Low-fat! Probiotic Formula! Vitamins A & D Added! Supports Immunity and Digestive Health!
And, by the way, if you read that small-print list tucked away in the ingredients section on this here La Yogurt by Johanna Foods, Inc., you will also find High Fructose Corn Syrup (yep, no colorful banner or burst to amplify that during your split-second buying decision).
It happened again. Yep, I was in a mad rush, just like you likely often are when you realize you are hungry and end up buying food. I had popped into a convenience store for a notebook, of all things, and as I made a beeline for the register (I mean the you-don’t-need-to-interact-with-a-human-soul-ever-again self checkout), there in a refrigerated display case I spotted 89-cent yogurts.
I mean, by nature, all yogurt is healthy, right? I’m buying yogurt. I’m eating healthfully. I’m feeling good.
This, I knew. But, oh, such a good price, I thought (because, let’s be honest, with the ever-rising cost of foods, we’re eyeballing cost, in addition to the is-this-food-or-junk checklist). I crammed my arms with as many yogurts as they’d hold, along with my spiral, and punched a hole in my purse, where I’d soon dump the lot.
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Now, I checked the added sugars amount listed. And, I checked the sodium, and the saturated fat. And, of course, I scouted the calcium percentage. But, you see, I failed to check the ingredients list with that magnifying glass now requisite when purchasing any item under the processed-food umbrella (which, yep, includes yogurts posturing as wholesome and innocent, too).
Hey, I was in a hurry. I forgot the is-this-food checklist. And I had been recently miffed at my favorite probiotics yogurt brand, Stonyfield, when I realized recently that one serving contained 35 g of sugar. (Why is this problematic, you ask? I don’t know about you, but I don’t precisely measure out my one cup of yogurt. I reach for the container and spoon it out until the bowl looks full. Also, keeping in mind that different groups recommend different daily sugar limits, ensuring consumers’ persistent befuddlement, American Heart Association recently released sugar guidelines that recommend adult women limit added-sugars intake to 5 teaspoons (20 grams) daily; men, 9 teaspoons (36 grams) daily. Translation? One sweet, little yogurt and you’re sugar-maxed for the day. (Did I mention the average American sucks down more than 22 teaspoons of added sugars daily?)
Right, so this Low-fat! Probiotic Formula! Vitamins A & D Added! yogurt was good. Or at least seemingly better. This Supports Immunity and Digestive Health yogurt contained 26 g of sugar (hey, less than 35, but, who knew, still more than I should have over the course of one day. Now, if only the FDA would only require brands tell us how much of listed added sugars were naturally occurring, such as in fruit, and how much were unnatural, such as HFCS.) Still, I looked forward to eating those yogurts.
Got home. Loaded those babies into the fridge with that sense of taking care of my body and having bought something health-promoting. I grabbed one to eat right away. I was hungry! It was yogurt! Having just a moment more than I did whirlwinding ’round the store, I glanced the ingredients label…just because.
There were those pesky, food-politics-ridden words: High fructose corn syrup, ingredient number three listed, after sugar.
Duped again. Now when I say duped by a food label, I mean that I did glance at the packaging before purchasing, but quickly, and at one thing (such as the sugar amount) but not at another (such as the ingredient list). I spent my hard-earned dollars on the product and realized, just as I went to dig my utensil in and enjoy, that I was about to shovel in a big, nasty ingredient.
I ate that damn yogurt. Quickly. I was hungry. Then I threw the rest away, feeling hugely defeated.
This has happened to me several other times recently, which, of course, was the impetus for this column. Watch your labels, dear readers:
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What it was: Stonyfield Yogurt, a brand that I like heaps. It has organic ingredients and probiotics and does offer a whopping 35% bone-fortifying calcium per serving.
Why it’s a dupe: Some flavors, such as strawberry, also contain, I discovered, 35 g added sugar per serving. Super — but why the sugar? I don’t want it. I’d still buy your product without it. Really.
What it was: A Blue Bunny FrozFruit Fat-Free All Natural Flavor Made With Real Fruit Chunky Pineapple Frozen Fruit Bar
Why it’s a dupe: Got home, unwrapped, and discovered, under a package flap, this seemingly simple treat also contained, yep, high fructose corn syrup, followed by corn syrup. Boo.
What it was: Gummy vitamins, the Nature Made Adult Gummies Multi, also admittedly purchased in a mad rush.
Why it’s a dupe: Yep, you got it, corn syrup, listed as ingredient number one (remember, ingredients are listed by weight).
What it was: Black Beans, Trader Joe’s
Why it’s a dupe: Don’t get me wrong. I love Trader Joe’s. It is my number one, top-pick food store. But while I looked at the amount of sodium per serving on this can, which was 440 mg, I failed to notice on my hasty label glance that one can contained three servings. And, well, you know me, I like to save time, and will often have a can (yes, the whole can) of black beans (Folate! Fiber! Protein! Iron! Oh, right, we don’t see such banners on boring, healthy-food packaging) with garlic, onions and melted, shredded low-fat cheese for lunch. (Funny that when I looked online for the labels, often the ingredients lists and/or number of servings per package were not included, all of which you need to truly assess a food product’s health value.)
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Key Take-Away: Purchasing healthful food nowadays, especially on a budget, requires a serious amount of knowledge; but what’s scary, is that even when you have a basic know-how, you likely don’t have the time to dedicate to the science of considering all aspects of a food product’s label before committing to a purchase. No one has this kind of time. No one I know, at least. And the companies that make processed foods very much know this. They know we see those Probiotics! Vitamins A & D! Low-fat! bursts and we grab.
So what’s one to do? Well, remember: You want something done right? Do it yourself. Make your own frickin’ fruit pops. We did. Last night. Using a blender purchased from Duane Reed (patience, not our strongest virtue), our Ikea plastic pop molds, fresh mint, watermelon, cucumber and a dollop of honey. Total time spent, including buying produce and blender: 40 minutes. For reals. We just tested them and guess what? They taste better. Way better. My man and I even served them to guests last night. They’re the real deal. Go whole, go fresh, go no-gimmicks, do-it-yourself. You do have time for this. Trust me.