“Food packaging can be very confusing”
-Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D, R.D., St. Louis University
In case you haven’t noticed, the widespread proliferation of nutritious sounding labels in food marketing continues; as in “natural”, “local”, “fresh”, “farm-to-table”, “organic’, and even “gluten-free”. Consumer Reports On Health has tracked food marketing and packaging trends for years. Its June 2019 issue highlights “8 foods that seem healthier than they really are”.
Veggie Sticks – Even if not always green, what could be more nutritious than vegetables?
A professor of nutrition at Boston University calls them “produce pretenders”. Made with potato flour and starch, oil, salt, and just enough vegetable powder to give it color, it is “not much better nutritionally than a potato chip”. A better choice: 4 cups of air-popped pop corn with less calories and much more fiber. Hold back from adding salt and butter.
Rice Cakes– Even the whole-grain brown type of rice lacks fiber and, like other rice products, may contain arsenic.
Flavored varieties can load up on sugar and salt. If you are going to use a rice cracker/cake at least put peanut butter, sliced banana, or humus with a tomato slice on it for more protein and fiber.
ARSENIC!? – It has been known for years that rice picks up arsenic from the soil in which it grows. Arsenic (chemically a “heavy metal” ) is a natural element in the soil. It’s truly “natural”, as in “found in nature”. It is found in trace amounts in all types of rice. Brown rice can have 80% more arsenic than other types. The region also makes a difference with Texas rice at the high end and California rice at the lower end. Can it poison you? NO. The FDA permissible arsenic level in drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb). One brand of rice cake grown in Mexico tested at 17 parts per billion, and the FDA directed the U.S. company importing it to change its manufacturing process.
Spinach Wraps – That healthy-looking green hue is often just due to food coloring.
The amount of spinach in it can be negligible. Most wraps are made with refined white flour so have very low fiber content.
Protein Powder – Most Americans consume enough protein in their daily food. No supplement is necessary.
The downside of these powders is that some brands have been found to have significant levels of heavy metals and other toxins. Peanut butter in your smoothie is a more reasonable way to add protein if you wish.
Turkey Burgers – They may be no more nutritious than regular beef burgers. Wait a minute, is nothing sacred?!
“Butterball ground turkey” has the same calories and saturated fat amount of a beef burger because of the inclusion of dark meat and skin, but “Butterball ground turkey breast” has about one-tenth the saturated fat.
Bran Muffins– Here it is a matter of size. Muffins are often cupcakes.
The Au Bon Pain raisin bran muffin weighs in at 5 ounces and packs 430 calories and 31 grams of sugar. If really desiring more bran, go with all-bran cereal.
Granola – How can a mixture of oats, fruit, and nuts not be good for you?
It’s the calories of the added sugars, fat, or whey protein concentrate. Better choice: make your own with shredded wheat cereal with some sugar and almonds added.
Instant Oatmeal – It is so “instantly” digested that it can give you a spike in your blood sugar and a shorter period of hunger satisfaction. Packets flavored with brown sugar or maple syrup can contain more than 9 grams of added sugar. Cooking “steel-cut” oats (round kernels) or microwaving “rolled” oats (steel-cut oats crushed flat) and serving with fruit, a little fruit butter, or cinnamon is a better choice.
Obviously its the added sugar, salt (sodium) and/or saturated fat that belies the “nutritious” label. A recent report from the National Academy of Medicine recommends that the maximum adult daily sodium intake should be 2,300 mg. The average daily sodium intake of Americans is above 3.400 grams.
Now that restaurants are listing calorie counts in their menus you may think you are home-free in striving to eat healthy, BUT Applebee’s Cedar Salmon has only 370 calories AND 19 grams of sugar and 1530 mg of sodium, Chipotle’s Vegetarian Bowl has a whopping 11.5 grams of saturated fat and 1830 mg. of sodium, while even Panda’s Express “Black Pepper Chicken” has close to one-half of the daily requirement of salt.
Reading food labels can be difficult . . . confusing. . . and time-consuming.
PS: A couple of my kids and their kids are not going to like this blog since some of these foods are their favorite “healthy snacks.”