Thursday, June 9, 2011

Unpronounceable Ingredients

Marion Nestle, the author of “What to Eat” and creator of said:
My criteria for choosing packaged foods are: nothing with more than five ingredients, no ingredients I can’t pronounce, nothing artificial, and no cartoons on the package.”
She knows a thing or two about good food choices.  She's a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health (the department she chaired from 1988-2003) and Professor of Sociology at New York University. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

This week I discovered the site, where I noticed something interesting about some common foods we tend to think of as healthy.

Most people who are open to vegetarianism, organic and whole foods, instinctively believe vegetarian alternatives to meat-based products are generally healthier choices.  I have a tendency in this direction, even though I certainly can't call myself a vegetarian, and I buy very little, if anything, from the health food aisles.

Case in point:  vegetarian burger alternatives, such as Boca burgers.  Do you know what they are made of?  Here is the ingredient listing for Boca original meatless burgers:

Water, Soy Protein Enriched ( Soy Protein Concentrate Contains,, Caramel Color, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacinamide (Vitamin aB), Zinc Oxide, Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1) [ Vitamin B1], Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (HCL) [ Vitamin B6], Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) [ Vitamin B2], Folic Acid (Vitamin aB), Cyanocobalamin [ Vitamin B12], Wheat Gluten, Contains less than 2% of Methylcellulose, Maltodextrin, Salt, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Onion(s) Dried, Yeast Extract, Sesame Oil, Wheat Germ Defatted, Protein Hydrolyzed [ Corn Protein Hydrolyzed, Wheat Protein Hydrolyzed, Soy Protein Hydrolyzed], Soy Sauce [ Water, Soybean(s), Wheat, Salt], Yeast Extract Autolyzed, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate, Succinic Acid)
Compare that to the burgers I make for our family:  I take a one pound package of naturally raised ground beef.  I purchase this in bulk from a local farmer and it's made from only one cow, as opposed to grocery store ground beef, which may be a mix of meat from many different cows.  Divide the meat in four and form four burgers.  Total time spent:  about 15 seconds.

But perhaps you prefer to buy burgers at the grocery store.  President's Choice have a line of sirloin burgers, which come with the following ingredient listing:
Beef, Water, Milk Skim Powder,  Salt, Spice(s)
Another great example is peanut butter.  I was at the grocery store last night, looking at peanut butter.  For years, I have been buying President's Choice peanut butter

Ingredients:  peanuts.

On the shelf, I saw Irresistibles Bio organic peanut butter.  I had never looked this make closely before and was astounded at the ingredient listing.  I don't see it at, but I did find some other products with the same ingredients.  For example, this is what Wegmans Organic Crunchy peanut butter contains:

    Peanut(s) (Organic), Palm Oil (Organic), Sugar (Organic), Sea salt
I don't care how organic palm oil and sugar are.  I don't need them added to my peanut butter!

In my opinion, these examples highlight some interesting thoughts about the food choices we commonly make.  Just because it's vegetarian, it's not necessarily unprocessed.

While I do realize that some of the ingredients with lengthy chemical names are not necessarily poor nutritional choices, in general, it makes more sense to eat foods with fewer additional ingredients.  

This is something that paleo diet proponents and raw food vegans have in common.  It's very interesting that they can be found at opposite extremes of the food choice spectrum, yet both insist on eating foods that meet the same criteria that Professor Nestle recommends.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Food should be simple, not so chemicalized that it earns the name frankenfood.