Real Food Tips: 3 Deceiving Food Products

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:

1. Garden Veggie Sticks

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Ingredients*(according to as of May 2012):
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.

2. Yoplait “Light” Yogurt

Ingredients* (according to as of May 2012):
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?

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.

3. Trader Joe’s Multigrain Crackers

Ingredients* (according to the package I hold in my hands as of May 2012):
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.

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! :)

*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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157 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 3 Deceiving Food Products”

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  1. I don’t think she thinks that people think they are a replacement but people do think these types of snacks are healthy which is far from the truth. I apreciate all the info provided in your blog lisa! I just got the new cookbook and so far have loved the 5 recipes I have tried. Quick easy homemade goodness. Trying to convert to Whole Foods one baby step at a time and loving it. Thanks so much for putting this out into the world. Your an inspiration !

  2. Do you actually believe people think the veggie straws are a replacement, as you say, for real vegetables?

    They are in a chip bag, and in the chip aisle…no one thinks they are a replacement for vegetables.

    Come on…

    1. I have friends who do believe these are healthy because they are made of “vegetables”. I have tried to tell them that they are no different than potato chips …….

  3. I apologize if this has been answered some place else (I tried to search first), but what about other flours like coconut or almond flour? Would Lisa use these?

    Thank you!

    1. Lisa doesn’t use those flours because she doesn’t need to be GF, but they are whole food flours. I use them all the time do to my family being GF.

  4. LOL! I came across this issue just yesterday. I was at my In-laws house and there are always temptations there. My daughter asked to have some veggie straws because she LOOOOVES them. I said, “you know they are just junk food, right?” She said yes but she still likes them. I replied, “well, go ahead as long as you eat them knowing they are junk food…” sigh… At least she is learning the difference.

    1. There is no difference in the meaning of the Organic logo’s color. It just depends on what the manufacturer wants. Sometimes the green one clashes with the other colors on the package, so they go with the black. Sometimes they want the green one because it stands out more. Completely up to the manufacturer. (I work for a company that produces Organic products and am responsible for maintaining the Organic certification).

  5. FYI – Yoplait Light Yogurt has recently changed their recipe. They took out the HFCS and now use real sugar. They also took out the Aspartame and now use Sucralose. I’m not saying it’s actually any healthier but I do feel like it’s a tiny baby step in the right direction.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 +.

    1. 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

  8. 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!

    1. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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!!

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

    1. 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!

  16. 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!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Eliza. Here is a post on the oils that might help to answer your question… 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

  17. 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.

  18. Hello I was wondering if you had a recipe that you use for focaccia bread? All of the ones I find use sugar and white flour….Thank you!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi April. We don’t have a recipe to share. You could consider substituting some of the ingredients in the recipe you have and see how that works. Good luck. Jill

  19. Lauren Bristow

    Lisa and others

    My husband and I just finished watching “Forks Over Knives” and would like to have your take on this. They of course recommend no dairy.


    Lauren Bristow

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I did see Forks over Knives and I think it’s hard to say that eating “vegan” was the only reason those in the movie experienced such amazing changes in health. The guy at the beginning of the documentary was drinking tons of red bull and of course cutting out junk like that (when he went vegan) would make a difference! I think there is lots of overlap though too…processed food is bad and real food (including produce/veggies) is good! We don’t plan to change anything as a result of the movie. It’s hard to imagine humanely raised animal products – that have been a part of our ancestors’ diets for centuries – to not be “okay.”

  20. While I don’t view the Veggie Sticks as a replacement to my beloved fresh veggies (LOVE me some local NC produce), I must say that I do Love them! :)

  21. Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so negative. It just feels like some days I just don’t know what to eat because something isn’t safe or healthy. It’s so overwhelming at times. I guess it’s just one of those days today.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I can totally relate! I also feel like that occasionally…like if you look hard enough you’ll find something “wrong” with just about everything, but what’s funny to me is how quite a lot of people think there’s not much to eat if you don’t buy processed food. Even during our strict 100-day pledge people thought we were “starving” because what could we possibly be eating if it didn’t come out of a package! Once you get used to avoiding processed food I promise things get much easier…it slowly becomes your “new normal” and you find there is so much to choose from (literally an endless amount of recipes/choices/ideas). People have only been eating processed food for the last 50 – 60 years so we just eat what all our ancestors survived on for centuries before that. I hope that helps!

  22. It sure is hard to eat anymore! I’m beginning to think EVERYTHING is bad for you. I guess sticking to the very basics is safest. Some days it’s so discouraging, and I wonder what is healthy and safe to eat.

  23. Thank you so much for you blog! It has really opened my eyes and changed my life. I love yogurt and of course realized only the plain yogurt was truly a real food item I could buy. Has anyone ever tried to make their own yogurt? I would love to know if it is possible. thank you again for all of your hard work, advice and tips!

    1. I have a yogurt maker and LOVE it! I received it as a gift so I don’t know how much they cost, but it would be worth the investment. Most yogurt makers call for heating milk to a certain temp, letting it cool to a certain temp, adding a “starter” (plain yogurt) and then putting it in the yogurt maker for the specified time. The one I have uses 42oz of milk (1 quart plus 1 1/4 cup) for one batch and I get 7 servings. It “cooks” the yogurt in small jars that have lids so I can just grab and go :) I use one of the jars as my starter for the next batch since it’s the exact amount called for in the instructions. It would definitely be worth the investment!

      1. Jennifer – could you tell us what brand yogurt maker it is? I haven’t found one yet that I don’t have to pre-warm the milk, and that has been my only reservation in buying one.

  24. I’m looking at the Trader Joe’s crackers’ ingredients, specifically niacin, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, inulin, triticale, sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate, microbial enzymes. Generally, when I buy groceries, if I see ingredients like this, I put the product back because I don’t know what the ingredients are exactly, and they look like something I learned in chemistry. What are your thoughts on ingredients like these?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Ingredients like that are usually extra nutrients to make up for the fact that refined grains (a.k.a. white flour) have been used. You don’t see that type of stuff on the list when whole-wheat flour is the main ingredient, because it naturally contains all the good vitamins and minerals. It’s hard to recreate nature though so it’s best to just go with the real thing.

  25. Leslie – Target sells Happy Baby Organic puffs – I have the sweet potato on hand right here. There is no added sugar, they are dairy, gluten, corn and soy free. 1g of sugar in 1/2 cup of puffs (mine only get about 5-10 right now).

    Ingredients: Organic brown rice flour, organic rice flour, organic apple juice concentrate (not sure about this one), calcium, organic sweet potato. Then a list of vitamins and minerals.

    There are other varieties but I’m trying to avoid wheat products in my household.

    Unfortunately, we aren’t quite at the finger food stage, otherwise we’d be doing fruit and veggie pieces soft steamed, but the twins can munch on these while we’re eating. It keeps them from screaming when they’ve already eaten…so at least we can eat ourselves.

    As far as all the added vitamins an minerals are concerned – I’m sure this is not real food since they add it, but what are your thoughts on that?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      The vitamins and minerals are often times added when refined grains are used (like the organic rice flour that is not “brown” and therefore not whole grain). Since refined grains are not very nutritious on their own food scientists try to add back in what they think they are missing, which isn’t nearly as effective as just eating the whole grain itself. It’s hard to recreate nature. I hope that helps!