The U.S. has entered a health kick in response to rising obesity rates. Instead of carbs or fat, America has chosen the hippie-hipster route of embracing Mama Earth. One could play a drinking game with a number of “organic,” “natural,” and “heart healthy” labels in the supermarket. Do not let food companies fool you with slick packaging and massive advertising budgets. Here are five faux health foods, along with healthier swaps.
1. Kellogg’s Smart Start
There is nothing smart about starting your day with 14 grams of refined sugar and 43 grams of quasi-refined carbohydrates per cup. Skulking in the ingredients list are high fructose corn syrup, polydextrose and BHT, all non-nutritious chemicals. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous 100% daily values for iron and folic acid—you consume both in many foods, and an iron surplus can damage your heart and liver.
Try Kashi GoLean, which contains 10 grams of fiber, 13 grams of protein, and only 6 grams of sugar. Each cup also contains 480 mg of potassium, which regulates fluid levels and balances sodium. Kashi’s products contain no artificial ingredients. For a cheaper healthy cereal, check out Trader Joe’s Honey, Almond and Flax 9 Whole Grain Crunch.
2. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
When fat was the fanged diet monster, a dark ritual brought I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter into the world. The label simply is not true, and the product contains a slew of unhealthy chemicals. “0 trans fats”? Look up “hydrogenated oil,” then check the ingredients list.
Land O’ Lakes Whipped Butter contains only sweet cream and salt, the same number of calories, less fat, and no trans fats. Smart Balance, a butter substitute made from natural oils, is another option. Butter is not a health food, but these varieties are far better than laboratory junk.
Each bottle contains 8 teaspoons of sugar and heaps of unbacked health claims. Those beefy vitamins? Negated by your surging insulin levels and disrupted metabolism. No wonder the Center for Science in the Public Interest just filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola for misrepresenting Vitaminwater as a health beverage.
Nothing tops straight water, but if you absolutely cannot stand the stuff, check out Hint Essence Water. Based locally and made without preservatives or calories, Hint comes in all-natural fruit flavors such as Honeydew Hibiscus and Strawberry Kiwi. If you must have your Vitaminwater, at least go for the new naturally sweetened Vitaminwater 10 line.
4. Whole Grain Pop Tarts
“Whole grain” is the food industry’s current buzzword, and everybody wants on the wagon. Whole grains are the first ingredient in these new Pop Tarts…followed promptly by enriched (nutritionally void) flour, seven kinds of sugar, and trans fat.
Is there any semi-healthy swap for a pop tart? Not really. Amy’s Organic Toaster Pops contain whole grains and leave out the chemistry set, but lack fiber and nutrients. You may want to check out this quick, healthy breakfast alternative: Trader Joe’s Fiber Cakes. Packed full of fiber and fruit, the cakes are little muffins brimming with nutritious yummies.
5. Special K Bliss Bar
Scream “It’s only 90 calories!” all you want, but 90 calories of what? Certainly not fiber or protein, but just look at that sparkly sugar and corn syrup.
The quality of your food is just as important as the quantity of your food in determining good nutrition.
Next time, try a Larabar. Made from smooshed dates, nuts, fruits and spices, Larabars come in tasty flavors such as Key Lime Pie and Cashew Cookie. They contain no added oils or sugars. The calories and fat are higher, but the fats are heart-healthy and the calories are worth the nutrition. Clif Nectar bars and Kind bars are more great options.
There you have it—five easy swaps that will help will leave you feeling better about your health and that you saw through the food industry’s shenanigans. Even with these healthy products, however, the best diets always star whole, unprocessed, un-copyrighted foods.
Mimi Honeycutt is a freshman media studies major.