“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
Every time I go to the grocery store, I am struck by the sheer volume of food housed in the middle aisles… and I use the term “food” rather loosely. It seems as if the outer edges of the grocery store, where fresh foods are kept, keeps shrinking and shrinking as the aisle foods take over. We always tell people to “shop the perimeter”, but when everything in the middle is so bright and shiny, it’s easy to get sucked in and lose your way!
I am reading Joel Salatin’s book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” right now, where he details the many ways our food production system has evolved into something that would be unrecognizable to someone 50 years ago. As a result, I don’t think it’s surprising that a lot of the food products available today have been dried, fried and stripped into something that doesn’t really even resemble food any more. Just how abnormal are these foods? Can we act surprised that their nutritional value is negligible if we take a close look at the ingredient list?
Here’s a breakdown of five foods* that make their way into many grocery carts despite containing very few real ingredients – Froot Loops, Cheez Whiz, Pop-Tarts, frozen chicken nuggets and Coffee-Mate.
We’ve squinted, counted all of the ingredients listed, and categorized them as either “real” ingredients or “abnormal” ingredients. By abnormal we mean those you yourself would not add while cooking nor be able to buy at the grocery store. This includes added vitamins and minerals – I don’t know many people who sprinkle them on food!
… Number of ingredients: 32
… Abnormal ingredients: 21
There’s a reason it’s spelled “froot”. The only ingredients YOU could buy at the store are sugar (#1 ingredient), corn, wheat and oat flours, salt, and the six different fruit extract flavours (if you had a well-stocked baking aisle).
The rest? Added vitamins and minerals to compensate for heavily processed, nutrient-devoid ingredients and FIVE different colouring agents (more on these later). When they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, they don’t mean Froot Loops.
… Number of ingredients: 29
… Abnormal ingredients: 14
Yes, there are some actual cheese ingredients in there… but it’s buried until canola oil, which is the 2nd ingredient next to whey. It also contains a whopping 540 mg of sodium in TWO tablespoons – that’s nearly 25% of the daily maximum allowed. Spread with caution.
Frozen Chicken Nuggets
… Number of ingredients: 56
… Abnormal ingredients: 27
Lest you think most frozen chicken nuggets are just a breaded piece of chicken that has been fried and frozen for your convenience, the “chicken nugget patty” alone contains 15 ingredients, including textured soy flour, soy flour and isolated soy protein. See, you do like soy after all!
While *some* chicken nuggets do contain semi-unadulterated chicken, consider the breading and seasoning ingredients – guar gum, potassium lactate, sodium diacetate, sodium phosphates, potassium sorbate, … , etc. Do any of these make you hungry?
… Number of ingredients: 8
… Abnormal ingredients: 8
What they say is true – for all intents and purposes, Coffee-Mate is an edible oil product – corn syrup solids and hydrogenated oils are the chief ingredients. So, unless you shop at an industrial supply warehouse, I doubt you will be picking up sodium aluminosilicate and dipotassium phosphate at your local grocery store to make Coffee-Mate at home!
… Number of ingredients: 52
… Abnormal ingredients: 35
As with Foot Loops, “as a part of a balanced breakfast” does not include Pop-Tarts. With SIX different types of sugar, it is not surprising that one Pop-Tart serving contains the same amount of sugar as a can of soda. And don’t forget the 10 different food colouring agents, several of which have been defined as not recommended for consumption by children in Europe.
No Baloney’s advice. Eat things that look like real food and contain actual food ingredients. Unless you are eating a complex Oaxacan mole sauce, you shouldn’t be eating anything with more than 25 ingredients!
While the Nutrition Facts table is important to scan, sometimes simply reading the ingredient list will tell you all you need to know about a food. If you don’t recognize most of the ingredients as actual foods, it’s probably a good idea to put it back on the shelf.