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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148 comments to Real Food Tips: 3 Deceiving Food Products

  • I’m just curious if you know of a better option for veggie straws that has a similar texture. My one-year-old can’t really handle raw veggies or pretzels yet, but he loves veggie straws, and I think part of it is the crunchiness.

  • Brandy

    (I posted this on Facebook also) Homemade baked kale chips are a wonderful alternative to the “veggie” sticks. My kids LOVE them and ask me to make them!

    • Or if you have a dehydrator, you can do crunchy kale chips that are raw (and don’t need to be prepped with any oils. A dehydrator is awesome for making all sorts of crunchy snacks, like banana chips and carrot stick chips. Then flavor with whatever spices you want, like cumin and ginger or cayenne or curry powder.

      • when I use my dehydrator, everything’s (Fruit/veggies) chewy. The bananas and apples and such. I read that banana chips from the store are crunchy because they are fried! How do you get yours crunchy?

        Nuts are obviously crunchy though.

        • Kelli U

          I agree with Jennifer. I was so shocked when my dehydrator put out soft chewy dried fruit no matter how long I dried. So all the stuff you buy in the store is fried! Yikes! Didn’t know that! I’d like to know how you get yours crunchy too with the dehydrator.

  • My guess is the spinach, tomato and beet powders in the veggie straws are only for coloring, and there are no nutritional benefits from those otherwise healthy foods in the final product.

    Interestingly, just this morning I checked the ingredients list of the 365 whole shredded wheat crackers (Whole Foods’ store brand version of Triscuits) and was happy to see the list is very short.

    Thanks for another great post!

  • Sunne

    I JUST bought those veggie sticks. I read the ingredients and it looked fishy to me but I thought there were better than the regular junk. Guess not. Thanks for the info!

  • DARA GATES

    So, to continue along the non-fat arena, is it best to drink whole, organic milk vs non-fat, organic milk? There go my WW points. Also, I like espresso mochas and have been making my own chocolate syrup/sauce using a Saveur recipe. I use 30 grams of sauce per espresso, but my OCD tendency worries about the butter, sugar and 1/2 n 1/2 in the recipe. I tell myself to get over it, but the alternative recipes I’ve tried are yucky. Any ideas?

    • Jennifer

      Lisa posted a chocolate sauce recipe/concept that I use to make hot chocolate…cocoa powder and real maple syrup. It’s REALLY yummy and easy to make!

    • Jennie

      It does depend on how your nonfat, organic milk is made. I get mine from Trader Joe’s and asked if they add back some milk solids after removing the cream, and they said they did not. I’m continuing to drink nonfat, and giving my kid the 2% organic.

    • Susan

      Dara- Don’t be afraid of fat! I would definitely drink whole fat milk versus the non-fat. We need fat. Our brains are 65% fat and they thrive on it to function and feel happy. And I wouldn’t worry about the butter either, especially if you get a nice grass-fed butter like Kerrygold. Its a great way to get some vitamin A,D and K in your diet and again, your brain will love it!

      Check out Nancydeville.com. She is a big advocae of fat and eats a pund a week. She looks amazing at 61. Also, watch the movie “Fat Head.” We’ve been lied to as far the saturated fat thing goes and the movie will explain it to you. Basically, saturated fat became the enemy about the same time Crisco and margarine came on the market. Ironic, huh?

    • Carrie

      I lost all my weight switching to real food and real fat. Whole fat. Healthy fats. And I rudeced my grain intake to one serving a day. Way more veggies, force myself to eat fruits at least once a day (i’m weird)and healthy proteins.

    • Julie

      Dara I’m on WW also. I cut out processed foods when I started WW. I use full fat dairy. I’ve lost 60 pounds since November. The key is eating full fat dairy in moderation.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Dara – I know you’ve gotten a few different answers here, but YES it is definitely best to drink whole organic (preferably non-homogenized from grass-fed cows) milk. Check out this post for more detail: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/04/15/mini-pledge-week-6-no-low-fat-lite-or-nonfat-food-products/ Also, I love mochas too and this is how I make mine: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/03/04/recipe-maple-mocha/ I hope that helps!

    • Sierra

      Dara- I was up to 185 lbs this January and knew I had to do something. Went on ww points plus- lost 10 lbs over 2 months (and ended up gaining that back!) and realized I was still not eating healthy! (Chik-fil-a, diet sodas, just in smaller amounts!) When I started exercising and switched to real food by following Lisa’s blog and getting a few recipes/tips & tricks from foodrenegade.com , I have lost 35 lbs since the end of March. Not even 2 months! This is on full-fat dairy (probably more than I should drink)no carb cutting and no reduced fat anything. I make a nutritious meal and eat a good sized portion. Now that I’ve changed my eating habits I feel like I could never go back- I wish you luck on your weight loss journey and hope that it becomes a nutrition journey as well!

      P.S. To whoever mentioned it- I also eat Kerrygold butter and it is amazing!

  • Bummer! My kids love Veggie Sticks.

  • I agree that any time something is “light” or “low-fat” means that it is ultra processed with more fake ingredients added. Light yogurt is one of the worst too. I do sometimes buy veggie straws, but probably too much. We need to avoid those too I guess.

  • Good post. :) Thanks for offering alternatives.

  • Patty

    Are the Multi-seed original from Trader Joe’s too?

  • kristy

    I make my kids smoothies nearly everyday. Last week I bought a frozen fruit mixture from Dole. Today I realized the ingredients peaches, pineapple, mango, strawberries and natural flavour. natural flavour? Does that mean they ADD flavour to the fruit?! In any case I’ll be buying other brands and looking at labels even more closely! It did say 100% fruit. Frozen is the only option where I live for most of the year :(.

    • Sandy S.

      If you are looking for REAL fruit products for you children then you might want to take a look at this. I have made smoothies with the crispy fruit and the real fruit that are awesome. http://www.snackhealthy.com/sandystoker

    • Beth

      I’ve been able to find frozen, organic fruit with no sugar or any other additives at Kroger, Target, and Central Market. You just have to read carefully, lots of them add sugar. Uck!

    • Jessie

      I buy the frozen fruit bags from Target and they don’t have extra stuff added. Just fruit. It’s a red and white bag. They also have the store brand at Wal-Mart. But you have to be careful because Wal-Mart has some that are fruit and syrup.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Yes, something vague like “natural flavors” is definitely questionable…even high-fructose corn syrup is technically “natural” so you never know what they could be talking about. Also FYI – you could freeze your own fruit when it’s in season.

      • Beth

        Quick question about freezing fruit. Do you need to put anything in the fruit? Water? Or just slice the fruit and freeze? Any suggestions or tips would be much appreciated. Thanks!

        • 100 Days of Real Food

          It depends on what type of fruit you are trying to freeze, but berries can usually just go right in the freezer.

    • Michelle

      I heard something on the radio last week regarding where “natural flavor” vanilla can come from (like the kind used in the “natural” coffee creamers and ice cream). I was so shocked I looked it up, thinking it couldn’t be true, but several different sources have confirmed it. Yes, they’re technically “natural,” I guess, because they come from animals, but I was absolutely appalled at some of the sources. Why can’t they just use REAL vanilla and call it a day? Now I’m definitely skeptical of all natural flavors…if it’s natural, then just tell me where you got it. And if it’s natural, why is it a “flavor” at all?

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