Healthy Alternatives for Pointless Foods
You have to hand it to food-industry execs. They seem to have an unparalleled ability to turn the healthiest foods into the absolute worst junk or convince you that you can only get nutrition from water additives or cookies pumped full of vitamins. Here are some of the most absurd examples of their efforts so far, and how you can truly eat healthy—no fake health claims required.
Mio Water Enhancer
The Gimmick: Water is the healthiest beverage on earth, but according to Kraft Foods, it’s “like a yawn in a glass.” Enter their new product Mio, brightly colored, artificially flavored concentrate that “enhances” your perfectly healthy glass of H20. In addition to petroleum-based food dyes linked to ADHD and allergies, the third ingredient is propylene glycol, another petroleum-based ingredient used, among other things, to make plastics and keep paint from drying out. And sure, it’s “calorie free,” thanks to sucralose, an artificial sweetener created by processing sugar with chlorine gas.
Eat This Instead: If your water bores you, don’t turn it from a natural wonder into a modern-day chemistry experiment. Slice up a lemon, add some frozen or fresh fruits, or brew some iced green tea.
The Gimmick: Back in the day, homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were considered a quick lunch fix, but Smucker’s has managed to turn this old favorite into a packaged supermarket product. Uncrustables are premade PB&J sandwiches with the crusts already removed, and they’re full of dangerous high-fructose corn syrup and heart-damaging hydrogenated oils. They are devoid of healthy fiber, which makes you want to eat more in the long run.
Eat This Instead: Organic peanut butter and jelly on organic spelt bread. (Your body can process ancient spelt better than modern whole wheat.)
The Gimmick: Most people would agree that it’s not too difficult to spread cream cheese on a bagel. The food industry thinks otherwise, and has come out with prepackaged, pre-stuffed bagels. What you might not realize is these are also stuffed with corn- and soy-derived ingredients that come from crops genetically engineered to be doused in pesticides. That winds up inside of your food.
Eat This Instead: Forget the mood-killing engineered breakfast foods and instead, buy pastured eggs from a local farmer who supplements his flock with organic feed. Hens that exercise and eat grass and bugs on pasture produce eggs lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and two times higher in the healthy omega-3s department.
Splenda Essentials with Antioxidants
The Gimmick: The food system has an uncanny ability to jam corn into just about anything, including the nutrient-defunct artificial sweetener Splenda. Adding nutrients like antioxidants is a marketing gimmick, explains food expert and author Michael Pollan. Canada Dry is doing the same thing–adding antioxidants and vitamin C to products.
Eat This Instead: Opt for less-processed sweeteners that actually contain natural nutrients, like honey or stevia.
Yoplait Low-Fat Yogurt
The Gimmick: This yogurt may be low in fat, but it harbors a whopping 26 grams of sugar; that’s more than what you’ll find in a Twinkie! The sugar overload will cause an energy crash later, not exactly what most people are looking for in something touted as a healthy breakfast food.
Eat This Instead: Stonyfield Greek Oikos yogurt sweetened with a dab of real honey. The high protein content will keep you feeling full longer, and the honey is loaded with naturally-occurring antioxidants.
The Gimmick: General Mills makes a big deal out of a whole grain topping Lucky Charms’ ingredients list, but label hype is less explicit when it comes to sugar content, and the fact that the whole grain (corn) comes from genetically engineered, pesticide-doused crops.
Eat This Instead: EnviroKidz Leaping Lemurs Organic Cereal–its sugar content is lower, and the sweetness comes not from factory-made high-fructose corn syrup, but from mineral- and calcium-rich molasses. Genetically engineered ingredients are banned in organics.
Special K Cereal Bars
The Gimmick: This extension brand for Special K cereal is saying, in essence, “Forget the bowl, the milk, and sitting down.” What you’re really getting is a dose of heart-damaging trans fats and potentially carcinogenic BHT, an unnecessary chemical used to retard rancidity in oils.
Eat This Instead: First, try not to eat on the go in the first place. About 20 percent of meals are rushed and eaten in the car, which leads to poor food choices and bulging waistlines. If you really need to eat on the run, choose an organic BumbleBar; it doesn’t contain freaky industrial chemicals, and the sesame seed and nut ingredients pack a protein punch that will keep you feeling full.
The Gimmick: Here’s another example of junk food masquerading as health food. Full of injected fiber that your body may not readily digest, this muffin top won’t even satisfy your hunger. What’s more, the advertising urges you to eat on the go, a big no-no if you’re trying to lose weight.
Eat This Instead: Whip up this Yam Spice Muffin recipe. It’s balance of naturally-occurring fiber and protein and blood-sugar-regulating cinnamon will leave you feeling fuller longer. Plus, the entire muffin (not just the top) is just 140 calories!
WhoNu? Nutrition Rich Cookies
The Gimmick: ”Nutrition-rich” cookies? WhoNu the food industry could come up with a way to make sugary, high-carb treats seem healthy? Advertised as being an “excellent source of calcium, iron, vitamins A, B12, C, D and E,” they also “have 3 grams of fiber and 20 essential vitamins and minerals.” Well, an apple has 4 grams of fiber and 20 vitamins and minerals, as well; as do bananas, blueberries, grapes, nectarines, and dozens of other naturally sweet fruits that come without the refined flour and genetically modified ingredients.
Eat This Instead: Any of the above. Or take WhoNu’s marketing claims to heart and eat a bowl of oatmeal or a cup of spinach or cottage cheese, or drink a glass of milk, carrot juice, or tomato juice—all foods that their “nutrition-rich” cookies claim to match.
Chocolate Milk with Omega-3s
The Gimmick: Why get heart- and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids from something boring, like healthy, sustainable fish? No, you need to drink them in the form of liquid sugar, according to the growing variety of flavored milk products fortified with the fish oils. Flavoring milk adds 40 to 60 calories per serving and adds 15 grams of sugar to an otherwise healthy glass of plain, protein-rich milk.
Eat This Instead: Get your omega-3s the way nature intended, from sustainable, contaminant-free seafood. Here’s why: A single serving of wild Alaskan salmon contains 2,060 grams of EPA and DHA omega-3s. That glass of enriched milk? Just 30.
The Gimmick: Leave it to the food industry to take something that flows freely from your tap, scare you into thinking it isn’t safe, then bottle it and sell it to you for a 1,000 percent markup. Most bottled waters are nothing more than tap water that has supposedly gone through extra filtration processes. However, independent testing of bottled water conducted by the Environmental Working Group has found that popular brands contain, on average, 8 different contaminants, ranging from bacteria to fertilizer residues to carcinogenic disinfection by-products, some that exceed legal limits for tap water.
Drink This Instead: Drink tap water, and contact your local water supplier for your annual water quality report. It will tell you if there are any pollutants that could be removed by a filter, which is much cheaper than buying hundreds of bottles.
Fruitless Fruit Juice
The Gimmick: This is a classic move in the juice trickery playbook: Use inexpensive fake food dyes–not actual fruit juice–to give the liquid an appealing color. Here’s a sad example: Tropicana Twister Cherry Berry Blast contains 0 percent berry and cherry juice, despite the name of the drink. The color comes from artificial dye Red #40, which has been linked to hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in some kids.
Eat This Instead: Eat actual fruit for a fiber-rich boost that will help you avoid an unhealthy spike in blood sugar and leave you feeling full longer. When you want an occasional juice, look for an organic brand like R.W. Knudsen. Organic certification means a maker can’t get away with using chemical food dyes. For children, try Honey Kids; it’s organic and isn’t loaded with excess sugar.
The Gimmick: Marketers use scare tactics to trick you into buying this vitamin-D-loaded drink. Touted as a delicious drink designed to provide all the benefits of vitamin D without the harmful effects of being outside, this drink is loaded with vitamin D, a bone-strengthening, immune-boosting hormone that you can get much cheaper in supplement form, or by eating vitamin D-rich foods, like pastured eggs. As a general rule of thumb, avoid food and drinks making health claims, including ones that promise to boost your brainpower.
Eat This Instead: Opt for natural mood boosters, such as dark chocolate, asparagus, or cherry tomatoes.
Single-Serving Coffee Pods
The Gimmick: Convenient? Yes. Wasteful? Absolutely. Nearly every major coffee brand now sells pods designed for single-cup coffee makers, made from non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic. What’s more, even though the plastic is polypropylene, a less-toxic plastic, there’s growing evidence that, when subjected to heat, all plastics leach chemicals that can interfere with hormonal development.
Use This Instead: Buy yourself a stovetop espresso maker like those sold by Bialetti. They’re sold in one- to three-cup sizes, perfect for a single cup of your morning brew.
The Gimmick: Getting your baby hooked on these vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry shakes probably isn’t a good thing for several reasons. Although the label claims that they boost nutrition, these shakes feature sugar as the second ingredient. Other additives include vague artificial flavors. “Parents likely perceive these shakes as nutritious when, in fact, they are likely a source of over-nutrition, providing a lot of calories and added sugar,” says Andrea Deierlein, MD, postdoctoral fellow of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Eat This Instead: HappyBaby Yogis organic snacks are low in sugar and rich in digestive-system-friendly, yogurt-based probiotics. The fruit is freeze-dried, meaning it’s high in nutrients.
Food Gimmicks in Your Supermarket