(Here’s a guest post by reader and writer, Denis Faye. I appreciate the humor and breakdown of label reading.)
By now, “Frankenfood,” the derogatory term used to describe genetically modified crops, is a term that most educated consumers are painfully aware of. While it’s an apt description, the fact that it’s been co-opted strictly for GMOs leaves me at a loss when trying to describe the bevy of equally insidious foods that have been manipulated, mutated, and patched together in hopes that an unsuspecting public will eat pure garbage masquerading as nutrition. If not Frankenfood, what do I call things like “enriched” Wonder Bread and Omega-3 chocolate? Zombienutrients? Mealzilla? Werechow?
I think I’ll stick with Werechow. It may seem healthy and nutritious at first glance, but look a little deeper, and you’ll find a processed, chemical-laden fangs and claws ready to do your body wrong!
By far, the worst Werechow is the stuff aimed at kids. Two of the easiest advertising target markets on Earth are the pleasure-seeking 6-year-old and parents desperately trying to get them to eat healthy. Werechow nails both of them magnificently. Case in point, the current incarnation of General Mills Lucky Charms, which devotes a whole bunch of front-box space to touting its whole grain goodness.
Let’s have a look at the ingredients, shall we? First ingredient? Whole grain oats! Wow, good work, General Mills! Maybe you’ve turned a corner. Let’s look at ingredient #2. Marshmallows containing sugar, modified corn starch, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, calcium carbonate, yellows 5&6, blue 1, red 40, artificial flavor. Oh dear…
Not so much with the corner turning.
From there, things go downhill. We have more sugar, oat flour, corn syrup, cornstarch, salt, and a bunch of other weird stuff not worth mentioning. So, “yay” for the fiber we’re getting from those oats, but “boo” for all the other extremely scary junk alongside it. Why didn’t you mention the hyperactivity inducing yellow 5 and yellow 6, which caused cancer in lab animals, on the front of your box? Just asking…
Werther’s Sugar-free Candies are another disturbing bit-o-Werechow. I suppose that if you’re diabetic and you really need to eat candy, they make a good fix, but who really needs candy?
Yes, you sidestep the refined sugar, but what you get instead is sugar alcohol, a low-calorie sweetener that absorbs though the intestines and can cause gastric distress. Furthermore, while low in calories, they’re also void of vitamins, minerals, or fiber. They’re nothing but little nutrient-poor, gas-inducing, brown balls. No thanks.
And here’s some even weirder Werechow: Splenda Essentials, a no-calorie sweetener containing fiber. First off, there’s nothing “essential” about artificial sweeteners, so shame on you for your blatant miss-use of the term. Secondly, if you’re feeding your kids and yourself a diet packed with fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains, you probably don’t need more fiber.
Even if you do feel you need a fiber hit, getting it from artificial sweeteners is probably a zero-sum game. Splenda (aka sucralose) is sugar chemically combined with chlorine so that the body can’t process it. Even though it’s been animal tested and FDA-approved, there is some controversial research indicating it shrinks the thymus gland and enlarges the liver and kidneys. It’s also worth noting that this sweetener was discovered in 1976 and therefore hasn’t been around long enough to show any long-term effects. I’ll sweeten my tea with honey over this junk any day.
The final villain in today’s Werechow horror parade is Ostrim Natural Gimme Omega 3 Dark Chocolate – fortified with flax-derived omega 3 fatty acids, the essential unsaturated fats that promote brain and heart health while potentially lowering your risk of cancer.
I know, I know, everyone’s always blabbing on about the health benefits of dark chocolate. The problem is, people seem to leave out the fact that the German study confirming these benefits limited chocolate intake to 30 calories a day. A serving of Gimme Omega 3 Chocolate is 130 calories. If you shave that down to the suggested 30 calories, you’re at less than 65mg of omega 3. Big deal.
If you want to get a healthy, sweet doses of omega 3, make yourself a berry smoothie and throw in a tablespoon of real ground flax, which, at a mere 37 calories, has a whooping 1597mg of omega 3s.
There’s little doubt that the ghoul’s gallery you’ll find on your grocer’s shelf can make choosing healthy foods tough, so here are a few simple tricks. Buy most of your food from the outer aisles of the store ñ or better still, the farmer’s market. Read the ingredients and if you don’t recognize it, don’t buy it. And, when it comes to Werechow, remember that adding something healthy to an unhealthy food rarely, if ever, trumps the initial unhealthiness. Keep that silver bullet in your arsenal and you can easily defeat the evil of the Werechow.
Formerly “weight challenged,” Denis Faye dropped 50 pounds following a 5-year jaunt through Australia, a trip that helped him become the extreme sports and fitness enthusiast he is today. He’s been a professional journalist for 20 years, writing for Outside, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Wired, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, GQ, Surfer, and Pacific Longboarder. Denis now writes for Beachbody, which provides effective home workout dvds such as the very popular P90x program and the cardio workout dvd, TurboFire.
image: by laffy4k on Flickr