Dietribes / Flavour of the Week

Exposing “Healthy” Foods


The food industry loves to promote unhealthy foods as healthy. At No Baloney, we find this practice unethical at best and down right harmful at worst. Sacrificing the health of others to make a profit is unacceptable. With this in mind, we will continue to occasionally post “Exposing Healthy Foods” articles (you can view our previous posts here and here). On the chopping block this go around are yogurt drinks, fat-free salad dressings and “healthy” frozen entrées.

Our intention is to promote healthy choices, so we do provide practical suggestions in addition to the ranting and raving! Leave us a note in the comment section if you have any others foods to be exposed in future posts.

Yogurt Drinks

If you were in the grocery store and saw the ingredient lists below, which would you choose?

Option #1: skim milk, water, sugar, cream, fruit puree, active bacterial culture, modified milk ingredients, natural and artificial flavours, concentrated lemon juice, modified corn starch, vitamin D, potassium sorbate.

Option #2: skim milk, water, sugar, cream, skim milk powder, fruit puree, modified corn starch, pectin, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavour, potassium sorbate, active bacterial culture.

What if I told you #1 is the lunchbox-staple Yop ® for $1 per bottle, while #2 is the BioBest Probiotic Drinkable Yogurt ® for $1.25 per bottle? Not a whole lot different, aside from some artificial flavour – in a 200 ml serving both contain 150 calories, 5 g of protein and 26 g of sugar  (as do their DanActive ® and Max Immunite ® counterparts), which is equivalent to ~ 6.5 tsp of sugar.

Compare that with 100 g of plain, Greek yogurt for 70 calories, 10 g protein and only 4 g sugar.

Yes – there are an advertised “10 billion probiotic cultures” in each serving of the BioBest drink – from lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidum – in comparison to approximately 300,000 colony-forming units (CFUs) in standard yogurt. But does it really need all that sugar? To put this in perspective, 100 ml of kefir contains 37 billion CFUs from 10 different strains of bacteria – with only 4 g sugar (plain) or 14 g sugar (berry-flavoured).

No Baloney’s advice. In terms of nutrient density, choosing plain yogurt and mixing in your own fruit is a no brainer – even if you added a teaspoon of honey, it would still only be 10 g of sugar! You get some probiotics from all yogurt, not just the one’s that splash it on the container – we suggest adding 2 tbsp of kefir to your regular Greek yogurt to match the 10 billion CFUs instead of splurging on yogurt drinks.

And with manufacturers having settled lawsuits over probiotic-related promises, it just goes to show that adding good-for-you-ingredients to otherwise sugar-laden foods doesn’t benefit anyone in the end. For more information on probiotics, Leslie Beck wrote a great piece on these “friendly bacteria.”

Fat-Free Salad Dressing

There’s no disputing that fat-free salad dressing is lower in calories. But at what cost?

With only 5 calories and an ingredient list that reads more like a Walden Farms dressing (though the regular version looks like a chemistry manual too), the fat-free Zesty Italian from Kraft ® packs 240 mg of sodium into 1 tablespoon… and not a whole lot else! To save 30 calories, an added 80 mg sodium seems like a disproportionate sacrifice. You are also missing out on fat-soluble vitamins, though given vitamin E’s sensitivity to destruction during processing, we not sold that much vitamin E makes it into the regular bottle either!

No Baloney’s advice. Try to make your own simple oil and vinaigrette whenever possible – sounds difficult, but it really isn’t. When you control seasoning and preparation, you control nutrient quality and quantity. Our favourite vinaigrette right now is the pomegranate vinaigrette from our Roasted Rhubarb and Beet Salad. We also really like just a simple drizzle of balsamic cream (cream di balsamico) – a balsamic vinegar reduction you can buy in most specialty stores and Italian markets.

Low-Calorie Frozen Entrées

While it may seem pretty clear that a Hungry-Man frozen meal involving an XXL pork rib sandwich is not a great choice, what about the innocuous Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine and host of other low-calorie “healthy” frozen entrée options in the grocery store?

While frozen does not have to be synonymous with unhealthy, scrapping calories (often too many!) in favour of sodium is an all-too-common concern with most reheatable entrées. While these products provide the benefit of built-in portion control, they are often heavily processed, with a frankly terrifying list of ingredients.

Take for instance the Chicken Tuscan from Lean Cuisine ® – sounds reasonable enough, right? While saturated fat is low and the meal is  high in fibre, it packs 780 mg of sodium (about 50% of the daily recommendation) into a hunger-inducing 280 calories (and only 12 oz of food)!

No Baloney’s advice. We have some basic guidelines when choosing frozen entrées – don’t just look at the information like “low in fat” or “low in calories” that they splash on the front: take a look at the Nutrition Facts before you make you choice.

  • Sodium: follow the 2:1 ratio – if the number for sodium is over twice as much as that for calories, it’s too much!
  • Fat: less than 30% of the calories should come from fat. To convert grams of fat to calories from fat, just multiply by 9.
  • Saturated fat: less than 10% of the calories should come from saturated fat. Ideally keep to less than 3 – 4 g saturated fat per portion.
  • Protein: some of the entrées are pretty carb-heavy and protein-poor, particularly the ground beef entrées (due to a lot of filler), and pasta-based meals. Look for at least 15 – 20 g of protein per portion if you are having as a meal.
  • Carbohydrates: keep to less than 45 g carbohydrate per meal portion – this would be equivalent to 3 Canada’s Food Guide servings of Grain Products. Look for higher quality carbs like whole wheat pasta and brown rice whenever possible.
  • Fibre: at least 4 g of fibre per serving is a minimum. Entrées often skimp on the veggies, so top up with your own frozen veggie mix to boost the fibre even more.

We wish we could make life simple by recommending one particular go-to brand, but unfortunately every brand, whether Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, Amy’s Kitchen or Healthy Choice, have good and “less good” options. We have found that the in-store brands from President’s Choice Blue Menu and Safeway Eating Right are most consistent in meeting our above criteria.

That’s all for this episode! Remember, if you want to see any “healthy” foods exposed in future posts leave us a note in the comments section.

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