Forget Frankenfoods! Beware the Werechow!

(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

8 Responses to Forget Frankenfoods! Beware the Werechow!

  1. Anonymous July 9, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Good article, but I'd like to know where you got your information from. Are your references reliable? There are so many people out there writing articles and claiming that "they know it all." We all have to be careful who we believe. For instance, according to which studies (done when) is yellow 5 and 6 hyperactivity inducing, and caused cancer in lab animals? You can't just make statements to freak people out to make your article popular. It's a good advice to pick natural foods over processed ones, but don't scare people. If you eat that a couple of times a year, you won't get cancer from it. And in the long run, we are all going to get sick some time, and we are all going to die. So enjoy life! Don't live it in fear, but try to make the best out of it.So I did my own research and it turns out that yellow 5, Tetrazine, is also FDA approved and is widely used in many products including vitamins, yogurt,mustard,lemon and honey products, etc. Should we give up all those foods too?SO be aware of what you eat and read. Everything in moderation is the key to a happy and healthy life.

  2. Janice Burke July 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    Thank you for this article! I started paying really close attention to labels about a year ago…and I have cut the artificial man made crap out of our diet…and we feel soo much better! Its scary that this junk is allowed on our groc store shelves, and that some people are making a lot of money off of un healthy foods that claim to be…we pay extra for it…but don't realize we would save a lot of moeny if we would just eat an apple lol! I'm sharing this article! 😉

  3. Janice Burke July 9, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Great article! I started paying close attention to food labels and learned a lot just by being curiouse! We research so many things but we don't pay enough attention to what we put int our bodies…just cuz its edable doesn't mean its good for you! Im shairng this article …its sad that we can't trust the government they need to ban the use of these poision and junk they are adding to our foods…Fresh is the only way to go! thanks again!

  4. Janice Burke July 9, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    Great article! I started paying close attention to food labels and learned a lot just by being curiouse! We research so many things but we don't pay enough attention to what we put int our bodies…just cuz its edable doesn't mean its good for you! Im shairng this article …its sad that we can't trust the government they need to ban the use of these poision and junk they are adding to our foods…Fresh is the only way to go! thanks again!

  5. Anonymous July 10, 2011 at 4:14 am #

    I agree with Anonymous.You can't believe everything you read and certainly not going to listen to an extremist on what to eat and not to eat…sheesh. I eat splenda and as far as I'm concerned 1976 is long enough for me.Live a little.

  6. Mariella July 10, 2011 at 4:23 am #

    This article is not about freaking people out it's about awareness raising. Unfortunately when kids start liking some kind of food they would want to eat it all year round…well it's not just kids it's everyone! Think about what kind of breakfast you eat every day – I bet it's a routine – always the same kind of cereal/bread or whatever so what I mean is if people tend to like something and think its healthy they're going to stick with it and not just eat it once or twice a year.So if your food is some kind of 'werechow' as coined in this article than you sure are eating the worst kind of junk possible because I believe that the motto for real healthy eating is to never eat something which you don't know what it means. Moreover I really do not like the idea of thinking that it's ok to eat stuff that we don't really know about not even once in a year because life is short…It's true that we all are going to die one day but eating junk won't make it any happier or longer on the contrary you'll spend the short time on this earth combating sickness and feeling miserable all the time

  7. Kimberly Luttrell July 10, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    I think this is a great article. Anonymous – You can choose to eat and live how you want. I think people need to put more articles out there to raise awareness about the chemically engineered products that we are filling ourselves and our kids with. Our bodies were not created to digest and process products like chlorine or ammonia which is use in the process of making much of the fast food hamburger people ingest. Look around at society. We have more obese individuals and children. We have more children with autism and learning disabilities. I work in the medical field and see the effect of poor eating and lifestlye changes. Alzheimers and dementia are rising significantly. I honestly believe that these increase in many illnesses is directly linked to the way we eat the chemicals we shove into our body. Anonymous – NO – We won't probably stop eating those foods but you can look at the ingrediants on the back and choose a product that is organic and made with much fewer chemicals. Eating Clean doesnt mean giving up most foods like honey, yogurt and mustard. I means making smarter choices for a healthier life. We will all die of something but why not let it be something like old age instead of Dementia, obesity or cancer. Give yourself a fighting chance!

  8. July 19, 2011 at 4:28 am #

    Great post from a fellow Vermonter, I just discovered your blog and now I am off to read more. We both write about the same things: green living, sustainability and healthy lifestyles. Together we are spreading the good word.

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