Month: April 2013

Deceptive Labeling: Sliced Breads

Talking of glucose fructose …….

This ingredient is abundant in packaged sliced breads. Along with a ton of other undesirable ingredients as well. It is well known that the artificial colours in a package of Smarties can have a behavioural impact on a child, but did you know that calcium propionate can have the same effect?

If you check out many big brand bakery websites, such as Dempsters, you’ll notice that they are saturated with messages stating how healthy their breads are.

While the wholegrains are good, and a definite step forward from “enriched wheat flour”, they are not making up a high enough proportion of the product. With this many wholegrains, the amount of fibre should be higher than 3g a slice. Also they are disguising the remaining ingredients that counteract the wholegrain benefits. High fructose corn syrup (glucose-fructose) is still the next ingredient after the grains and the GMO ingredients and chemicals are still added. Including calcium propionate.

But there is some light in the tunnel. Look at the ingredients carefully and you’ll find an absence of many of these dangerous ingredients. For instance, Dempsters Wholegrains Wheat and Oats with Honey bread has the following ingredients:

​​INGREDIENTS: WHOLE GRAIN WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR INCLUDING THE GERM, WATER, OATS, SUGAR, YEAST*, HONEY, WHEAT PROTEIN, WATER EXTRACT OF DRIED RAISINS, SALT, VEGETABLE OIL (CANOLA OR SOYBEAN), CULTURED WHEAT STARCH, VINEGAR, SOYBEAN LECITHIN.

Sugar and honey are used instead of glucose-fructose and soybean lecithin is used instead of the chemical emulsifiers in the other breads.

As well as the packaged sliced breads, there are many local artisan breads now available. Keep watch for their ingredients but generally these are better and do not contain the glucose-fructose.

Overall, look for and avoid the following:

LOOK FOR:                                    AVOID:
Whole grain/wheat etc.                  Enriched
Sugar/honey                                   Glucose-Fructose
All pronounceable words                Unpronounceable words
Calcium propionate
Colour (natural or artificial)
Partially hydrogenated fats or shortening

On the nutrition facts, the amount of fibre is a consideration yes, but ensure that it doesn’t mean you end up with a high sodium content instead.
 

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Glucose-Fructose

In Canada, High Fructose Corn Syrup is referred to as Glucose-Fructose. This is a genetically modified, cheap sugar substitute that is heavily linked to excess weight.

Its often found in processed foods so it’s important to check the ingredient list and avoid it.

The surprising places it can be found are:

Breads
Crackers
Yogurts
Jam
Applesauce
Ketchup

Check your ingredients!

 

Deceptive Labeling: The Dairy Aisle

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This has to be the most confusing aisle in the grocery store. Yogurts, known as a healthy food, make their way to almost everybody’s cart and the different varieties are endless.

How on earth to choose the right one?

Take yogurt back to its basics. If you were to make it at home, you have milk and a live bacterial culture. That’s it. It comes complete with protein, calcium, enough sugar to make it palatable and probiotics.

Let’s have a look at the ingredients that are typically found in yogurts today:

Milk: The basis of all yogurts, it is the fermentation of milk that makes it a yogurt. Greek yogurt is strained milk which makes it thicker and creamier.
Bacterial Culture: Creates the fermentation. It’s a necessary ingredient.

So this is all that’s needed. In addition, here’s what you see:

Some form of sugar: Sugar counteracts all the benefits of the good bacteria (probiotics). Choosing a yogurt without it is far better for you. Especially if it’s glucose-fructose, which is high fructose corn syrup. Greek yogurt has the whey removed from the milk which includes some of the sweetness so it’s more tangy that normal. If you don’t like this, add your own sweetener, honey, agave nectar or applesauce.
Modified corn starch: Since corn is a GMO ingredient, modifying the modified is just another step in the processing of your food. It’s not something you want to see on your ingredient list. It’s put there to make the yogurt appear creamier.
Gelatin: A thickener, it is made from animal bones. If you are vegetarian (or this just makes you cringe) choose a yogurt, either without it or with pectin (from plants) or locust bean gum instead.
Artificial Sweeteners: Check out my list for all the possible names and avoid them. They are most often found in yogurts labeled “sugar-free”.
Colour: Found in almost all fruit yogurts, it can be natural – for instance carmine, made from red beetles, or artificial dyes. The artificial dyes are certainly one to avoid.
Natural or Artificial Flavour: Made in a lab by a flavourist, the only difference is the natural flavour is originally sourced from something natural. After that, it is the same as the artificial with chemicals added to it.
Carrageenan: This is derived from seaweed and has been used since the 1930’s as a thickener. However, it’s become controversial the last while since one form of it can be problematic. Until this is resolved, it’s best to be wary of it and not ingest too much.
Preservatives: Used to keep the yogurts stable for longer, it’s not necessary as this is done naturally by the bacteria. Just how long do you want to keep this yogurt?!

The best choice to make is plain, preferably organic. I prefer higher fat, because a) they taste better and it’s a small amount and b) the fat helps you absorb more of the protein and the calcium. But since fat also carries toxins, I choose organic.

Another reason for organic, is that the organic section is less saturated with choices, making my life simpler when choosing.

One drawback to plain organic yogurt, is that you can rarely find small tubs of it which is handy for lunchbags and popular with kids. My daughter loves her little tubs of yogurt and I keep trailing the aisles thinking I have to be able to find something healthy for her amongst all the choices. But I still can’t. So the best I can do, is the PC Organics 4 pack that are flavoured with vanilla. It’s the simplest, cleanest choice I can find in a small package.

My favourite (in Ontario) is Mapletons or Organic Meadow. I use them in smoothies or in a meat marinade (it’s particularly good with chicken). I add my own fruits, flavours or sweeteners, seeds, flax and granola. And even it’s not portable, my kids inhale it when at home.

Marketing to Kindergarteners

If you ask my almost  5-year old what McDonalds was, she’d answer that it was a farm and a song. Some may think that it is wrong that I have sheltered her from fast food this far. In my defence she had, in her very early years, a sesame allergy that prevented us from going to any hamburger restaurant. She was cleared of that last year but we still haven’t gone.

I am very aware that one day she will go. Many of her friends love going and their talk will gain her interest soon enough. But I can’t say I’m looking forward to that day.

My aim in raising both of my children is to give them a solid foundation of what food should be. And what it should taste like.  Right now, they both only eat until they are full and rarely overeat. If they continue on this path, I am convinced that neither will ever know what it is like to struggle with their weight.

But their introduction to fast and processed food is only a matter of time. I imagine my daughter’s first impression of fast food won’t be good but her association will likely change when she sees the toy, the playcentre and the experience that goes with it.

In the grocery store, my daughter looks for the products with princesses on them. Anything with a princess is good for her, no matter what is actually inside.

The marketing is working on her. It’s doing it’s job and now I have my work cut out to educate her on how to interpret these messages she is hearing.  But it’s probably a good refresher for me too.

Yesterday, in the cereal aisle, she actually asked me for Froot Loops. It’s too bad my husband wasn’t there, he would have gotten a good laugh from seeing that exchange!

 

What’s Cooking: Granola Bars

My tried and tested recipe for your own granola bar:

Granola Bars

1 cup dried fruit, chopped (any combination of apricots, cranberries, dates, raisins)
¼ cup unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup water
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups rolled grains (any combination of oats, kamut, spelt and/or rye)
¼ cup hulled millet and/or amaranth
1 cup raw seeds (any combination of flax, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
and/or chopped nuts (almonds, pecans,walnuts)
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp almond butter
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 organic eggs

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix dried fruit and coconut with the water and vanilla extract and leave to soak while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine all rolled grains, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. Heat butter and oil in a large skillet and add contents of bowl.  Stir to coat and cook for about 10 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from stove and let cool for a few minutes.

Lightly beat the eggs and add the maple syrup and almond butter.  Pour into bowl with dried fruit, mix until well combined, then add to the toasted grains and nuts/seeds.  Combine all ingredients together.

Line an 8” x 8” baking sheet with parchment paper and spread mixture in evenly, packing it well.  Bake for 30 minutes, until golden and slightly crispy.

Remove from oven, cool and transfer to a cooling tray.  Once cooled, cut into 2” inch squares and store in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Serves 12

Deceptive Labeling: Granola Bars

Commercial granola bars are little more than candy bars now. The mix of the food industry’s favourite ingredients, sugar, fat and salt make a mean granola bar. But NONE of them are going to help you lose weight.

If you are really in need of a granola bar, I like Larabar or Taste of Nature. These bars are made from whole foods without anything added. They are high in sugar but include a lot of protein and fibre as well to balance out the sugar intake and prevent a sugar high.

This is the ingredient list for Taste of Nature Argentina Peanut Plains bar. This bar has 8g protein, 3g fibre and 4g sugar. The serving size is for 1 bar (which might sound obvious but don’t underestimate what can be done to make the nutrition facts look good):
Peanuts, agave nectar, peanut butter, brown rice syrup, sea salt.

The other bars by this company have higher levels of sugar but in moderation, they are a good choice.

For other granola bars – particularly those found in the middle aisles of the grocery store, it’s going to be challenging to find a good choice. Many feed off their “healthy” names, such as Special K (Kelloggs) or Quaker Oats.

Look for a serving size to ensure it’s the entire bar, then check the fibre, protein and sugar levels. After that, look for the ingredients. A long list of ingredients that can’t be pronounced is going to be bad news.

I checked out a few that looked healthy. I started with the Quaker Fibre and Omega-3 Granola Bar. The website is full of oats and health. The nutrition facts lists looks promising; low sodium; fibre and sugar is not completely out of balance and it includes 2g of protein. But I wouldn’t eat this because of the ingredients list:
GRANOLA (WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS [WITH OAT BRAN], BROWN SUGAR, ROLLED WHOLE WHEAT, HONEY, SUNFLOWER OIL, MODIFIED MILK INGREDIENTS), SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE CHUNKS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, COCOA BUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLA), CORN SYRUP, CRISP RICE (RICE FLOUR, SUGAR, SALT, MALTED BARLEY EXTRACT), INULIN, ROLLED OATS, INVERT SUGAR, MILLED FLAXSEED, BROWN SUGAR, GLYCERIN, SUGAR, SUNFLOWER OIL, BRAN STRANDS (WHEAT BRAN, OAT HULL FIBRE, EVAPORATED CANE JUICE, OAT BRAN, MALTED BARLEY EXTRACT, SEA SALT, SODIUM BICARBONATE, COLOUR), HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL AND PALM OILS, ROLLED WHOLE WHEAT, WATER, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOURS, SOYBEAN OIL, WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, MOLASSES, BUTTERMILK, SALT, SOY LECITHIN, MILK FAT, SODIUM BICARBONATE, CARAMEL COLOUR, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, POLYSORBATE 60, BHT (PRESERVATIVE), SKIM MILK POWDER.

10 different types of sugar!!! Plus inulin, which, while a form of soluble fibre, is also a sugar and is a popular food additive with manufacturers now. Plus all kind of chemicals in the flavours, colour, additives and preservatives and a good dose of GMO ingredients (soy).
This is a great example of a cheap to produce product that is marketed well. It’s very deceiving.

Kelloggs’s Nutri-Grain bars are popular. A check of the nutrition facts says 2g each of fibre and protein and 13g of sugar. The ingredients list is interesting:

Wheat flour, whole oats, sugar/glucose-fructose, whole wheat flour, vegetable oil, water, chicory root (inulin), dextrose, milk ingredients, wheat bran, salt, cellulose, potassium bicarbonate, natural and artificial flavour, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, wheat gluten, cornstarch, carrageenan, guar gum.
Filling: Sugar/glucose-fructose, blueberry puree concentrate, glycerin, water, sodium alginate, modified corn starch, natural and artificial flavour, citric acid, methylcellulose, calcium phosphate, malic acid, colour.

A double dose of high fructose corn syrup (called glucose-fructose in Canada) and flavours, GMO chemical additives (mono- and diglycerides) and the controversial carrageenan.

The best type of granola bar is the one you can make yourself. Using raw nuts, seeds, organic sweeteners and other ingredients you know are good for you. The effort you go to making the granola will make you appreciate what you are eating. You can cut the bars into small portions, only a small amount will fill you up and keep you satisfied for quite a while.

An individual lifestyle

With the lifestyle of today, never mind the food manufacturers, it’s easy to get caught up in the thinking “everybody else eats/lives like this, it’s ok for me”.

It doesn’t mean it’s healthy, or even ok for you. You are the only one responsible for your own health and therefore your own diet. Set yourself your own standards and don’t be swayed by outside influence.