want: Ignore fat when it comes to bread; there’s rarely enough in a slice to make a real difference. More important, seek out a bread with more fiber per slice than sugar and with as few ingredients as possible.
The Fat Fake-Out
Smucker’s Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter
The Claim: “25% less fat than regular natural peanut butter”
The Truth: Smucker’s has indeed removed some of the fat from
the peanut butter, but they’ve replaced it with maltodextrin, a carbohydrate
used as a cheap filler in many processed foods. This means you’re trading the
healthy fat from peanuts for empty carbs, double the sugar, and a savings of a
meager 10 calories.
What You Really Want: The realÂ stuff: no oils, fillers, or added sugars. Just peanuts and salt. Smucker’sÂ Natural fits the bill, as do many other peanut butters out there.
The Cereal Conundrum
Kellogg’s Smart Start Cereal
The Claim: “Lightly sweetened”
The Truth: Unregulated by the USDA, the word “lightly” gets
tossed around like a Frisbee in the food packaging world. Always take it with a
grain of salt; in many instances, “light” is the first sign of trouble. With
this healthy-sounding cereal, “lightly” means 14 grams of sugar from 5 different
sources, all of which adds up to a cereal with more added sugars per serving
than Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, or Apple Jacks.
What YouÂ Really Want: A cereal with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving (andÂ ideally less than 5), with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Look at cereal
as a sugar-to-fiber ratio; you want a ratio no higher than two to one.
The Vitamin Vacuum
Kelloggs Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
The Claim: “Good source of 7 vitamins and minerals”
The Truth: Five of the seven
vitamins and minerals are derived from this product’s first ingredient-enriched
flour. That’s the code word for “refined flour that’s had nutrients added to it
after it’s been stripped of fiber.”
What You ReallyÂ Want: A breakfast without the nutritional profile of a dessert. StudiesÂ show that people who opt for high-quality protein (eggs, yogurt) over refinedÂ carbohydrates (pancakes, bagels, Pop-Tarts) lose weight faster and maintainÂ higher levels of energy throughout the day.
Thanks for reading!