Supermarket ‘short cuts’ and other tricks to steer clear of

Posted by
September 26, 2012

Back in the days when food was actually food, shoppers didn’t need guidebooks or other informational devices, such as phone apps, to find what they needed. But now that supermarket shopping has become an exercise in navigating through a jumble of competing products, it’s gotten a lot more time-consuming. Food manufacturers, of course, have developed no shortage of short cuts and other gimmicks supposedly designed to simplify shopping and food preparation – many of which have only served to further complicate the problem of providing your family with a nutritious diet within a limited time frame.

Here are some of our picks for some of the dumb and  dumber food product ideas along these lines– items so unworthy of your consideration as a shopper that we wonder how they made it to the marketplace in the first place:

  1. How to make water uncool: If you find the ideas of plain water just too plain for your taste, you can always make some iced tea. But do you really want to want to ‘enhance’ it by pouring in some propylene glycol, acesulfame potassium, two artificial colors and a preservative? That’s what you’ll be doing when you add Mio Energy Liquid Water Enhancer from Kraft Foods. The bottle may be cool, but what’s inside is anything but.
  2. ‘Uncrustworthy’ alternative: I know folks are busy these days, but just how time-consuming is it to make a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Is it really necessary to have to resort to a ready-made alternative like Smucker’s Uncrustables, which comes without any crust but a few other things added, such as dough conditioners and partially hydrogenated oils (as well as high fructose corn syrup, which is a standard ingredient in Smucker’s jelly)? The ad copy claims “Uncrustables sandwiches have that great homemade taste…” But a real “homemade” PB&J can be made quite easily using ingredients that don’t contain all those undesirable additives (in fact, my four-year-old neighbor can make one all by himself).
  3. Bogus bagels: How many times have you had to go to the trouble of taking a package of cream cheese out of the fridge, opening it, and then still having the job of spreading it on a bagel? Well that work effort is now a thing of the past thanks to Bagel-fuls from Kraft. These “toasty bagels and smooth cream cheese all in one” come in eight varieties with “no need for prep or cleanup.” What a time saver! Not mentioned, of course, is the fact that these bun-like concoctions bear no actual resemblance to bagels (a clear-cut case of bagel identity theft), But they do contain artificial colors, refined flour and dough conditioners.
  4. Junk food products in nutritious disguises: Favorites in that category include Canada Dry Ginger Ale with added green tea (and HFCS along with two preservatives), and WhoNu “nutrition rich” cookies — the cookie that is touted to be as nutritious as real foods such as oatmeal, blueberries and milk.
  5. Fruitless foods with fruity names: There are no lack of products to choose from in this category, including drinks, cereals, and so-called “fruit” roll ups. A favorite is Oops! All Berries cereal from the Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch lineup. As we noted last March, Oops! joins such other breakfast classics as Froot Loops by Kellogg’s, Post Fruity Pebbles, General Mills’ Trix Wildberry Red Swirls and Fruity Cheerios in being a product that will have you searching fruitlessly for any actual fruit. The name of this product, “Oops!” is more of a mystery than the fact it contains no fruit. Could it be that Quaker Oats named it that as sort of a “truth-in-labeling” claim for the less-than-fruity ingredients? Despite the red, purple and odd aqua and green colors in the “fruit” balls, “Oops!” will not provide you with any of the benefits that a real blueberry or strawberry will. And as I’ve learned, if a product has “fruit,” “fruity” or “blueberries” in its name, most likely you won’t find any. So if fresh fruit is out of season in your locale, get some frozen varieties, put a bowl in the fridge at night, and by breakfast time you’ll have some actual fruit to put on your cereal – that is to say, real fruit with real taste!


The bottom line is: don’t waste either your time or money on short cuts and gimmicks that end up getting you nowhere in terms of either making your life easier or your family’s diet healthier.


Be sure to take a moment to sign the new Citizens for Health petition asking the FDA to take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose amounts above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows), and also, in the interim, to provide accurate label information so consumers know just what they’re buying (you can read the petition here). This “truth-in-labeling” petition asks that the FDA require a manufacturer that uses HFCS to state the fructose percentage in that HFCS formulation and have the label reflect that information, such as HFCS-55, or HFCS-9