Health Food Junk
July 3rd, 2009 · 11 Comments · Posted in kids, Wellness
The other morning as I was walking my 9-year-old daughter to summer camp at the local recreation center she begged me to stop and buy her something to eat. She was hungry, she complained. Since she had refused the smoothie of fresh berries and homemade yogurt I’d made for her that morning, I wasn’t in much of a mood to pay for something extra at the store. (Too much fruit, Daddy, she explained.) But of course I relented and we stopped at the health food store where I hoped to find something remotely nutritious.
A display of power bars near the cash register caught my eye. My daughter scanned the selections and picked something with the Kashi label called “GOLEAN Chewey Protein & Fiber Bar.” We couldn’t go wrong with protein and fiber, I figured. So imagine my surprise when, after paying nearly $2 for the thing, I flipped the package and read the ingredients on the “GOLEAN” protein bar my daughter was now inhaling.
Fifty grams of carbohydrates! Yes, that’s right, 50 grams of carbs, or my personal total daily allotment in one little 2.75 ounce bar. And as I found from the nutrition facts, 35 grams came straight from sugars, of which several were listed as the primary ingredients: evaporated cane juice syrup, brown rice syrup, evaporated can juice and “cookie pieces.” You had to read quite a bit further to find the Kashi’s trademarked “Seven Whole Grains & Sesame.” That compares to just 13 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber in this “protein & fiber” bar. As near as I could tell, the protein is something called “soy protein isolate.”
At this point I was getting mildly angry. How in the world did Kashi get off calling this sugary insulin bomb a “protein & fiber bar.” And packing 290 calories, including four grams of saturated fat, how in the world did it qualify under the heading “lean”?
When I got home I went to the Kashi website and found the entire lineup of “Chewy” bars–”Cookies ‘N Cream,” “Chocolate Almond Toffee,” “Malted Chocolate Crisp,” “Oatmeal Raisin Cookie,” “Peanut Butter and Chocolate”– has similar nutritional values. A second line of bars, “GOLEAN Crunch!” is only marginally better. Then there are “cereal bars,” “chewy granola bars,” “crunchy granola bars,” “fruit and grain bars,” and the ingredients are all monotonously similar–carbs and sugar, carbs and sugar, more carbs and sugar.
Pretty soon you get the idea that you can’t really trust the stuff on the shelves in the health food store. Or is sugar somehow healthier when it comes from brown rice? In 2000, Kashi was bought out by Kellogg, the cereal giant. Kellogg’s strategy was to extend its reach into the healthy foods universe. From the look of things, they’ve put their corporate marketing savvy into a host of dubious products. Caveat emptor.
That was my first mistake of the day. The second was allowing daughter to stop at the corner convenience store ostensibly for a popsicle because she was hot. She came out of the store with something called “The Original Italian Water Ice”–essentially a cup of frozen sugar-water. In the other hand she had a bag containing what she claimed was a treat to include in her lunch the following day. Except that later that evening in front of the television I discovered the empty wrappers from not one but two Little Debbie products, “a “Star Crunch” and a “Fudge Round.”
I was by now feeling I had been utterly duped by both a clever 9-year-old and corporate food. To make a complete display of my pique, I gathered all the wrappers from the day’s purchases–the Kashi bar, the Italian ice, the Star Crunch and the Fudge Round–and did the math. In just those four items, daughter had consumed 1,030 calories, about two-thirds of her needs for the entire day, including 172 grams of carbohydrates, of which 112 came from sugar, and 15 grams of saturated fat.
I even measured an equivalent amount of sugar on the kitchen scale so that daughter could see what she had eaten. It was a staggering little mound of sugar. Daughter’s response was to stick her finger in it for a taste, then run away.
I don’t know why I admit these things. It certainly makes me look like a bad parent. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen every day. Usually daughter eats her fresh berry and homemade yogurt smoothie, as well as the frozen popsickles we make from the leftover smoothie mix. Apparently all kids have a irresistible urge to gorge occasionally on sugar-laden carbs, and the corporate food interests are only too happy to oblige with an endless assortment of cleverly packaged insulin bombs–even in the health food store.
What made me feel not quite so ashamed, but also a little terrified, was this item about the School Nutrition Association’s annual school food expo. This is where food companies get together in Las Vegas to display all the new foods they have in mind for kids. (Don’t you always conjure an image of Las Vegas when you think of school lunches?) Would you believe an apple bred to taste like cotton candy? Or how about “Polish Water Ice,” a product with no fat, no dairy, no cholesterol, no peanut oil and fewer than 140 calories. So what’s in it? Water, apple juice concentrate, cane sugar, corn syrup, natural and artificial flavor, guar gum, carbohydrate gum, locust bean gum, citric acid and FD&C Red #40. One serving counts for half of the fruit and vegetable requirement for school meals.
And here’s something that actually counts as a serving of fruit in the school meal scheme: The United Commodity Group takes government commodity apples and processes them into flavored applesauce. The neon-green “Super Sour Apple” is made of apples, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor, FD&C Yellow #5 and Blue #1, and Vitamin C.
For more great stories about how we are taking back our food system, be sure to read Fight Back Fridays.