What kind of a food shopper are you? Do you read the front of the package and throw it into your cart? Do you check calories and fat, then call it a day? Or do you scrutinize through the ingredients and then make your decision? I'm definitely an ingredient-reader. But if I had to do it every time I walked into a grocery store, I'd be there all day. I know which foods are staples - most of which don't have labels. If I'm lucky, I'm in and out of the store in 30 minutes.
As tempting and attractive as the labels might be, I know that the picture (and the words) on the package are often not representative of what's inside. Here are a few foods that will never make it into my shopping cart.
- Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers Roasted Beef MerlotPersonally, I'm dubious of any food with "Steamer" in the name. How well can that sell? Well, it does actually contain "Merlot wine," as stated on the label. But that's not all! This particular dish also contains a form of MSG labeled as autolyzed yeast extract. The dish itself is only 210 calories, which really isn't a lot, but contains 25% of the recommended daily allowance of sodium.
- Oscar Meyer LunchablesCould there be a worse food than a Healthy Choice Cafe Steamer entree? I think there might be! Meet the Turkey + American Lunchable. Clearly marketed toward children, the Lunchable is a 380 calorie box containing 36% of the recommended daily allowance of sodium, 19 grams of fat (171 calories), high fructose corn syrup, smoke flavor, trans fats, and a bunch of other ingredients that contain at least four syllables. The saddest part is they sell for just over $1, which for a cash-strapped family, is a steal. Oscar Meyer is a name embroidered in the minds of parents that has transcended since their youth. Suffice it to say, Oscar Meyer probably has a pretty good mental stranglehold on generations past. It's too bad they're not willing to give back by including higher quality ingredients targeted at today's youth.
- Special K Meal BarsIf there was ever an example of how a supposed weight loss product and health don’t go hand-in-hand, Special K Meal Bars is it. The bar itself is coated (literally) in trans fats. On top of that, the protein from the bar comes from soybeans. If you are not already aware, I'm not an advocate of soybean consumption. It has absolutely nothing to do with vegetarianism, rather just soy. What's more, the company that makes Special K Meal Bars, Kellogg, is a proponent of genetically modified foods (GMO), an area I just can't see how any organization could justify as safe. Yet, that's Kellogg's stand - GMOs are safe.
- Girls Scout Cookies
Troop moms, and adorable little girls pushing cookies – this is not aimed at you. Cross my heart. But to those of you in upper echelon leadership positions within Girl Scouts, get your act together! If you’re going to sell cookies, at least make sure they don’t contain trans fats. Many do (read the label - anything containing "partially hydrogenated" is a trans fat), and guess who eats them? A bunch of unsuspecting kids that somehow justify eating entire sleeves of Thin Mints in one sitting because they are too good to resist…or are those the adults who do that? Regardless, the only logical reason these cookies contain trans fats – arguably one of the most lethal ingredients put into food – is to keep them shelf stable. I wrote an article about the bad stuff in Girl Scout cookies last year. I was contacted by a woman affiliated with the Girl Scouts shortly after the piece published. She was none-too-happy with me, and accused me of lying in my article, suggesting that I made up that I was a Girl Scout at all (indeed I was). She claimed the only reason the Girl Scouts use trans fats in their cookies is because they taste better that way! She said that the organization’s baker tried making them without trans fats and sales fell. I doubt that. I doubt that very, very much. Shelf stability was the entire reason trans fats were created in the first place.
- Fruit Leathers
As if diabetes isn’t enough of a problem across the Western world, a greater problem is sifting through the convoluted healthy-sounding packages aimed at kids that will no doubt mess with their delicate little blood sugar levels. Needless to say, just about any fruit "leathery" products (including all fruit-but-not-really-fruit snacks) have the word "FRUIT" plastered in big bold letters on the package. Chances are, the first ingredient or two is likely nothing that even remotely resembles fruit.
- Snack Pack PuddingI remember getting these in my lunch when I was a kid. They weren’t good then, and unfortunately – they’re worse today. It’s not uncommon to find pudding packs concocted with both trans fat and artificial sweeteners. Move over Girl Scout Cookies, you’ve got competition.
- Kellogg's Pop TartsRepeat after me, “Dessert is not a healthy breakfast. Dessert is not a healthy breakfast. Dessert is not a healthy breakfast.” Better? I hope so. Flour + sugar make so many things…like waffles, pancakes, Pop Tarts as well as cookies, cakes and cupcakes, too! For the record, one Pop Tart contains right around the same amount of carbohydrates as a can of soda. And congratulations, Kellogg's! You've made the list again.
- Fast Food Chicken(ish) Nuggets & Fish(ish) SandwichesBoth of these get chunked into one category because I find myself saying, “mmm...silicone,” when I imagine devouring these chemically-laden foods. A couple big restaurant chains have been famed by making food containing dimethylpolysiloxane for anti-foaming purposes. Dimethylpolysiloxane is a silicone compound that’s used regularly in cosmetics, silly putty, as well as chicken and fish products (among others) at certain fast food restaurants. Really, though, aren’t we all just thanking our lucky stars that the nuggets aren’t foaming? That would really turn us off.
Traci D Mitchell is a fitness and nutrition expert featured on Dr. Oz and The TODAY Show. Follow Traci on Facebook. She’d love to see you there! Interested in working with Traci? She works privately with clients specializes in nutrition coaching and weight loss as well as functional fitness and personal training. All sessions are done via Skype or telephone if outside of Chicago. For more information, contact Traci here.
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