Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Evil Foods That Pretend to be Healthy

 

Faker. Pretender. Impostor. Fraud. There’s nothing I hate more than a poser and processed foods are the worst. They spend all their time insisting that they’re Tasty! Nutritious! Real! All Natural! Fun! Cool! Refreshing!

Lies. All lies.

Who remembers this ad?

According to the ingredient label, the first ingredient on Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli label is tomato. Which is a fruit. Lie #1.

But even if you give them a point for having something nutritious as the first ingredient, consider this: Your average Plain Jane, nondescript red tomato has plenty of nutritional value including impressive amounts of vitamins C, K, B, A and more minerals than you can shake a stick at but, somehow, according (again) to their own claims, Chef Boyardee seems to have sucked all that nutrition right out of their product while adding a good dollop of fat and sodium.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. You can dress ‘em up but you can’t take ‘em out.

The Untold Truth: What Not To Eat Toxic

We’ve all got ‘em. Our processed food vices. It could be cheese puffs or a certain brand of frozen pizza. Mine are Big Macs and Devil Dogs (although not usually at the same time).

We know it’s no good so we break up. Sometimes we can stay away for months but once we slip, it seems as though eating more of it is all we can think about. Ever wonder why?

Because it’s been specifically designed to be addicting.

I know we’ve talked about this before but it bears repeating. Processed foods are created with a specific combination of fat and carbs that are meant to keep you coming back for more. I went over this dastardly behavior in more detail here if you want to take a look.

Even if you consider yourself to have a non-additicive personality, there are other things to consider when cruising your local grocery, convenience store or coffee shop. I won’t spoil the surprise but you should read on for some eye-opening information!

Relationships: What’s In Your Freezer?

The frozen food aisle is like a beacon of light in a dark and dreary world. It’s stuffed to the gills with pretty packages depicting delicious food arranged beautifully on fine china dishes. It promises tasty foods that are quick and easy to prepare. The labels portray a meal that’s hearty, healthy, organic, natural, vitamin rich, fiber filled, vegan, low fat, low carb and glycemicly correct. (You’re right. I did just make that up ;-)) They vow to help you be thinner, fuller, healthier, fitter, stronger, more energetic and just plain cool.

What these fiends are actually doing is trying to distract you from the real truth. What these meals really are is jam-packed with food additives.

Polysorbate 80 is a synthetic compound made from the dehydrated compounds found in sugar alcohols. It’s used to bulk up foods, keep frozen sauces smooth and as a binding agent in ice cream.

This additive actually alters microbes in the gut, creating an environment favorable for the development of cancer.

What else is in your ice cream? Carboxymethylcellulose, also known as cellulose gum or CMC is used as a thickener. Consuming large amounts may result in digestive system discomforts such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are used to prevent food oxidation which extends the shelf life of frozen food.

BHT and BHA are chemical compounds made out of a type of acid called carbolic acid. This acid is known to create acid burns if handled in large amount. It’s been linked to cancer risk, skin irritations, and behavioral issues in children.

And, honestly, do you really want to eat something that’s been butylated?

Potassium Bromate is a lab-made additive, made through an electrolytic process similar to fusing metals together. It gives bread a thicker, stronger texture, a higher rise and a pleasing white color.

Handling this additive in its powdered form (by employees at the baking company) can cause serious side effects. It can irritate the nose, throat and lungs, damage your kidneys and Is considered to be a carcinogen. It can also negatively affect the nervous system resulting in impaired thinking and personality changes. There is some evidence that some of these side effects are also possible from the consumption of products baked with chemical.

It’s been banned as a food additive in the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and the European Union. In California, all foods containing Potassium Bromate must bear a warning label.

But enough of that. How’s the sandwich?

Propyl Gallate is a food preservative which prevents oxygen molecules from mixing with the oil in frozen foods. It’s called an “ester,” a chemical compound that’s derived from an acid.

It has been shown to increase the risk of tumors and is a possible carcinogen. Studies also show that it could interact and alter hormones.

Sodium Nitrite is a chemical ion created by (you guessed it!) combining salt with nitrites and is used to preserve foods such as beef jerky, hot dogs, lunch meat, salami, and smoked fish.

It may damage your blood vessels and affect the way your body uses sugar, making you more likely to develop diabetes. It also can interfere with thyroid activity, contributing to hypothyroidism.

Just talking about this is making me hungry. Could someone please pass the chemicals?

Running On Empty: Fuel Free Foods

We’re all guilty of this one. We just like what we like, right? And everyone knows that barista in the village makes the best coffee ever, even if it is $5 and a 20-minute wait. But is it really that great? Or is it just a habit, something we grab because it’s what we always grab?

Let’s shake things up a bit. I’ve taken 3 things (what I consider “biggies”) and tried to come up with some alternatives. See what you think:

Fancy Coffee Drinks

 

Brew up your own creation:

  • Add ¼ to ½ teaspoon pure vanilla (or cinnamon, cardamom, unsweetened cocoa powder, any spice that tickles your fancy) to coffee grounds before brewing or add a drop or sprinkle to brewed coffee.
  • Indulge in some heavy cream (or almond milk, coconut cream) and a spoonful of sugar (or honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar).
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, finish it off by stirring in some dark chocolate or date paste*.

We’ve still got some empty calories going on here, but far less than what you’ll be taking in from your local Fancy-Pants coffee shop. And you’ll be saving a ton of money!

Soda

Substitute:

  • Plain water
  • Infuse water by slicing or muddling one or more of the following into your water bottle.
    • Lemon
    • Lime
    • Cucumber
    • Strawberries
    • Raspberries
    • Rosemary
    • Apricot
    • Mint
    • Pineapple
    • Kiwi
    • Grapefruit
  • Low sodium V8 juice
  • Sparkling water
  • Fruit juice (in moderation)
  • Lemonade
    • Dissolve 2 ½ tablespoon sugar in ¼ cup hot water. Stir in 2 ½ tablespoons lemon juice. Pour into glass filled with ice and top off with ¾ cup cold water or sparkling water. Adjust sugar and lemon juice to taste.

Granola bars, breakfast bars, nutrition bars, fruit/nut bars and whatever else they’re called

Swap these out for some good, old-fashioned trail mix. Make up a batch and prepackage it in containers so it’s ready to go! Here are a few things you can use (in any combination whatsoever!):

 

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried Fruit
  • Dried berries
  • Popcorn
  • Coconut Flakes
  • Cacao beans/fruit
  • Granola
  • Roasted coffee/espresso beans
  • Dark chocolate
  • Dried peas
  • Dried or candied ginger
  • Candied orange peel
  • Spices
    • Cayenne Pepper
    • Salt
    • Wasabi powder
    • Garlic Powder
    • Onion Powder
    • Curry Powder
    • Cumin
    • Chili Powder
    • Cinnamon
    • Nutmeg

Try these on for size and then stretch your imagination out a bit further to come up with your ideas. Then, of course, you should share in the comments below so we all can use them!

I Want To Diet, But then I Get Hungry: The Skinny On Fat Free Foods

You know all those low fat items you see on the shelves? Low fat cereals, peanut butter, yogurts, granola bars. What can be better than taking a healthy, nutritious food and making it low fat or even fat-free? It certainly sounds like a win-win, right?

Well…no.

Fats are what make foods taste good so if you take out that fat, you end up with an unpalatable pile of yuck. The solution, the food manufacturers discovered, is to simply load these foods up with sugar and lots of it.

The same holds true for low sugar or sugar-free foods. When they lower the sugar, they simply up the fat. Because what’s the point of manufacturing a food that no one wants to eat?

If you’re feeling doubtful, simply read some labels. Take a look at the ingredients and nutritional labels of a low fat peanut butter and a regular peanut butter. A low fat muffin vs. a regular “fat” muffin vs. a sugar free muffin. The deception will begin to become clear.

But wait, you cry! Aspartame is sugar-free AND fat-free!

Yes. Yes, it is.

Aspartame is the world’s most popular artificial sweetener. It is also marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin and AminoSweet. It’s been widely rumored to cause cancer, seizures, blindness, headaches, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

I don’t think the above claims have been proven (feel free to let me know if I’m wrong!) but I think we can say one thing for sure:

It’s been around since 1965 and we’re not getting any thinner so I think we can debunk the weight loss claim. Oh, and it’s a chemical, not a natural food. Let’s just skip it altogether, shall we?

That’s A Wrap!

What strategies have you come up with to trade in your junk food habits? Let us know in the comments below.

Now that you’re armed with the facts, let’s get out there and shake things up!

All my best,

Cynthia

cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

*Soak dates in water for an hour, then combine the dates with a couple of tablespoons of water in a blender. In addition to the sweet flavor of fruit, you’ll get some extra fiber, iron, magnesium, and calcium in your cup!

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16 Replies to “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Evil Foods That Pretend to be Healthy”

  1. Hi Cynthia. Junk food habits, as you have described them being very addictive have always made me think that once we manage to break away from them, we should always keep away. There are some social gatherings in which these junks foods will be available, but we should make up our mind to always say no.

    I view it this way. We’re on one side of the rope and all the researchers and companies investing to make junk food addictive are on the other side. And we’re both pulling. Who will win? The only possible solution I see is not to fall in their game (not consume their products). 

    1. Paulo, I like your analogy!  I’d like to just drop the rope and walk away but you’re correct.  The best we can do is “just say no”.  

  2. I do not remember that ad you showed at the beginning! Oh my word! I hate that canned food anyway but sheesh just confirms my distaste for the stuff. Enjoyed this post which gave me so many more reasons to stick to my healthy eating plan!

    1. That ad is probably more than ten years old. I guess the only reason that I remember it is because I was dumbfounded at the gall. How stupid do they think the average consumer is?

  3. thanks for this detailed informative post. I had no idea how much of toxic substances are in the food I’m eating daily, it’s time to start reading those labels!

  4. Many thanks to you for sharing such an excellent article with us .I am very addicted to junk food and I love to eat them but when I became ill due to these foods, I turned away from this junk food as advised by a doctor. And I realize how damaging they are to us .I was a fan of ice cream but after reading your article I realized how damaging it was that I didn’t know before. In fact, junk foods are designed to be very appealing to people like us, so we can easily become attracted to them. 

    Finally, I hope that after reading this article, everyone will benefit greatly and keep yourself out of this mess. Eat healthier foods, stay healthy and share your new experiences with you soon .

    1. It’s hard to give up the junk food. I still struggle with it but it’s certainly worth the effort.

      As for ice cream, have you tried making your own? My personal favorite is vanilla with mini chocolate chips. I use my Kitchenaid Ice Cream Maker but there are many different types available. If you ask around, I’ll bet that someone you know has one you can borrow! I’ve also seen recipes that don’t require an ice cream maker but I haven’t tried this method.

  5. Informative article, It’s like the old saying “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it”

    Unfortunately, too many people won’t spend the time making their own food and just prefer to buy the canned/frozen processed foods.

    To answer your question my junk food substitute is fruit.
    I’ve never had a big craving for those foods so I guess I’m lucky.

    1. You’re very lucky and I’m happy for you! And I think the reason that many people don’t cook isn’t laziness but just that they’ve just gotten out of the habit. If you consider how long we’ve lived with commercial processed foods, it not a stretch to image that there are many who actually grew up in a house where there was no cooking involved. I even know a few people like that!

  6. While I believe in mainly plant-based whole foods, I think many additives are demonized for the wrong reasons.

    While it’s true that there are companies that do include additives just to make food cheaper or more addictive, I think in the vast majority of the world additives are used for good.

    We are living in a time of abundance and don’t remember things like famine, killing animals for survival, very short shelflives etc.

    The fact is that that without food additives, unnatural fertilizers, genetic modification, and many other human inventions, we wouldn’t be able to feed the whole world population.

    If everyone only ate fresh fruits and produces, grass-fed meats and fresh fish, we could feed only a fraction of the planet.

    I think many people criticizing processed food forget they are privileged when they can afford to pick the healthiest foods.

    That said I think you pointed out some things here that are wrong with the food industry. Not all additives are necessary and there are ethical and unethical ways to use them.

    1. You’ve made some excellent points, Jukka, some of which I hadn’t even considered! We tend to get wrapped up in our own little bubble and take very little time to consider another point of view. Thank you so much for sharing!

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