Five snacks that use healthy hype to hide unhealthy ingredients

Posted by
August 29, 2013

According to the latest information  from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans don’t really “eat meals” any more. That’s because meals, according to the 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) data, have morphed into one long, continuous snack, with nearly 60 percent of Americans surveyed reporting having consumed three or more snacks the previous day. Even nearly a third of toddlers under the age of two are already becoming compulsive snackers, the figures suggest.

Given this national epidemic of munchies, we couldn’t help wondering what folks who claim to be concerned about health and fitness are snacking on.

In a very unofficial, unscientific Food Identity Theft survey, we found that people who described themselves as “careful” “healthy” and “informed” eaters are snacking away on items containing potato flour, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, hexane-processed soy ingredients, fiber from chicory root and corn and a variety of additives containing free glutamic acid (MSG).

Admittedly, the descriptions and packages are designed to appeal to those who believe they are “eating healthy.”  But perhaps if the ingredient panels on so many of these products wasn’t hidden under the package flap and required not only glasses but a magnifying glass to read, health-conscious individuals might not be so easily duped into believing they’re buying a snack that’s good for them.

Here are five examples of seemingly healthy snack-foods that ought to be barred from the daily diet of anyone who is truly interested in eating well.

While the CLIF BAR products appear to have a halo of health around them – perhaps because they contain a percentage of organic ingredients – the original CLIF energy bar is basically a soy-based product, containing soy protein isolate as the second ingredient (after brown rice syrup), soybeans and soy flour. This nonorganic soy protein isolate is likely processed with hexane, a byproduct of gasoline refining. The Wisconsin based, nonprofit consumer group The Cornucopia Institute, says that hexane is a “neurotoxin and a hazardous air pollutant,” used by soy processors as a solvent. Hexane is not permitted in the processing of organic soy. Soy protein isolate is also a source of processed free glutamic acid – commonly referred to as “hidden” MSG.

Quaker Chewy Yogurt Strawberry Granola Bar
This is nothing more than a cheap candy bar masquerading as a “healthy” snack. The yogurt the package makes such a big deal about is merely a “flavored coating” and the “strawberry” refers to “sweetened dried strawberries” – with added fructose, potato starch, glucose syrup and sodium alginate.

The bar also contains high fructose corn syrup (in two locations on the ingredient panel), as well as a couple sources of hidden MSG and  the preservative BHT.

Kellogg’s Nutri Grain Cereal Bars
True, they’ve taken out the high fructose corn syrup, but the remaining ingredients are still pretty bad. Of course, we all know there are scores of foods and snack foods in the store with bad ingredients. But what surprised us about Nutri Grain Bars is the way the packaging and advertising have fooled many health-conscious folks. The Nutri Grain Strawberry Cereal Bar we examined, for example, contained carrageenan, Red 40, numerous soybean ingredients (that have been processed with hexane), fructose and artificial flavors.

Special K Protein Meal Bar
The list of ingredients on this product was printed in such a tiny font, and was so long that it ran from under the flap all the way down the package side. We had to find the super-duper magnifying glass to actually get a look at them – and what ingredients they are! Let’s start with whey protein concentrate and soy protein isolate – both sources of free glutamic acid (MSG), artificial flavors, preservatives, fructose, and a host of other ingredients derived from corn and soy. Not only isn’t this any kind of  substitute for a “real” meal, but it deserves to be charged with ‘meal identity theft’.

Veggie Crisps Mixed Vegetable Snack from Herr’s
By no stretch of the imagination can these be described as containing “mixed vegetables.” Their actual ingredients are potato flour mixed with canola oil, some added “natural” flavors and a dab of tomato paste and spinach powder (which has none of the nutrients contained in even a small serving of real spinach, such as Vitamin A, C and iron).

So if you’re one of those people who can’t stop snacking, at least try turning it into a healthy habit – by ditching all those additive-adulterated, thinly disguised junk foods in favor of something really nutritious — like some fruit, nuts, homemade granola bars, raisins, or how about just eating a real meal instead?