Posted by Linda Bonvie
July 10, 2014
By BILL BONVIE
This summer, it seems that more processed food products than ever are vying for a spot in our backpacks, picnics or barbecues.
So to which ones will we give the honor? All too often, it goes to those products with which we feel most comfortable — especially when their packages boast of health benefits. And as a result, we fail to look at what’s actually in them, and whether they’re really as reliable from a health standpoint as we’ve been led to believe, either previously or currently.
Take Nabisco’s Ritz Crackers, for instance. These circular golden-brown snacks in the red box with the blue and yellow logo is as familiar as an old family friend. Many of us also associate them with the late beloved actor Andy Griffith and the famous signature line he delivered in that 1970s TV commercial: “Everything tastes great when it sits on a Ritz.”
Given that level of nostalgic familiarity, — along with the claim that Ritz Crackers are “baked with whole wheat with 5g whole grain” — we might just take for granted that this is the sort of product whose integrity we can trust, and not bother looking at its ingredients list. And so we might never realize that it contains such additives as partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, one of the sources of artery-clogging trans fat that the Food and Drug Administration admits are responsible for approximately 7,000 fatal heart attacks a year and has now proposed be phased out of the food supply (although that may take some time). Or high fructose corn syrup, the cheap laboratory sweetener that studies have linked to obesity, diabetes and a number of other serious ailments.
We might also not realize that much healthier alternatives may well be sitting nearby in the same aisle, if not on the same shelf. Our local supermarket, for example, offers Wild Harvest Organic butter-style golden rounds crackers, which you’d find nearly impossible to distinguish from a Ritz in appearance and which taste quite similar, if not better. The same can be said of Late July Organic “Classic Rich” Crackers. But being organic, these brands contain no partially hydrogenated oil, HFCS or other potentially harmful additives.
(We did, however, notice one thing that’s different about the Wild Harvest product – the serving size, which is nine crackers compared to five for the Ritz. Had the latter an equivalent serving size, not only would things like the sodium content be similar, but the actual amount of trans fat in the Ritz, which is listed as zero thanks to a labeling loophole that allows anything under.5 grams of trans fat not to be counted, might well have to be disclosed on the box.)
And what about those toppings?
Of course, Andy Griffith, in leading up to his famous line in that commercial, also gave a number of examples of what he was talking about, such as “peanut butter and jelly on a Ritz cracker.”
Well, yes, even after all these years, that’s still a combo you might want to try, using some other familiar, trusted brands, like Peter Pan Peanut Butter and Smucker’s Concord Grape Jelly. But before you do, you might also want to keep in mind that the Smucker’s is going to add to the amount of HFCS you’re ingesting (so much for those claims that it’s fine when used “in moderation”), and the Peter Pan is going to subject your cardiovascular system to even more of that heart-attack-inducing partially hydrogenated oil.
Fortunately, there are better options readily available – such as Welch’s Natural Concord Grape (or Natural Strawberry) spread whose label notes that it contains no high fructose corn syrup (unlike the regular Welch’s, which does contain it) and various natural and organic brands of peanut butter, which contain nothing but…peanuts (and perhaps a little salt).
And then there was this suggestion from Andy: “You hungry? Then have some onion dip on a crisp Ritz cracker.”
Yes, let’s. The Lay’s French Onion Dip we found on display in a nearby aisle, might be just the ticket. Of course, it would add a couple of other potentially harmful additives to what’s already in the Ritz – the neurotoxic flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate and another member of the free glutamic acid family, whey protein concentrate.
Then again we might try topping those crackers with some healthy-sounding spinach dip from another old, familiar brand – Utz. In addition to monosodium glutamate and whey protein concentrate, that would provide some yeast extract, yet another form of MSG in disguise, not to mention artificial color (titanium dioxide) and two preservatives.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any dips that were much better than those, ingredient-wise – which is why we recommend that you whip together some of your own, using the simple expedient of sour cream as a base and adding some onion, spinach or avocado. Or you could opt for some of the fine salsa products that are now available with fresh, natural ingredients and none of those nasty additives, such as Green Mountain brand.
Yes, those would go very well on crackers – the kind made with healthy natural or organic ingredients. But, despite our long years of familiarity with them, that’s not a description of Ritz Crackers.
Sorry about that, Andy, wherever you are.