Real Food Tips: 3 Deceiving Food Products

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When I give my “100 Days of Real Foodpresentations I routinely bring along a grocery bag full of “tricky” food products to discuss. Here are a few the items I share:
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1. Garden Veggie Sticks

Ingredients*(according to Amazon.com):
Potato Flour, Rice Flour, Expeller Pressed Sunflower Oil
, Spinach Powder, Tomato Powder, Sea Salt, and Beet Powders

Reality Check:
I called the company myself to find out exactly how these “Veggie Sticks” are made, and what I learned is that they are deep-fried in oil. Last time I checked “French fries” are potatoes deep-fried in oil and if you look at the first three ingredients on the list above (which reflects what this product contains the most of*) these “veggie sticks” are basically potato flour (and rice flour) also deep-fried in oil. Yes, they also contain some spinach powder, tomato powder and beet powder, but let’s face it they contain more oil than any of these so-called veggie “powders.”

Keep enjoying Veggie Sticks if you’d like, but please don’t be fooled into thinking that they are a replacement for real vegetables. I think they are perfectly fine as an occasional treat, and I would personally classify them as a couple small steps above French fries.

Real Food Alternatives:
If you are looking for a crunchy replacement snack try whole-grain pretzels, whole-grain crackers, popcorn, or (I’m gonna say it) some fresh crunchy raw vegetables like carrots, bell peppers or celery. If your kids aren’t into raw veggies try offering them with a dip like homemade ranch or hummus. You could also try making your own real “veggie chips” with our Kale Chip recipe.
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2. Yoplait “Light” Yogurt

Ingredients* (according to Amazon.com):
Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Strawberries, Modified Corn Starch, Whey Protein Concentrate, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Tricalcium Phosphate, Aspartame, Potassium Sorbate Added to Maintain Freshness, Natural Flavor, Red No. 40, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3

Reality Check:
Based on the ingredient list above this product contains more high fructose corn syrup than it does strawberries. And if you love this yogurt please don’t shoot the messenger because this information is right there on the label for anyone to see! This product also contains artificial sweetener (aspartame) and artificial dyes (red no. 40). Possibly more than you bargained for in a supposed “healthy” light yogurt?

Alternatives:
When buying yogurt there are three key things to look for…
1. Plain – Flavor it yourself! We like using homemade berry sauce or a simple maple syrup/vanilla extra combo.
2. Whole milk / full fat – Unfortunately (fortunately?) low-fat products are just more processed, which is exactly why we avoid them.
3. Organic – Unlike fruit and veggies you can’t peel or rinse off dairy products so I definitely recommend springing for the organic version if you can.

Note: A lot of people ask about “Greek” yogurt and as long as it meets these three recommended requirements (plain, full fat, and organic) it’s a good choice as well.
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3. Trader Joe’s Multigrain Crackers

Ingredients* (according to the package I hold in my hands :)):
Enriched flour
(wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sunflower oil, sugar, scotch oatmeal, inulin, rye flour, multigrain flour blend (wheat, rye, triticale, barley, corn, millet, soybean, sunflower seeds, rice, flax, durum, oats), wheat germ, modified corn starch, salt, invert syrup, sodium bicarbonate, onion powder, malt flour, monocalcium phosphate, microbial enzymes

Reality Check:
Multi-grain is very commonly confused with “whole-grain,” and the bottom line is they have similar names, but mean two different things. Multi-grain simply means the product contains different grains, which could or could not be highly refined. Whole-grain means the product contains “whole” grain ingredients, which have not been stripped of any beneficial nutrients. For a more in-depth explanation of whole-grain vs. multi-grain – including a full-fledged diagram of a grain! – check out our “Understanding Grains” post.

So with that being said when I look at the ingredients above what I see is this product is made mainly from “enriched flour” a.k.a. white flour and that it contains more oil and salt than any whole grains. Sure, it’s Trader Joe’s so there are no artificial ingredients or hydrogenated oils, which is desirable, but still this product is far from 100% whole grain if that’s what you are going for.

Alternatives:
Some whole-grain cracker options include Ak-Mak (also sold at Trader Joe’s and they are organic), Multi-Seed Original (these are gluten-free in case you have an allergy/intolerance), or Triscuits (which still contain refined oil, but they are 100% whole-grain and contain only 3 ingredients). Or you could always make your own Easy Cheesy Crackers…it’s not as hard as you think! :)
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*According to the FDA’s website “Listing ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight means that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first.” So in short – what the product contains the most of you’ll find listed first.

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140 comments to Real Food Tips: 3 Deceiving Food Products

  • Margs

    A friend of mine recommended this website on FaceBook and I have been enjoying reading the comments and suggestions. For some years now I have been cooking from scratch, learnt how to grow and can and preserve my own veggies. It can get quite humid where we live and our dehydrated fruit doesn’t have much shelf life as we don’t use any preservatives on it. A friend of mine told me to dehydrate the fruit and store in air tight containers in the freezer. If you eat it immediately after removing from the freezer it is crispy and not freezing cold and totally edible. Hope this suggestion helps the folks that were commenting on home made dehydrated food not being crispy enough.

  • Eliza

    I noticed on the third item, the multi-grain crackers, sunflower oil was highlighted. I thought sunflower oil was a good oil to use when heating the cooked item to a high temperature?…I’m not sure if you read/respond to questions to early blogs, but I’m fairly new to your blog & I’m trying to read up on all the good info! thanks!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Eliza. Here is a post on the oils that might help to answer your question…http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/05/14/mini-pledge-week-10-no-refined-oils/. We previously responded to a question on sunflower oil as follows: “To answer some of the questions about sunflower oil – Sunflower oil contains over 50% omega-6 and minimal amounts of omega-3. Research continues to show the dangers of excess omega-6 oils in the diet so they should be strictly limited. Sunflower oil should not be consumed after it’s been heated. Sunflower oil is more stable than other oils but it is difficult to find a truly cold-pressed version of this oil. It’s better to reach for other oils such as organic coconut oil, butter, or ghee since they are higher in omega-3 fatty acids. (paraphrased from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions).” Hope this is helpful in answering your question. Thanks for reading…we hope you will enjoy the blog. Jill

  • Megan

    Just saw a commercial today from Yoplait that they have removed the high fructose corn syrup from light and original yogurts. The commercial ended with something like, “Let us know if there’s anything else we can do.” Maybe they would be a good company to ask to remove their artificial food colorings (and artificial sweetener), since Kraft has been so resistant. Just a thought!

    • Elisabeth

      Yes! I brought this up before as well – I think this would be a better one than Kraft, since people think of this food as healthy or at least “healthier” … I’d rather give my son most ice creams than a GoGurt, yet lots of moms supply those in school lunches as a healthy dairy item … yuck!

  • I see that there is also corn starch in Yoplait. Anything with any derivative of corn in it, unless it is organic, should also be avoided as any GMO ingredient encourages more eating and therefore weight gain. Also scientific research has shown that there may be a direct link to cancer with GMO corn.

  • Jennie

    I wish you had said a little more on #1. I don’t know if it’s true, but I vividly remember reading about potato flour in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”: ‘Potato flour is the waste of potato after the starch and alcohol have been extracted; it has no more food value than so much wood, and as its use as a food adulterant is a penal offense in Europe, thousands of tons of it are shipped to America every year.’

    He wrote about people dying of malnutrition while eating potato-flour-stuffed sausages. Creepy, huh?

  • Thanks for telling it like it is. Hard to take the time to read labels to verify the truth of the advertising claims, but I guess there are no shortcuts.

  • Greta

    We love Trader Joe’s for the affordable organics they carry, but still need to read the labels. We like the Edamame crackers and if my 2 year old will eat them, most older kids probably will too!!

  • Jennifer

    I know #2 is for light yogurt but I was wondering if “low fat” works the same way for cottage cheese? Would regular cottage cheese be better?

  • Monica

    I love your blog, and already practice a lot of what you post here. I did want everyone to be aware that a lot of people seem to have the misguided idea that if you shop at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, you’re getting “healthy” food. But people shouldn’t mistake Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods for a store that you can just walk in to and buy anything off the shelf without having to read the ingredients label. As with everything else, if it’s not organic, you can pretty much bank on the fact that it contains GMOs. If it has rice, soy, or corn products, and it’s not organic, it’s GMO, regardless of the establishment from where it was purchased. If you read food labels, you can guarantee that just about EVERYTHING contains some form of soy, corn and/or rice by-product. These are the biggest GMOs, but not the only ones, so do some research and educate yourselves, so you can make informed choices since the government has made it quite clear that it refuses to let us know which products contain GMOs. As I always say, if it isn’t labeled, you can be sure there’s GMOs in it.

  • Evelyn Wall

    Hi, I love this site, trying to read some every day to get more and more educated!
    I’m wondering if you know what it means when ingredient lists say “natural flavours”.
    Thank you!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Evelyn. Unfortunately, here is “natural flavors” as defined by the Feds: “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” Which really means it could be anything approved for use in food. Also, companies often use “natural flavors” to protect their proprietary ingredients. Hope that answers your question. ~Amy

  • elisa

    How do you feel about “Mary’s Gone Crackers”? They are a seed cracker, gluten-free and seem very similar to the Multi Seed Originals that you recommended. My toddler loves them, but isn’t too excited about Ak-Mok. Also, they sell them at Costco, which is always a +.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Elisa. The Leakes stick pretty close to their “Ak-Maks” as thier cracker of choice because they are 100% whole grain with a short wholesome ingredient list. I, personally, rely on “Mary’s Gone Crackers” because they are gluten free (necessary in my home), non-gmo verified, organic, and 100% whole grain. That is a far cry from most crackers in a box. :) Amy

  • Heather

    Hello, I was not sure where else to post this so, here goes. Recently I noticed that Costco started carrying Theperfectfoodsbar. I decided to check out their website and am curious to know if anyone else has noticed a discrepancy in the front of the wrapper that claims “organic peanuts and honey” and the ingredient list which states peanut butter (not organic peanut butter). The bar which contains almond butter clearly states “organic almond butter” on the ingredient list so I am pretty sure the peanut butter is not organic. I would like to write them to ask why they are presenting this in a deceiving manner about the peanut butter being organic if it is not! I do realize it says organic “peanuts” not “organic peanut butter” on the front wrapper but I am pretty sure peanuts
    are not listed separate from peanut butter on the ingredient list.
    So to me that would indicate that the peanut butter is organic, until I read the ingredient list.

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