Misleading Product Roundup: Don’t be Fooled

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Today I am sharing a “roundup” of the misleading products I’ve been sharing on Facebook lately. Just in case you missed some or need a friendly reminder…please don’t let the food industry fool you with these products!

Taco Seasoning

Taco Seasoning - misleading products on 100 Days of Real FoodI couldn’t believe it when I looked at the back of this taco seasoning packet and saw “Maltodextrin” as the first item on the ingredient list (meaning what it contains the most of). Maltodextrin is a filler found in highly processed foods and is usually made from corn. I don’t know about you but it’s not an additive I cook with at home. So then why would it be the main ingredient in something as simple as taco seasoning?

Real Food Alternative: Throw together a big batch of homemade taco seasoning by combining 1 tablespoon of chili powder and 1 ½ teaspoons each of cumin, oregano, and salt. Add some red pepper to taste then store in an airtight container. I use 2 ½ teaspoons of taco seasoning per 1 pound of ground meat. Also check out my taco salad recipe for a different take on tacos! 

Pasta “Plus”

Past Plus - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food This is the pasta I used to buy before we cut out processed food because I thought it was the “healthier” stuff. But, the thing that makes pasta “real” is being made with whole grains. The first ingredient in this pasta (and what it contains the most of) is “semolina” flour, which is actually a refined grain. The whole grain version of semolina is called whole durum wheat.

Real Food Alternative: Whole-wheat pasta is pretty easy to find and usually only contains 1 ingredient: whole durum wheat. And the word “whole” is very important! If you are new to understanding grains check out our post about grains for more info.

Breadcrumbs

 bread crumbs - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food It’s amazing how the food industry can take something as simple as plain breadcrumbs and make them full of so much junk. This one has more than 30 ingredients including high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (a.k.a. trans fat)! Not to mention it’s made with highly refined white flour (labeled as enriched flour).

Real Food Alternative: It’s easy to make your own bread crumbs (there’s a recipe at the end of this post), but if you don’t have time I like “Ian’s Whole-Wheat Panko Bread Crumbs” made with only a few simple ingredients. It comes in a yellow bag and is available in some grocery stores and on Amazon.

Strawberries and Cream Oatmeal

Oatmeal  - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food Out of all the label reading I do this one really upsets me. Quaker (you know the “heart healthy” breakfast) says this on their website about their Strawberries and Cream Oatmeal, “Imagine a warm summer morning and a fresh bowl of juicy, sun-ripened strawberries topped with rich, dairy cream. Now imagine all of that warmth and rich flavor in a bowl of Quaker Oats.” Yet, when you actually read the ingredients you’ll find that the pictured red fruit chunks aren’t even strawberries! They are dehydrated apple pieces treated with artificial strawberry flavor and red dye. Not to mention this product also contains partially hydrogenated oil (a.k.a. trans fat), and a few other strange things I would never make oatmeal with at home.

Real Food Alternative: The key to products like oatmeal (and yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.) is to always buy plain and flavor them yourself! Check out our basic oatmeal recipe…it takes less than 5 minutes to make. And it would be really easy to top it off with fresh, real strawberries.

Crystal Light

Crystal Light  - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food This “lemonade” product is another one that’s rather disturbing. Crystal Light’s “Natural Lemonade” mix doesn’t even contain a single drop of lemon or lemonade! Plus both its sweetener (aspartame) and yellow tint (yellow 5) are completely artificial. There are currently no regulations for slapping the word “natural” on a food package so don’t let this terminology fool you.

Real Food Alternative: Unfortunately even if you make REAL lemonade from scratch at home it calls for quite a bit of sugar. You are better off just squeezing a little fresh lemon juice in your water or saving lemonade for an extra special occasion!

Ranch Dip

 Ranch dressing - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food This packet of Hidden Valley ranch seasoning looks pretty innocent…you just add sour cream and you have yourself a zesty dip for veggies. Except the fact that, according to the ingredients, it contains more maltodextrin (an additive made from corn), salt, and MSG than it does any actual herbs or spices.

Real Food Alternative: I find this unfortunate when it’s super simple to make your own ranch dip at home. My recipe has been adapted from the $5 Dinner Mom’s ranch salad dressing!

Cool Whip

Cool Whip  - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food I know “Cool Whip” is quick and easy, but I find it strange that it contains more water, hydrogenated vegetable oil (might contain trans fat), high-fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup than it does cream, which happens to be the main ingredient in REAL whipped cream. I know this product doesn’t claim to be “whipped cream” and instead calls itself a “whipped topping,” but let’s face it…we all know what this is trying to imitate!

Real Food Alternative: In case you’ve never tried making your own homemade whipped cream before it’s actually pretty easy…check out the simple instructions at the bottom of this chocolate torte recipe.

Uncrustables

uncrustables  - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food
Uncrustables seem to be a pretty popular school lunch item. Just be sure to know they contain high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, AND sugar as well as partially hydrogenated oil (a.k.a. trans fat). This variety also uses bread made from refined white flour, dough conditioners, and quite a lot of other ingredients I cannot even pronounce and would never cook with at home.

Real Food Alternative: I don’t know about you, but when I make PB&J at home it doesn’t contain any of that junk. And you can even make your own “Uncrustable” sandwich with one of these handy little sandwich cutters/sealers from amazon (just wrap it up and throw it in the freezer when you are done)!

“Wheat” Crackers

 Back to Nature - misleading products on 100 Days of Real FoodThis product comes to you from the health food store (where you STILL have to read ingredient labels). The front of this healthy-looking brown box says “Crispy Wheat Crackers” but don’t let that lead you to believe there is anything “whole-wheat” about them. Even refined white flour comes from the wheat plant so if it doesn’t say the word “whole” then it’s not a “whole-wheat” product. I don’t understand why our society has given “whole-wheat” the nickname “wheat” because they are NOT the same thing and it makes things confusing! If you look at the ingredients on this box you can see these crackers contain no “whole wheat” flour at all…only refined “wheat flour” a.k.a. white flour.

Real Food Alternative: For 100% whole-wheat crackers our favorite is Ak-Mak, which is available in stores like Earth Fare and Trader Joe’s as well as on Amazon. To learn more about the difference between “wheat” and “whole-wheat” check out our post about Understanding Grains.

Strawberry Syrup

 strawberry syrup - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food I am guilty as charged because I used to buy this stuff for my kids. It was right there by the chocolate syrup, and I thought it would be a fun way to switch things up. But soon after my real food wake-up call I started raiding our pantry and fridge, and I was shocked to see (according to the ingredients) that this “strawberry” syrup doesn’t even contain any strawberries at all. The flavor and color are both completely artificial.

Real Food Alternative: If you are looking for a berry flavored drink try making this homemade berry sauce instead and sieve out the seeds…it would be great in some nice cold (organic) milk.

Bread

Health Nut Bread - misleading products on 100 Days of Real FoodIf I were to make sandwich bread at home it would take about 5 ingredients (whole-wheat flour, water, yeast, salt, and honey) and even if I were to add a few extras like nuts, seeds, and a different type of flour maybe we are up to 10 ingredients. So why does it take “Arnold” 31 ingredients including white flour (a.k.a. unbleached enriched wheat flour) to make their whole grain “Health Nut” bread?

All those extra additives aren’t there to make the bread taste better, but instead to give it a longer shelf life (and ensure it travels well before even hitting those shelves). I admit I used to eat white sandwich bread before all of this and that’s because I did not like whole-wheat bread. Then one day I tried “real” whole-wheat bread, made from only a few simple, fresh ingredients, and what do you know… it actually tastes pretty good!
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Real Food Alternative: Nowadays we either buy the honey-whole wheat loaf from Great Harvest (a franchise chain that bakes fresh bread daily) or make it ourselves using our whole-wheat bread machine recipe.

Nutella

nutella  - misleading products on 100 Days of Real Food
Last but not least…Nutella! I shared Nutella on Facebook the other day after seeing their ad in a parenting magazine, which I personally found misleading. But after posting it quite a few readers pointed out to me that this product, which is positioned as a breakfast spread, actually has more sugar per serving than chocolate cake frosting…and they were right! “Betty Crocker Rich and Creamy Chocolate Frosting” contains 18 grams of sugar per serving (2 tablespoons) and “Nutella” contains 21 grams of sugar per serving (also 2 tablespoons). Yet they advertise that their spread can “turn a balanced breakfast into a tasty one, too.” Just because something like chocolate frosting might taste good on your breakfast doesn’t mean you should necessarily indulge in it (or offer it to your children before school) on a regular basis! Of course moderation is one thing, but as I’ve said many times before different people seem to define “moderation” quite differently…and in our society junk food exceptions and special occasions add up pretty quick..
The part of the ad that I thought was misleading though was where they say, “Each jar contains hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa.” When you look at the ingredient label on a jar of Nutella you’ll find sugar listed as the first item (i.e. what the product contains the most of). They purposely omitted the main ingredient, which is also coincidentally the part that’s not good for you.
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Real Food Alternative: I would say just go for butter or 1 ingredient peanut butter on your morning toast, but, even though I’ve never tried it myself, many people tell me it’s easy to make your own “Nutella” spread at home. Here’s a recipe for chocolate hazelnut spread from Weelicious. I would personally make it with the honey instead of agave, but either way at least this version contains more hazlenuts than it does sweetener!

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183 comments to Misleading Product Roundup: Don’t be Fooled

  • Michael

    I would think you could sweeten lemonade with organic stevia. That would be a healthy no calorie addition.

  • Kimberly

    You should also avoid products that use palm oil not only is it not great for people, but the harvesting of palm oil is destroying the rainforests.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=harvesting-palm-oil-and-rainforests

  • Michi

    Maltodextrin, flour and sugar are most commonly used in all foods…its not misleading its just how its made….i also use cornsatrch to thicken my gravy

  • Karen

    I iust wanted to say thank you for caring enough to take the time to investigate and explain all of this in a way we can all understand and for posting it. I believe that our society is far to dependent on processed food. I try very hard to read labels and be aware. I love the alternatives you give as well.

  • ellen stevens

    Wow- That’s some serious misleading information. I’m switching pasta brands!! So glad that Washington State passed the GMO labeling law. Hoping this will point us in the right direction.

  • Ali

    Been making this kind of stuff for a long time, Especially the oatmeal, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing, cannot even eat the stuff from the store. Also stay away from hamburger helper, I make my own mixes for those as well it is great to see people are still passing the word along that making food and seasonings like this from scratch and watching your labels can help prevent us from consuming unnecessary chemicals that should never had been put in food for us to consume. For Christmas I am getting the pasta maker for the kitchen aide, so maybe I can avoid buying my pasta all together. Wish me luck and happy cooking to all of you!!

  • Dalilla

    Pacific brand Hemp milk was great, then we noticed a slight change, more ingredients and an increase in sugar, 16 gm sugar!! So much that they don’t put the percentage on the ingredients! This made me think…why do I buy “milk” alternatives? We get our nutrients from food because we eat real food, we take excellent supplements via practitioners advice. Rethinking “milk” at this home.

  • Thanks for the Great Harvest whole wheat bread mention! I will be making my own taco seasoning soon:-)

  • Jon Wagner

    Great article! The more I learn about how misleading most of products are the more I want to learn to protect myself. The FDA is directly controlled by BIG PHARMA- the Federal entity that is supposed to protect “the people” learn more here- http://goo.gl/klEkf7

  • Laura

    Hi, Lisa I learn fron my mom not to use any proces food so went I don’t know what to use I call her.. About 2 monts ago I needed bread crumbs and she recommend forget about bread crumb use Organic Yellow Corn Meal I have been using this and works great just fried at lower temperature, this is great also in muffins, chili, home made polenta, cornbread and much more I used Arrowhead Mills Organic Yellow Corn Meal, there is only 1 ingredient on it and is also gluten free, weat free, but please make sure it is organic because most corn use in other puducts is GMO.

  • Bryn

    And don’t forget that palm oil is used in many products on the shelf(such as Nutella), sometimes under the name canola oil. Palm oil is the number 1 used oil and is devastating the worlds rainforests and endangering many species such as the orangutan. Sad world we live in. We are ruining so much. Humans are the invasive species here.

    • Anne Tindall

      Bryn, you are mistaken about canola oil. While palm oil is indeed harvested from palms in rain forests, canola oil is manufactured from rape seed

      from wikipedia: Canola refers to both an edible oil (also known as Canola oil) produced from the seed of any of several varieties of the rape plant, and to those plants, namely a cultivar of either rapeseed (Brassica napus L.) or field mustard/turnip rape (Brassica rapa subsp. oleifera, syn. Brassica campestris L.). Consumption of the oil is not believed to cause harm in humans[1][dead link][2] and livestock,[3] and for use as biodiesel.
      Canola was bred naturally from rapeseed at the University of Manitoba, Canada by Keith Downey and Baldur R. Stefansson in the early 1970s, and had a different nutritional profile in addition to much less erucic acid. In the international community Canola is generally referred to as Rapeseed 00 or Double Zero Rapeseed to denote both low glucosinolates and low erucic acid. In addition to varieties from the traditional Rapa dn Napus species, recent cross-breeding of multiples lines of Brassica juncea have enable this mustard variety to be classified as a canola variety by lowering both erucic acid and glucosinolates to the market standards, achieving LEAR status (for low erucic acid rapeseed). It may also be referred to as canola oil and is considered safe for human consumption.[4]

  • Kristi

    I noticed that you did not point out the vanillin in the Nutella. That is one of the primary ingredients that we stay away from. Who would want to eat artificial vanilla especially when it comes from the waste products of paper mills? Has anyone ever driven by a paper mill and smelled that horrible odor? Who would want to eat that stuff…

    Real vanilla extract is cheap and easy to make. Order some vanilla beans, slice long ways, place in a glass jar, and fill with vodka or rum. Swish the container once a week and when the smell goes away (about a month or two) the vanilla is ready to use.

    Thanks for the great recipes, I look forward to trying them!

  • [...] at her book club gathering, but she knew there had to be a better way than using highly processed Cool Whip and vanilla pudding mix (No comment! [...]

  • [...] at her book club gathering, but she knew there had to be a better way than using highly processed Cool Whip and vanilla pudding mix (No comment! [...]

  • Mollie

    Hi there, I made the taco seasoning earlier this week and just went to make it and realized that I was unsure about the water. I had been using the packets that call for 1/3 or 1/4 cup of water I don’t remember. But is this the case with the spices? thanks :)

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Mollie. Sometimes I’ve needed to add water and sometimes not. When Lisa browns the meat for her taco salad, she is adding the meat to a pan that has butter and sauteed onion in it, so more moisture isn’t necessary. If it is looking dry and the spices aren’t distributing well, add a bit of water. ~Amy

  • Jennifer Weber

    I just wanted to suggest a whole wheat pasta. For those that shop at Walmart, their Great Value brand uses only Durum Whole Wheat. It is the ONLY ingredient in it and I like it much better than any other whole wheat pasta I have ever bought. The texture of it is much better also. I also work in a preschool and very much dislike the Uncrustables. They have a horrible smell to them, one that pb & j should not have. Why someone won’t take 10 minutes to make these up themselves is beyond me. You can make your own and freeze them in less time than it takes to walk to the back of the store(where they are located in mine), find them, and checkout.

  • [...] been obsessed with reading Lisa’s blog, 100 Days of Real Food. I recently read her post about misleading store bought products and the surprising information that she featured about the ingredients in some of my favorite items [...]

  • [...] 1 teaspoon of homemade taco seasoning (click here to see the recipe I use from 100 Days of Real Food) [...]

  • Clint

    I use Chocolate Covered Katie’s Healthy Nutella recipe. My family loves it.

    http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2012/01/09/better-than-nutella/

  • It’s not my website, but is my favorite destination if I’ve got time to burn! If UR interested in “Whole Food” search for that or anything that strikes UR fancy! If UR a homeschooler or if you still have an inquisitive nature it’s a clean & safe place to learn new information. I landed on UR website via search when I’d heard someone on TV recently say not to consume nonnutritive beverages as they’re full of poison! I decided to phrase the query, “If you were not part of the food industry what would be the purpose of Maltodexrin?” That brought UR website high in the results! I’m as they said in “Austin Powers”, a fat bastard at over 500 pounds & a life-long struggle to do the right thing. I’m not a tree-hugger, if there’s an issue related to the rain forest either consumer demand or world outcry will most likely right that issue eventually. This morning I wrote a response to the Frederick News-Post as local officials decide if citizens have the right to be able to purchase whole/raw milk, but they’ve been in the past heavily influenced by Big Agriculture who are “Hand-In-Hand” with Big Government to tell the people they know better what’s good for you than you do! Previously, I’d lost 170 pounds using a sole source liquid diet similar to Medifast, but the plan previously was called “The Cambridge Diet” and now is owned by Dean Foods, makers of Jimmy
    Dean pork sausages and no longer suggest that the product be used as a sole source meal replacement beyond two weeks. I’m considering surgery lose the 300+ pounds that’d put me into chance to have a productive pics after being sidelined by an injury while working as a long-haul trucker if not disabled I’d need to work ten more years to be eligible for SSI.

  • […] 2.5 teaspoons of homemade taco seasoning (I use 100 Days of Real Food’s recipe. Click here to read it.) […]

  • Katy

    I started off on a low carb diet a few months ago, and at the same time started following you on Facebook. As I started to make my own meals more (instead of packaged frozen meals) and used fresh ingredients, and I started to think more about what I was putting into my and my daughter’s bodies. I find myself going back to previous posts you’ve made, that wormed their way into my brain and made me really aware of how much refined foods I was consuming. I switched to 100% whole what flour! changed the dark chocolate I was buying, and generally just read the labels on everything I was buying. Case in point was dinner tonight, I have been on a turkey taco kick lately (minus the tortilla) but don’t especially love the packaged taco seasoning. While at the store I was contemplating trying a different brand, when I remembered seeing you out up a recipe to make your own. So I looked it up, bought the ingredients, and made my turkey tacos. Oh. My. Goodness. So delicious! Seriously the best I have ever had! Thank you so much, you have influenced my life in a very positive and healthy way and I look forward to seeing what other changes I can make.

  • Pris

    What are your thoughts on this bread called “Dave’s Killer Bread”. They are selling at places like Costco.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Pris. Dave’s Killer Bread is a good choice among store bought breads. The ingredient list is long but consists mostly of whole grains, nuts, and seeds. They do add gluten, molasses and sometimes cane sugar but they are very far down on the ingredient list. While it does not qualify under the pledge rules, it is a good option outside of the pledge. ~Amy

  • Pris

    I use ground beef when I make tacos and always start my base seasoning with fresh garlic and onions sauteed in a bit of olive oil. Then I brown the meat in the mixture and when its almost done I add my favorite jar of salsa. It gives it wonderful flavor and a nice moist consistency (I like my taco meat and the saucier side).

  • Tim

    The oatmeal is also instant oatmeal which means most of the nutrition has been removed by the steaming it take to pre cook it.

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