Fruit identity theft – or ‘where’s the fruit’?

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December 1, 2011 – Yes, it’s true. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day  Unfortunately, many of us are inviting some sneaky guests  to the breakfast table with bogus claims of bearing fruit.

Most everyone has heard about the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables; in fact, dietary experts are now calling for a lot more than you might think. The Harvard School of Public Health, for one, recommends five to thirteen servings a day. But unless we have a full-time cook who spends all day in the kitchen prepping fruits and veggies, we’re unlikely to be consuming anywhere close to 6 ½ cups daily. So you might think that “sneaking in” some extra fruit in whatever form we can find it is a good idea. Well, perhaps – that is, unless the fruit in question doesn’t really exist, but is merely an example of “fruit identity theft.”

In fact, try finding any actual fruit in a number of seemingly ‘fruity” cereals, and your search will prove to be ..well, fruitless.

Fruit identity theft case number one: Kellogg’s Froot Loops; Now maybe they didn’t really mean fruit, it is spelled “Froot” after all. But this vintage breakfast “food” (introduced in 1966) is colorful, claims “natural fruit flavors” and comes complete with the familiar face of Toucan Sam, but unfortunately contains no fruit.  In place of anything fruity, it does contain red 40, yellow 6, BHT as a preservative and artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oils.

Fruit identity theft case number two: Post Fruity Pebbles; There is nothing in Fruity Pebbles that sounds remotely like fruit, looks like fruit or even was a fruit at any point, except for the word “fruity” in the name. Post does claim it “rocks your whole mouth!” whatever that means. This cereal is also a hotbed of bad ingredients including still more trans fat-containing hydrogenated vegetable oil, and a variety of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.

Fruit identity theft case number three: General Mills’ Trix Wildberry Red Swirls; Trix cereal is even older than Froot Loops and in the ongoing quest to keep it updated ,General Mills has introduced the “wildberry red” flavor. As for truth in advertising there is “red,” as in Red 40, an artificial color, but not a hint of berries, wild or otherwise.

Fruit identity theft case number four: Fruity Cheerios; another General Mills product. Appealing to an older crowd than Fruity Pebbles, these Fruity Cheerios come in a really neat 1960s retro-type package. And it does contain a little something resembling fruit in the form of “pear puree,” This ingredient, however, is listed down below the oil and above the salt, along with red 40, blue 1 and yellow 6.

As I mentioned in a September blog on fake blueberry foods and “fruit” snacks, the presence of real fruit and vegetables in processed foods is so scarce nowadays that if a product does contain it they often make it a big selling point as in, “made with REAL fruit.”

So what to do if we want to up our intake of fruits? The rule of thumb seems to be that if a product has “fruit,” “fruity” or “blueberries” in its name, it won’t contain any. If you want more fruit in your diet, there’s no substitute for the real thing, which isn’t all that difficult to come by. A quick pick, if fresh fruit is out of season, is to stock up on some frozen varieties, put some in a dish, put it in the fridge, and by morning you’ll have some real fruit to put on your breakfast cereal.

As for the cereal itself, there are plenty of better choices out there, including selections from   companies such as Cascadian Farms and Amy’s Kitchen. And don’t forget the old standby, oatmeal — only watch out for not-so-hot “kids’ oatmeal” products that contain the same artificial flavors, colors and preservatives as the above“fruit-flavored” cereals. You can probably make quick-cooking oats (which contain just one ingredient, oats) in a pot just as fast as more processed microwave varieties.

Fruit identity theft is another reason why you have to read the label on a product, not just the name or package claim – that is, if you want to provide your family with more fruitful sources of nutrition.