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Top 10 Junk Foods in Disguise

Posted May 06 2008 3:00pm 1 Comment

Mr. Potatohead

Mr. Potatohead? Is that you?

Organic; low-carb; reduced sugar; preservative and chemical free; made from all natural ingredients; and now with special bacterial cultures designed to help you poop! Seriously, is there anything that “health” food can’t do (or fix, or correct, or modify, or prevent…)?

Uhh…yeah. Especially if it’s junk food masquerading as health food.

In recent years, food manufacturers have grown increasingly privy to the American public’s dietary whims. In the early 90s, they fell over themselves to cut the fat, replaced sugar with sugar alcohols to keep up with the low-carb dieters of the new millennium and are now plying us with promises of eco-chic or otherwise “green” food.

The bottom line is that selling health is a huge trend, and manufacturers will do just about anything to make sure their products fit into our definition – albeit fleeting – of what health food is. In fact, for many of these reformed foods, the only real changes that have been made are to the label to play up the positives (“now with whole grains”) and bury the negatives (“but we had to add 20 tbsp of sugar to make it even close to edible!”), leaving you, dear reader, with a product that is only nominally healthier than the original at best.

The following are a selection of ten food items that may be incrementally more healthy than their non-organic, fried-instead-of-baked, full-sugar vs. reduced-sugar peers. But, to us, they all still beg the question, What’s the point?

Nature’s Path Organic Strawberry Toaster Pastries

Organic Toaster Pastry

If the folks over at Nature’s Path didn’t have such a great PR team, chances are the tag line for this product would have been “Nature’s Path Organic Strawberry Toaster Pastries: So you can feel good about serving your kids junk food.” Harsh? Yes. True? Absolutely. In a side comparison between the “healthy” Organic pastries and Kellogg’s Pop Tarts (which we all know “good” parents don’t serve their kids), the pastries were about the same in terms of calories (210 vs. 205) and fat (3.5 grams vs. 4.5 grams) but the Kellogg brand actually had fewer carbohydrates (37.5 grams vs. 40 grams) and less sugar (17.5 grams vs. 19 grams). Although certain foodies suggest that the organic variety taste more “wholesome,” at the end of the day, a toaster pastry is a toaster pastry and it’s definitely not something that you (or your kids) should be eating to kick-start the day!

Dr. Oetker Organic Vanilla Cake

Organic Vanilla Cake

You attend farmers’ markets, you only buy organic, and, where possible, you do your best to eat healthy. But a birthday is a birthday and, as Homer from The Simpsons would say, “mmm…cake.” Unfortunately, however, Dr. Oetker’s Organic spin on vanilla cake is just plain laughable. Besides the fact that cake, in any shape or form, just isn’t healthy, this particular all-natural product contains gum acerbic arabic, the same food stabilizer (as in chemical) used in soda, M&M chocolate candies, gum drops, marshmallows, and many other candies. Still not convinced it’s bad for you? This same ingredient is also used in watercolor paints, shoe polish and other items that you wouldn’t normally consider ingesting. Gum arabic may not kill you, but it doesn’t scream organic either. And you call yourself a doctor, Dr. Oetker!

Annie’s Homegrown Certified Organic Canned Pasta Meals

Organic Canned Pasta

Although, Annie, you seem so genuine with your homegrown canned pasta meals, we know that the product lurking beneath that metal can is nothing but low-grade slop. Let’s look at Annie’s Certified Organic All Stars pasta dinner (which, by the way, Annie is recommending for your toddler). The first four ingredients (by weight) are water, organic tomato puree, organic macaroni stars and organic evaporated cane juice. Uhh…Annie, sweetheart, stop being fancy and call a spade a spade: it’s sugar…and lots of it. So much so that the sugar is listed way before any mention of cheese (even though this particular “dish” is touted as pasta in a tomato and cheese sauce.) Sounds to us like Annie needs to spend a little more time in the kitchen (or possibly on some reputable nutrition sites) before she tries shilling this stuff as anything resembling healthy!

O Organics (Safeway Brand) Organic Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips

O Organics

There’s simply no other way to put this: A chip is a chip is a chip. And what could make it worse? This chip (is a chip, is a chip…) is made of corn. Corn people. Need further proof to stay away? Uhh…they’re a chip…and they’re made of corn. Nuff said, we think!

Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs - Oreo Candy Bites

100 Calorie Packs

The whole 100 calorie serving size has become somewhat of an obsession in our culture as of late, with food manufacturers scrambling to get their newly downsized products stocked on supermarket shelves. On the plus side (see, where not all Debbie Downer here at Mark’s Daily Apple!), the products are all 100 calories, and yes, exercising portion control is always admirable, but at the end of the day, they’re still (pretty much) the same garbage in recycled packaging. Also, if we’re being honest here, have you seen how small those “sensible” serving sizes really are? Realistically, the only person that benefits from the smaller serving sizes is manufacturers, who are able to continue distributing the same food (using the same recipe, same manufacturing equipment, same factory, same workers, etc) while charging at least double the price.

Gatorade Tiger

Gatorade Tiger

You’ve just exercised, you’re worn out, you’re thirsty, you need to replenish, and what could be more refreshing than sucking down 25 grams of sugar. That’s right folks: Gatorade, the very drink developed by athletes for athletes is nothing more than sugar water. And other so-called health beverages aren’t really that healthy either: Odwalla, which touts itself as “nourishing the body whole,” contains about 30 grams per serving (which, it should be noted, is only half of the bottle) and we’d love to tell the folks over at Vitamin Water where they can stick their vitamins!

Activia

Activia

If you made your food purchasing decisions based on the quality of a product’s web site, one look at the Activia portal and you’d be convinced this is quite the super food! While the yogurt is by no means the worst thing in the world, it should be noted that those special little cultures are literally swimming in sugar… in fact, Activia contains 17 g of sugar per 4 oz. serving. Plus… did you see that Saturday Night Live skit? It’ll put you off for life!

Morningstar Farms Chik Patties

Morningstar Farms Chik Patties

If you had to look on the menu, chances are you wouldn’t select a hunk of soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate and wheat gluten, or, in other words, one of Morningstar Farms’ Chik Patties. And it only gets worse with the addition of wheat flour, corn oil, yellow corn flour and corn starch. One question: is it possible they could squeeze any more corn into this single chicken patty? And also, the package touts 58% less fat, which would be important if this was uhh… 1984 and we still thought that fat was the devil incarnate.

Lean Pockets - Supreme Pizza

Lean Pockets Supreme Pizza

Look! It’s got whole grains! It’s lean! It’s got a whole lot of exclamation points and not much else going on, nutritionally speaking that is. Yes, we get it. A Lean Pocket is convenient. You can literally throw it in your pocket and go and, to be honest, they’ve come a long way from the early Hot Pockets. However, at the end of the day, they’re still a pastry, stuffed with mystery meat and plenty of chemical preservatives and they’re absolutely not something that should be considered even remotely healthy.

Healthy Choice Sweet and Sour Chicken

Healthy Choice Sweet and Sour Chicken

Frozen peach crisp, tempura battered chicken, sweet and sour sauce, what’s not to love about Healthy Choice’s Sweet and Sour Chicken? Yes, the packaging is green, and yes, there are little silhouettes of men running which suggests both that people who eat these exercise and that this meal would satisfy a grown adult (not likely!). However, it should be noted that this meal, in addition to a bunch of decidedly un-healthy chemicals, contains 69 grams of carbohydrates and a whopping 600 mg of sodium. Furthermore, this particular dish was almost universally panned among foodies, with one rather scathing critic noting that it was virtually impossible to mess up sweet and sour chicken but that healthy choice had “achieved the impossible.”

These marketing tricks are sly, but they aren’t fooling the MDA crowd. When you see the words organic, or lean, or whatever claim-du-jour is posted on the packaging approach it with skepticism and a critical eye! To make life even easier, why not just avoid processed and packaged foods altogether? And if you are going to eat a cake, fudge brownies, or toaster pastries, sure, pick the organic version, but at the end of the day you’ve got to remember you’re still eating a cake, fudge brownies or toaster pastries.

TWM tm Flickr Photo (CC)

Comments (1)
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There's a lot more to nutrition than how many grams of carbohydrates something has, and there's a huge difference between refined white sugar and evaporated organic cane juice. These are just a few of the things that you should have researched before writing this article. Maybe it would've been better if you'd stuck with your toaster pastry review and compared the foods with comparable non-"healthy" foods. For example, the Activia yogurt has similar amounts of sugar to other yogurts, although it also has live cultures in it, which by all accounts provide the benefits touted on the website. Another prime example is the Morningstar Farms Chik Patties. Do you even know what soy protein isolate is? If someone was looking at a "menu" for choosing healthy food, they could than choosing a soy protein based food. I could go on for a while, but I'm going to stop here. I think that while your article raises some good points (Mainly: Don't assume something's healthy just because it says so on the package!), you really should do some research before writing something like this, otherwise you're bound to come off sounding quite ignorant.
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