WTH is THAT?!

Warning: This post has the potential… to be lengthy… but I will do my best to make it worth reading.

I wasn’t always a label reader. It happened slowly over time, as I became more and more health conscious. At first I was just interested in the fat and the calories. Eventually I started paying attention to the serving size. What. A. Joke. You mean that when I cook a package of ramen noodles, that’s supposed to be two servings. A serving size of cereal ranges from 3/4 cup to 1 cup. Many packages that appear to be a single serving are actually two or more servings. This isn’t news, I know. But have you ever really measured out your cereal in the morning? I would guess that when I pour a bowl of cereal I’m easily getting 2 or 3 times the suggested serving. Occasionally I’d even go back for seconds fourths and fifths.

When I first realized that sweetened cereal wasn’t good for me, I ditched the Fruit Loops and Cocoa Pebbles for Frosted Mini Wheats and Raisin Bran. Yay me! It felt like a healthy choice at the time. Clearly my standards were very low. Aside from a dozen other things wrong with those “healthier” cereals, the sugar content is nearly the same in my old favorites. There are 12 grams of sugar in 3/4 cup of Fruit Loops, 11 grams in 3/4 cup of Cocoa Pebbles, compared with 11 grams in 1 cup of my store brand of frosted shredded wheat (which, by the way, claims to be “lightly sweetened”) and a heaping 17.6 grams (!) in a cup of Raisin Bran. If you add a cup of milk to your cereal, your adding about 12 ADDITIONAL grams of sugar. (Oh yes, lactose is sugar!!) That’s about 23 to nearly 30 grams of sugar in a bowls of cereal, assuming of course that you’re only eating the one, meager serving. Just to give you a frame of reference, there are purportedly 10 grams of sugar in a Kripsy Kreme glazed doughnut. I wonder if Krispy Kreme knows their doughnuts are only lightly sweetened. Now don’t go and trade all your cereal in for doughnuts! They have problems of their own and should be considered a treat along with the lightly sweetened cereal.

Food manufacturers and package designers are working really hard to make sure we don’t notice the ingredient list, usually because it’s not pretty. Which must be why I barely even noticed them until recently. It’s usually inconspicuously listed under the nutritional information, but sometimes it’s more difficult to find. However you can easily see, from several feet away if something is “MADE WITH WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT” or has “NO ADDED SUGAR” or even that it contains “NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP”. I’ve also noticed that the better the ingredients are, the more prominently the list is displayed.

So when you finally do find the list… what? Who the heck really knows what all that stuff is: xanthan gum (thickener), TBHQ (preservative), maltodextrin (food additive, starch) paprika oleoresin, cochineal, carmine or carminic acid (artifical coloring, these last three are made from ground bugs, seriously), sorbitol and maltitol (aka sugar – click here for a long list of these), sucralose and acesulfame potassium (artificial sweeteners), “enzymes”…? Sometimes they don’t even tell us exactly what the ingredient is. We just know it’s “artificial flavoring or coloring.”

The fear mongering (that I am ashamed to have been a victim of) regarding high fructose corn syrup, is misleading people even further. I’d be willing to bet that even if they ban it, the way they have in Europe, the health of this country will be no better off. Processed food will still have plenty of sugar, just by a different name. Every product that I’ve seen boasting “NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP” still contains sugar, and usually – lots of it. Sorbitol, a sugar substitute, is the third ingredient behind whole grain wheat and sugar in that “lightly sweetened cereal”. I’m inclined to believe that it may contain the same amount of sugar as wheat (if not more)!

Take a look at this extensive list of ingredients on one of my old favorite snacks, Cheez-It Snack Mix:

“CHEESE CRACKERS (ENRICHED FLOUR [WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), FOLIC ACID], SOYBEAN AND PALM OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS, CHEESE MADE WITH SKIM MILK [SKIM MILK, WHEY PROTEIN, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES, ANNATTO EXTRACT FOR COLOR], SALT, PAPRIKA, YEAST, PAPRIKA OLEORESIN FOR COLOR, CHEESE CULTURES), PRETZELS (ENRICHED FLOUR [WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), FOLIC ACID], SALT, VEGETABLE OIL [CORN, CANOLA AND / OR SOYBEAN OIL], CORN SYRUP, YEAST, BAKING SODA), BREAD SLICES (ENRICHED FLOUR [WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), FOLIC ACID], VEGETABLE OIL [CORN, CANOLA, AND /OR SOYBEAN OIL], CORN SYRUP, SALT, WHEY, NONFAT MILK, YEAST), WHEAT SQUARES (WHOLE WHEAT, SUGAR, SALT), CHEESE-FLAVORED RICE BALLS (RICE FLOUR, VEGETABLE OIL [SUNFLOWER, SAFFLOWER, RICE AND /OR CANOLA OIL], MALTODEXTRIN, SALT, WHEY, CHEDDAR CHEESE [MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES], REDUCED LACTOSE WHEY, BUTTERMILK, NATURAL FLAVOR, ONION, SUGAR, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE, GARLIC, AUTOLYZED YEAST, CITRIC ACID, BLUE CHEESE [MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT ENZYMES], LACTIC ACID), CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF SOYBEAN OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, SALT, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE POWDER (MOLASSES, VINEGAR, CORN SYRUP, CARAMEL COLOR, SUGAR, TAMARIND, NATURAL FLAVORS), GARLIC, TORULA YEAST, MALTODEXTRIN, SUGAR, ONION, SPICES, DISODIUM INOSINATE, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, CARAMEL COLOR, WHEAT STARCH, MOLASSES, VINEGAR, SOY FLOUR.

We’ve been hoodwinked! This isn’t food. These “ingredients” are components of a concoction that we’ve been told is food. Might as well add a little eye of newt, toe of frog. (Ooooh… wait… that might be actual food.) This stuff should be moved to the shelf with the pesticides. Sounds like poison to me. On second thought, just leave it there with the rest of the processed junk. That way I know which aisles to avoid when shopping for real food.

So my point is (yes, I do have one), don’t pay much attention to the front of the package, especially health claims and buzz words, look at the ingredient list first. If you don’t recognize AND approve of them, don’t even bother looking at the nutrition information. Are these unknown ingredients even safe to eat? I’m not sure, but I’m skeptical. Some of them may be, but many of them probably aren’t. I’m not implying that processed foods are the smoking gun to be blamed solely for the decline of health in America. However I do believe it plays a major role, and I think eliminating it, or even reducing it significantly, would be a great jumping off point to improve health. Even if processed foods were safe, they’re addictive and eating them often will rob your body of nutrients, leaving it ill-equipped to battle the other elements that contribute to our ailing health.

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About Michele
Wife and Mom of three girls doing her best to lead the family into a healthier lifestyle and evolve gracefully.

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