Those supposedly ‘healthy’ products could simply be junk food in disguise

Posted by
August 28, 2012

The world’s oldest question may still be “what’s for dinner,” but a modern-day version seems to be, “what’s safe to eat for dinner?”

Supermarkets today are stocked with an array of ersatz and deceptive products, and the worst of the lot seem to be the kind that try and entice you with “healthy” sounding names and claims. “All-natural,” is a popular one (and also a term that is the subject of numerous class-action claims filed by consumers), along with  “healthy,” “light,” and a new favorite, “contains antioxidants.”

As author Michael Pollan advised in his book In Defense of Food, you should be selecting real foods when you shop, not “foodish products.” If you don’t have the time or resources to cross all processed foods off your shopping list, you probably carefully choose items that seem to be the “healthiest” on the shelf.  But seemingly “healthy” foods aren’t always what they appear to be.  Some, in fact, may actually contain as much in the way of undesirable additives as those junk food items you routinely make such a point of avoiding.

An example is a name that has long been considered in the “good for you” category – Campbell’s V-8 juice – a drink supposedly chock full of veggies (which are mostly tomatoes) in liquid form.  Now while the standard version, and even some V-8 variations, might be able to pass muster for many “careful” shoppers, a splashy but less savory member of the V-8 family has now entered the picture – one appropriately enough called V-8 “Splash.” Because it bears the V-8 name and logo and makes some healthy-sounding label claims, you might automatically assume that this “refreshing blend of delicious fruity flavors with a hint of carrot” along with some “Antioxidant Plus” would be the perfect alternative to those high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)-laden soft drinks on a hot summer day. Well, guess again – because it so happens that HFCS is the second ingredient in “Splash,” right after water.

Another V-8 relation is the blend of tomato and clam juice known as Clamato, manufactured by Mott’s (which was acquired by the candy and soda company Cadbury Schweppes in 1982).  Of course, we all know that tomatoes are good for us, and shellfish lovers will tell you the same holds true of clams. A glance at the ingredient label, however, tells us that the third and fourth ingredients in this “tomato cocktail” are HFCS and monosodium glutamate. Even if you don’t make a point of drinking this beverage, the Clamato web site is filled with recipes using this MSG-cocktail in meat, fish, shellfish and chicken dishes, calling it the “secret ingredient.” It’s just one more reason why those with extreme sensitivities to MSG take a chance eating anything they have not made themselves.

It may be ‘vegan’, but that doesn’t make it healthy

The word “vegan” on the label, signifying that a product contains no animal or animal-derived ingredients, might seem at first glance like an easy indicator of a healthy selection, even if you don’t follow a vegan diet. Meat substitutes, however, are often hotbeds of bad ingredients, a good example being  Boca Original Vegan Meatless Burgers found in the frozen-food case. These “burgers” are actually loaded with flavor-enhancing additives such as soy protein concentrate, yeast extract, and hydrolyzed wheat protein – all of which contain free glutamic acid, often called “hidden MSG.”

Finally, there’s dessert – and what could be a healthier one than yogurt, with all those live, active cultures providing you with the beneficial bacteria you need to ward off pathogens in your digestive system? And to up the ante, how about making it a “light” yogurt from one of the better-known brands — like Yoplait Light, or Dannon’s “Light & Fit.”

If you bother looking beyond those seemingly healthy brand names and images, however, you’ll find that such “light” yogurt products contain the synthetic sweetener aspartame, which has been linked to a variety of adverse reactions and ailments, as well as acesulfame potassium,another artificial sweetener.

The bottom line, once again, is that you can’t take it for granted that a food product is “healthy” simply because it falls into a category (or under a brand name) of things that are supposed to be. If you want to be sure that whatever processed foods you  and your family consume are truly the best options available, you’ve got to take that little bit of extra time to check the ingredients label to make sure that what you’re buying isn’t simply junk food in disguise.

Or take a tip from Pollan and “get out of the supermarket whenever possible.” Because “you won’t find any high fructose corn syrup at the farmers’ market.”