‘Double-dip standard’ makes choosing healthy condiments for Superbowl a tricky business

Posted by
January 21, 2014

salsa

 

BY BILL BONVIE

How do you turn something as wholesome and beneficial as guacamole into a distinctly unhealthy — and unnatural — form of junk food?

Simple.  You add a couple of neurotoxic “flavor enhancers” like monosodium glutamate and whey protein concentrate, along with a couple of artificial colors (yellow #5 and blue #1), and turn it into a dip for countless football fans (or their long-suffering spouses) to share with their friends at Superbowl get-togethers around the country. Many, no doubt, will be under the impression that what they’re consuming is actually a “healthy” snack food.

At least, that’s what Herr’s — the family-owned Lancaster, Pa., company (think “Pennsylvania Dutch) whose website claims it “maintains a philosophy of “health through continued growth” — has done with its “Creamy Guacamole Flavored Dip.”

And that’s not to mention Herr’s French Onion Dip, which feature lovely pictures of assorted onions on the front of its label, but tells you on the back that it also contains monosodum glutamate along with whey protein concentrate and two other brain-cell-death-inducing”excitotoxins” — milk protein concentrate and autolyzed yeast — as well as the gut-wrenching, inflammation-inducing thickening agent carrageenan.  (But then, perhaps such atrocious additives represent the easiest way for the company to live up to its “live life with flavor” slogan. )

To be fair, we did find at least one apparently additive-free and seemingly healthier Herr’s product that folks can enjoy on ‘Super Dip and Salsa Sunday’ — a mild, fat-free “Chunky Salsa” with things like jalapeno peppers, fresh onions and dehydrated garlic.  (There are also some unspecified “natural flavors,” but none of those “flavor enhancers” found in the guacamole and French onion dips.)

Nor is Herr’s the only food company to maintain this “double-dip standard,” as a scan of a dozen or more dips and salsas haphazardly displayed at our local supermarket revealed.

Take Frito Lay, whose Tostitos® dips also run the gamut from relatively healthy to horrific, with no way to determine which is which except by reading what each actually contains.

Tostitos “Smooth & Cheesy Dip,” for example, features a triple whammy of excitotoxins consisting of  monosodium glutamate, whey protein concentrate and autolyzed yeast extract, with another questionable flavor enhancer, maltodextrin, thrown in for good measure. By contrast, the things that go into “Simply Tostitos” Pineapple Peach Salsa all sound perfectly natural and nutritious (with the possible exception of unspecified “natural flavor”).

Then there are the good, the bad and the ugly Utz condiments (sorry, but I couldn’t resist that).  In fact, you could well picture these as characters in a western movie, with a really, really bad hombre named Utz Salsa Conquesco, whose gang of desperados not only include a couple of infamous brain-cell killers — autolyzed yeast and  hydrolyzed soy protein — as well as a third suspected one, malt extract, but a notorious artery clogger, partially hydrogenated soybean oil (enough of it to cause a measurable trans fats reading on the “Nutrition Facts” label),  which the Food and Drug Administration considers so bad that it is now attempting to phase it out of the food supply.

On the other hand, there’s the Utz “good guy” — All-Natural Chunky Salsa, with a posse of  respectable ingredients you’d pretty much expect to find in salsa (“natural flavor” being the only one whose identity is a bit of a mystery).

Appearances — as well as brands — may be deceiving

The point is, you can’t always tell whether a dip or a salsa is healthy or harmful by the brand it goes under, it’s name, or how it appears. One might assume, for instance, that a product calling itself “All Natural  Desert Pepper Trading Company Chile Con Queso” would be the essence of, well, naturalness — especially when it claims to be “all natural” with “no preservatives.” So it might come as an unpleasant surprise to discover it actually contains two excitoxins — whey protein concentrate and yeast extract — as well as a third possible one, maltodextrin.  On the other hand, Chi-Chi’s Fiesta salsa, made by the food conglomerate Hormel,  might be apt to arouse your suspicions — but on examination, it appears to be pretty much unadulterated by additives.

So just why are there so many two-faced brands out there? Let’s just say that all these companies are hedging their bets — that is, being perfectly willing and able to improve the quality of their products and eliminate additives that might be hazardous to our health, but unwilling to abandon ill-founded and unhealthy formulas just as long as they continue to turn a healthy profit

It’s up to us, then, to show them the kinds of products we want by buying only those that have good ingredients, and shunning the ones that don’t — which involves a little “required reading” of labels on our part before purchasing a dip, a salsa or any other processed food.

What such consumer pressure can accomplish  (as well as  some good news on the food front)  may be reflected by the fact that none of the condiments we examined, including the really bad ones, listed high fructose corn syrup among their ingredients — although a few did contain sugar.  Perhaps some of the other awful additives we now have to keep an eye out for will sooner or later begin to vanish as well, once enough shoppers make it unprofitable for the food industry to keep using them.

In the meantime, the best advice we can offer to those making preparations for their Superbowl parties is to read labels and buy either organic or truly natural dips and salsa whenever possible (such as the Hot Salsa put out by Green Mountain Gringo, which features such ingredients as ripe tomatoes, fresh jalapeno pepper,, tomatillos and garlics, apple cider vinegar and sea salt, and no additives).

And one other thing —  if you’re a  guacamole lover, I’d strongly suggest you  make your own, just as we do.  Simply scoop out a couple of ripe avocados and mix them together with some sour cream, then season it with lemon juice, turmeric, pepper, garlic,and whatever other herbs and spices you enjoy. (And since Super Bowl is still a week and a half away, you can buy your avocados few days in advance so they’ll ripen right on time.)

It’s the healthiest and best-tasting dip you could possibly eat — with no monosodium glutamate needed. Ever.