Strawberry Lies: What’s NOT in your food may surprise you!

quakerYour strawberry-loving kids had Quaker Strawberries and Cream oatmeal for breakfast, with Hershey’s Strawberry milk. Strawberry Fruit Gushers for dessert for lunch, and Straw-Banana-Rama Double Crush Cup Yogurt for an after-school snack. At practice, they drank Kiwi-Strawberry Vitaminwater, and then had Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups after dinner.

So how many strawberries did they eat, for goodness sake? EXACTLY NONE.

Confused?  Read on, and follow the links to credible sources for ingredients, if you want to check for yourself (and you should)!

I’m picking on strawberries, but this is by no means limited to them.

Crystal Light’s “Natural Lemonade” mix doesn’t even contain a single drop of lemon or lemonade (though it does include under 2% of “lemon juice solids, meaning solids extracted from lemons and then turned into a powder)!  Please tell me what’s “Natural” about that?

kraftguacamoleKraft sells a “guacamole dip” that contains less than 2% avocados.

Knorr “Pasta Sides” Chicken Broccoli Fettuccini has more corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, and salt than there is Chicken or Broccoli.

WHAAAAAAATTTTT?

These food marketers are counting on your being too busy (and trusting) to worry with reading the label.  They think that because they add fruit flavors or colors, you’ll be duped into buying their products and feeding them to your families.  And unfortunately, for many of us, they’re right.

If a blouse were marked as “silk” but then you found out later that it was imitation silk, you’d return it.  If you stopped for your morning “coffee” but then later learned it was made of a colored water that was flavored to taste like coffee (but didn’t have any of coffee’s physical or nutritional characteristics), you’d be up in arms.  So why are we giving food marketers so much leeway with chemical colors and flavors that help THEM save money, but dupe us every day?

How to Fight Back

1.  Read labels.  Don’t assume that because you see it on the label, it’s in the box.  Or that if it’s not on the label, it’s not in the box.  

2. Avoid buying packaged foods.  I know, it sounds extreme, but it’s actually easier than you think.  Stay away from the middle of the store – shop the periphery, where most non-processed food lives.  Buy strawberries rather than strawberry-flavored gook.  Make a game of it for a week, just to see how you do – you may be surprised at how simple and tasty your meals become!

3.  If you’re going to choose a packaged food, choose the simplest one the brand offers.  As an example, next time you’re in the grocery store, compare the ingredients in Triscuits (whole wheat, oil, and salt) to the ingredients in any other Triscuit flavor (too long to list here, and includes MSG, ugh).  Or compare regular Quaker Oatmeal to the “strawberries and cream” abomination mentioned above.

Here’s one more for the road:  Snyder’s of Hanover Eat Smart Veggie Crisps claim to be “A bountiful blend of potato, spinach, and tomato chips.”  However, they boast more potassium chloride than spinach.   Doesn’t sound very bountiful to me.

The Petition to Amend the Standard of Identity for Milk … and the REAL Reason it Matters

Glass of milk on tablecloth
Janine Chedid / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Confused about all that you’ve been hearing about aspartame and milk?  Me too … until I did a little digging.  Now I’m not confused, I’m furious.

Background/Status

In 2009, the National Milk Producer’s Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association jointly submitted a petition to the FDA (you can see the information here) to allow the use of “any safe and suitable” sweetener as a flavoring ingredient for milk and 17 other dairy products … without (and this is the key) having to include prominent front-label notices that the milk is “reduced calorie” or “reduced-sugar,” and “artificially sweetened.”  Note that manufacturers already can, and do, use the artificial sweeteners with the labeling.   Also, they can and do use the unmodified “milk” label on milk with added caloric sweeteners like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as on unsweetened milk.

The FDA has just opened the petition “for public comment and data,” which is why you’re hearing about it now in the news.

Don’t be Fooled: What’s Actually at Stake

Presumably fueling the controversy is aspartame, which is surely one of the most well-known controversial ingredients around today … and I’ve written about that below.  But as is so often the case, what we’re arguing about (aspartame) is actually just a distraction to the real, FAR FAR FAR more troubling issue:  the dairy industry wants to add ingredients without clearly stating that they are there.  Following is a verbatim (bolding is mine) snippet from the Federal Register’s request for comments:

“However, IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as ‘reduced calorie’ are not attractive to children, and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims.”

REALLY??  But oh … it gets worse:

“Further, the petitioners assert that consumers do not recognize milk—including flavored milk—as necessarily containing sugar. Accordingly, the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can ‘more easily identify its overall nutritional value.'”

Let me try re-phrasing this:  ‘Consumers (particularly children) aren’t smart enough to know that flavored milk contains sugar.  It would just confuse them if we told them, and we don’t think they really want to know anyway, so we shouldn’t tell them.  Instead, we should just quietly replace it with fake sugar, which we think will be better for them.’

Apparently the Dairy Industry thinks we can’t handle the truth.

Next on this slippery slope:  ‘Consumers have an illogical fear of <rodent meat, insects, or anything else you can imagine>, unsupported by scientific evidence.  Rather than troubling them with the details, food manufacturers should be able to include this valuable protein source without calling attention to it.’

Let’s Spread the Word

How do YOU feel about this petition … about the IDFA and NMPF statements above?  PLEASE add your comments to this post, and share your thoughts with others.

Related Information

In include the following information because it is indeed related.   But please help spread the word that it’s the least of the problem with the petition currently under consideration.

The Aspartame Controversy

One side maintains that aspartame is an “excitotoxin” or “neurotoxin” that causes brain changes that lead to ADD/ADHD symptoms, impaired learning/memory, brain tumors, and worse.  I dug really hard, and while there is a lot of media noise around this, there are actually very few published reports that support this view.  Many on this side accuse the powerful food lobby of “hiding” research that shows the neurological and other ill effects.

The other side points out that despite heavy assault from internet memes and hoax emails, asparatame has consistently passed the scrutiny of scientific studies, including ones by the National Cancer Institute, and has been determined to be safe for human consumption.

Personal note:  For myself and my family, I’m sticking with molecules that have been around for long enough to understand long-term (and I mean generational) effects.  Aspartame, introduced in 1981, doesn’t make the cut.  Also, I’m negative on anything that supports further development of my sweet tooth – and at 200 times sweeter than sugar, aspartame is a taste bud bomb I don’t need.

What is Phenylalanine and how does it relate to this issue? 

It has an awkward name, but it’s actually a naturally-occurring essential amino acid (amino acids are the building blocks of protein).  It’s found in most animal products – meat, dairy, eggs, even human breast milk.  And it is one of the breakdown products of aspartame.

The reason you see warnings about it is that about 1 in 15,000 people have a condition called Phenylketonuria, which prevents them from metabolizing phenylalanine; it instead builds up in their bodies.  These warnings allow them to make safe food choices given their condition.

The Dirty Art of “Leanwashing”

Sugar Smacks ad from 1977 (Leanwashing has been around for a while!)

Sugar Smacks ad from 1977 (Leanwashing has been around for a while!)

Have you seen the Leanwashing site?  This website, from Enviromedia Social Marketing, founded by Valerie Davis and Kevin Tuerff, lets consumers report brands that use vague of misleading claims about health benefits that make a food seem like a smart choice when it is not.  Examples are 100-calorie snack packs of highly-processed gunk, or sugar-drenched cereals that scream “WHOLE GRAIN!” on the package.   I’m a huge fan of this site!

From one of their Advisory Panel members, former Big Food exec and healthy eating advocate Bruce Bradley, “Over the past decade or so, Big Food increasingly acts more and more like a snake oil salesman, shilling sugary, salt-laden, fatty processed foods and calling them ‘healthy.'”  Exactly – and the result is a generation of mothers – and their kids – who have come to believe that fruit actually comes “by the foot.”

Enviromedia’s guidelines for identifying Leanwashed products:

  • Does the product mislead with words?  (common Leanwashing words include “natural”, “whole-grain”, and “wholesome”)
  • Does the product mislead with visuals, sponsorship or imagery? (athletes on candy packages, for example)
  • Does the product make vague health claims?
  • Does the product exaggerate how healthy it is?
  • Does the product appear to mask information, making a product seem healthier than it really is?

Check out the site and share it with others … and be on the lookout for Leanwashing in the grocery stores and restaurants you visit.  When you see it for what it is, it loses its hold on you!