Foolish food questions (and answers) posed by financial paper’s ‘quizmasters’

Posted by
July 3, 2014

quizA year ago, we encouraged readers of this blog to consider the 4th of July an opportunity to declare “independence from industry’s attempts to inveigle you into ingesting fake foods and ill-advised additives on a continuous and sustained basis.”

This year, we would like to urge all of you to continue doing so – especially when it comes to resisting attempts to deliberately mislead you about the nature of those fake foods and atrocious additives.

Of course, to hear the spokespeople and surrogates for Big Food tell it, such misleading information is what you’ll find on ‘the Internet.” To get the real facts, they claim, you need to look to reliable sources of information. That, presumably, would include Big Media – like The Wall Street Journal.

In a reader quiz it provided earlier this week under the heading, “Packaged-Food Puzzle: What’s the Smart Choice,” that venerable publication tried to show us how we might make wrong assumptions when attempting to choose the healthiest food products. “It isn’t easy to judge food by its packaging,” the introductory copy pointed out. “Marketing by companies and our own perceptions can make us assume certain items are healthier than others, but often comparisons in specific areas are more complicated.”

It then went on to note how “Overall nutrition can’t be judged by one or two elements alone” and that we should “evaluate complete food-label information” before asking us to test our knowledge of how certain foods “stack up against each other.”

Keeping that advice in mind, we thought we’d find out how well we fared on this particular quiz. Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far.  In fact, had this been a real test conducted in a real classroom, we would probably have been ejected for pointing out just how foolish some of these questions were – and how the comparisons between two products involving just one or two criteria contradicted the paper’s own recommendation that we “evaluate complete food-label information.”

Let’s start with the first item – a question about which snack item has less sodium, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish or Doritos Nacho Chips. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the difference between the sodium content of both is negligible – 250 milligrams for the Goldfish compared to 210 for the nachos – there’s the fact that sodium is the least thing we should be concerned with when it comes to making a “smart choice” between these products.

When you read the “food-label information” related to ingredients, what you’ll discover is that the Doritos, which the Journal seems to regard as healthier because it has slightly lower sodium, contains the neurotoxic flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, which has been linked to countless adverse reactions, as well as whey protein concentrate, which is another form of free glutamic acid, three artificial colors and artificial flavor. Not that the Goldfish are perfect in the additive department, either – they contain autolyzed yeast, which is also a form of disguised MSG – but they’re not nearly as bad, ingredient-wise, as the Doritos.

But, hey, we can hear someone say ,”It’s OK to get the Doritos instead of the Goldfish, because The Wall Street Journal says they’re actually healthier.”

A dumb or dumber choice?

Then there’s the question about which cookie would be the smarter choice by virtue of having “less sugar” – Oreos or Real Fruit, Fat-free Fig Newtons (both made by Nabisco). Ta-da – it’s the Oreos, two of which the paper says have four fewer grams of sugar (although our own comparison between the two revealed that there is only one gram of difference in a serving size).   But far more important, both products contain high fructose corn syrup, which studies have linked to obesity, diabetes and a number of other health problems. Of course, the Newtons do have some “real fruit” in the form of figs, which the Oreos don’t, so maybe that makes them a tad more healthy.

Another query wants you to decide which item has fewer carbohydrates – Healthy Choice Chicken & Dumplings or Campbell’s Chunky Creamy Chicken & Dumplings. And the correct answer is the Campbell’s Chunky, with only 16 grams of carbs, six less than the Healthy Choice. The fact that the Campbell’s also contains monosodium glutamate, along with two other brain-zapping forms of free glutamic acid, soy protein concentrate and soy protein isolate, didn’t even merit consideration.  Not that the Healthy Choice is so healthy, either – it contains yeast extract and isolated soy protein, both also disguised forms of MSG.

As with the cookies, the “packaged-food puzzle” here should really be in regard to not which  is “the smart choice,” but rather which would be the dumber one.

Not that all the items pictured in the quiz were in the bad-food category, however. One product – the Chicken Enchilada Bake from Evol, a Boulder, Colo.-based natural food company that uses hormone-free chicken and no additives – sounds like it might actually be pretty healthy. But leave it to the Journal quizmasters to discover that a smarter choice would be Banquet Zesty Smothered Charbroiled Patty Meal from ConAgra, consisting of a pork and mechanically separated turkey (AKA “turkey ooze”) patty complete with a bevy of additives, including soy protein concentrate, the preservative BHT and caramel coloring, an artificial color containing a potential carcinogen.

Why? It seems the Banquet has 100 fewer calories – 280 vs. 380. So much for not judging food by “one or two elements alone.”

But then, maybe a really “smart choice” would be for The Wall Street Journal to confine its advice to financial issues – and leave food recommendations to those who know how to “evaluate complete food-label information.”

Have a happy Independence Day!