I have been subscribing to CSPI, Center For Science In The Public Interest, for the last 10 years. I call them the Nutrition Watchdog or the Nutrition Police. Sometimes family members joke I’m the food police. CSPI is “an aggressive non-profit consumer organization conducting innovative programs in nutrition and food safety.” If you read their newsletter or follow them on social media, they’re there to give you some of the latest and most update nutrition information. They also go after the industry for false claims. One recent lawsuit was against General Mills:
They boasted that Cheerios Protein had 11 grams of protein; four of those coming from the milk, leaving seven grams from the cereal. The portion size compared to regular Cheerios wasn’t equivalent making the appearance seem greater in regards to protein. In reality, Cheerios Protein had 17 times as much sugar as original Cheerios. Consumers thinking they’re buying something healthier when in reality are buying a more expensive product that’s less healthy. CSPI’s other complaint is a commercial showing a child eating Cheerios Protein getting “fueled up” and racing off to school – this type of advertising is false and misleading. It’s these false claims that CSPI investigates and helps consumers know fact from fiction. Their latest newsletter helps read through the fine print with a few items. The problem is that foods sound healthier than they really are. And the fact is that it’s hard to know as a layman what to buy when you’re at the grocery store. It’s confusing. And people do want to eat healthier. Here are a few foods that sound healthier than they really are. And after, I’ll talk a little about my experience with making a few homemade items (instead of even having to navigate the packaged products at the supermarket).
“No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” – many bacon labels and even luncheon meat packages have these listed as a marketing tool for consumers. So are they lying and are there really nitrates (or nitrites)? Yes. They list it in teeny tiny print and in a hidden way you won’t think is harmful – celery powder. Yep, celery powder. Celery powder (or juice) is naturally high in nitrite. Nitrite is a preservative added to food to stabilize the red color in cured meat (otherwise it’d look gray). Adding nitrite to food can lead to small amounts of potent cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines. The bottom line is that NO bacon is nitrate – or nitrite- free. Sorry not sorry.
Green juice – do they even have any greens? This whole green juice, green smoothie trend is big. See previous blog, http://www.rd411.blogspot.com/2016_02_01_archive.html - but oh, how I’d wish it’d stop.
But in the meantime if you aren’t at home making your own green juice, companies are out there making them for you. At a high cost. This particular brand, Suja, that CSPI reviewed, sells for roughly $5 for a 12-ounce bottle at many stores – Whole Foods, Safeway, Target, etc. Many of their green juices, Green Supreme, King of Greens, and Mighty Greens – have cheap apple juice as the FIRST ingredient. And their Suja Power Greens while it may not have apple juice, it does have more cucumber, celery and grapefruit juice than it does any juice made from spinach, chard, or kale. The bottom line, and what I’ve been saying for quite some time now, EAT your greens. Juicing and smoothies (bowls included) removes the complete goodness that these vegetables give to you – fiber!! And not to mention chewing plays a critical role in digestion that liquids aren’t able to do. The juicing/smoothie trend needs to end. I’m just a little passionate about this one.
Eat Your Vegetables…as a chip – You heard me right. A company advertising that they “combine an amazing chip taste with so much veggie goodness”. Remember the old saying, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is? This fits the bill. They claim they have 8 delicious veggies in every ounce. What they fail to tell you is that the chips have more dried potatoes (technically a carbohydrate), rice and oil than actually any vegetables! CSPI joked that the company Snikiddy should change their name to Sneakiddy. Chips disguising themselves as healthy has been around for years. Chips are highly processed foods, whether they are baked or fried, and they need to be treated as such. Chips are far from being a health food. And to think you’re getting vegetables in a chip? Shameful. Veggies come from the produce area in the supermarket, not the chips and snack aisle.
Back to Nature – CSPI reviewed a product by this company. Their motto is as follows: “For over 50 years, Back to Nature has passionately created foods with whole-some grains, real nutrition, and the delicious flavors of nature free from artificial ingredients.” This leads us to the question is white flour, cane sugar, and palm oil healthy? Me thinks not. Many of their cookies do use this in their products and while some of their cookies have some oats or other grains, the majority do not. Please do not also be fooled by this notion that cookies are healthier without high-fructose corn syrup. Brown rice syrup and cane sugar are no better. I can’t wait for the Nutrition Label to start showing the amount of added sugar in products. So, let’s be real here. As CSPI states, “a cookie is a cookie. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that some have ‘real nutrition’.” Not to isolate Back to Nature, this holds true for Annie’s and Newman’s Own as well.
Navigating all the new products in the supermarket can be tough. Their labels are confusing and the bottom line is the marketing people want you to buy their product. I have a cereal box in my office (to show for this very reason). It claims to “boost a healthy metabolism”. What it doesn’t tell you is that if you were to eat a normal sized portion you’d almost be getting all of your carbohydrates for the day in one meal. How does that boost a healthy metabolism? Marketing a product to get you to buy it, that’s how – it sure sounded good!
At the start of this year, I challenged myself to start making things homemade, as much as possible anyways. I know time is of issue for people and many times convenience is the driving force when buying products at the grocery store. So this homemade thing might not be for everyone, but I do challenge people to make things homemade when they can. I think it actually started with homemade cheese-itz if I’m really being honest. I wanted a cheese cracker I could eat that didn’t have so many additives, trans fat, etc. While mine didn’t turn out the 1st time I didn’t get dejected. It only made me that much more determined to keep trying new recipes and try ones that I’d be successful at. Baking is not my forte. I don’t know if I have just have trouble with rolling out the dough or making sure the yeast is at the right temperature? I’m really not sure yet. So again I started making recipes that would be almost fail proof. I’ve been making “energy” bars for the longest. They’re so simple to make and I can add the amount of dates and nut of my choice in the right ratio for what I need (more carbs or more protein, all depends on my activity). But now the homemade has spread to everything from homemade marshmallows to homemade jelly and even homemade bread.
The bread still needs work (or maybe I just need a bread maker?) and some things I made just to test myself, for if ever a need arose to have homemade marshmallows. Am I right? The truth is, I believe everyone can still improve upon their health. And for me, I eat healthy day in and day out, making all of my food and rarely eating out. However, I was relying on a few shortcut type items in my pantry and decided that for me this would be an area I could improve upon. Not to mention that being in the kitchen and trying some recipes out has allowed me to teach my patients through application – showing a kid how to try a vegetable out in an alternate form – I admit as a dietitian I did not like radish until just recently. I wanted to like them and would keep trying to add them in salads for the crunch, but the honest truth? I didn’t like them raw. That is until they were “pickled”.
And that’s what I tell some of my patients, adults and kids. Find the form of the vegetable in the way that you like it. There are TOO many vegetables out there for people to tell me they don’t like them. Of course I don’t have to like every vegetable, but I do think that’s a prime reason as to why people think they don’t like vegetables. I can now say I like radish.
Some of the food I’ve been making homemade people might look at and say that it isn’t healthy (and I have been told that), but the truth is that this is my road to becoming healthier and a challenge to myself. Teaching people as I’m learning through this process has only been a bonus. I’m a dietitian and people are always looking at my food and what I eat. I try to teach people that food shouldn’t be labeled as “good” or “bad” and that all foods can fit. I model what I teach and I hope that’s what people truly learn from. Variety, balance, and moderation are truly a motto that I live by. Homemade ice cream? Of course it can fit. I made a homemade green tea, matcha, ice cream the other day that only had 4 ingredients – Thanks Martha! Sure there was cream and sugar (hint hint, that’s what goes into ice cream), but it was less processed than any ice cream you’ll find in the supermarket. Not to mention, it was a flavor I actually wanted to try.
I know not everyone can make everything homemade all the time. I get it. I hope what you take away from this is the idea to maybe pay more attention to the ingredients in products you are buying. CSPI helps steer you in the right direction. Here's one of their reviews on pasta sauces:
Don’t be fooled by the marketing. Intend to choose products with the least amount possible in their ingredient list. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll aim to make something homemade this week. Make the time; you’ll be glad you did.
My homemade journey continues. I must master homemade bread - that Irish Soda Bread was no-knead. That doesn't count.