As I continue on my journey of eating whole, real, nutrient-dense foods, the hardest part of the transition for me is in the area of snacks. The obvious junk foods, like cheese curls and Tasty-cakes, were easy to give up. But I'm no stranger to an attack of the munchies, and while I love fruit, veggie sticks, and the like, there are times when I just really want some crackers or chips or… something!
So I started paying careful attention and reading the labels on all those brands of snack foods on the market that claim to be healthy, to be good for you, to be all natural, to have no preservatives, and to have no artificial flavors or colors — surely there must be one acceptable brand in all of that!
There's not. Really, there's not!
I scanned the natural, organic snacks section of my local grocery store, which has a pretty good selection, and could not find one brand that I felt comfortable recommending to the point where I could say “everything this company makes is 100% safe and contains no questionable ingredients.” Granted, there may be some products that are a-okay, but there are other products by that same company that contain at least one questionable ingredient.
Some of the brands I looked at were not the common ones associated with organic and natural foods, but knew how to make good use of the “buzzwords” of the industry. Others were well-known natural brands. Both “sides” share many problem ingredients.
Claims vs. Reality — examining marketing claims and ingredient lists
I hope that the following photos explain why learning to read an ingredients list is important. Simply put, you can't always trust the marketing claims on the packaging! Although there is not usually an obvious discrepancy between the claims and the ingredients, remember that just because something is “all natural” doesn't mean it's something you should eat!
Can you spot the troublesome ingredient (photo above)? Canola Oil! Although canola oil is touted as a better alternative to vegetable oil, it's not! According to the Non-GMO project, 90% of canola in the United States is made from Genetically Modified rapeseed. And as this post explains, canola oil is heavily refined and oxidized, which destroys any benefits and causes the oil to go rancid, which in turn created free radicals in your body. Canola oil is bad news, folks!
The first photo at the top of this post was also taken from this same bag of cheddar-flavored popped potato chips (photo above). They claim to be healthy and wholesome, with no artificial flavors or colors (no orange fingers!) and no preservatives. Again, oils are a problem here. We've just gone over why canola oil is bad news, and while the other two oils listed are not genetically modified, sunflower oil and safflower oil are both high in polyunsaturated fatty acids with little to no omega-3's to balance them out — not healthy in great quantities!
The next ingredient with which I take issue is Maltodextrin, an artificial sweetener that is often derived from corn. Since most of the corn in the US today is genetically engineered, that's no good! Also, Maltodextrin can be used as a way to hide MSG in a product because small quantities of MSG are often added to Maltodextrin. Yuck!
Then we have Disodium Phosphate and Xanthan Gum, which are some of those “not quite sure if they're harmless or dangerous” additives that I try to avoid since I like to err on the side of caution. 🙂
For this bag of Jalapeno-flavored corn chips (photo above), I like that the ingredients themselves are simple and straightforward. I could probably make a more healthful version of these chips at home. However, the two corn products — stone ground corn and corn bran — are worrisome ingredients here, since it is most likely genetically modified, as I personally assume all non-organic, corn-derived ingredients are, unless verified by the Non-GMO Project. And there are the no-good oils again!
And then there's… this candy bar. I was so excited when I found a brand of candy that didn't contain corn syrup! But then I was saddened to find that, like many, many other chocolate candies, their products contain soy lecithin.
In this post, Katie from Girl Meets Nourishment calls soy lecithin “sludge” and rightly so! After reading how it's produced, I don't really want to eat it! (In a nutshell: among other things, it's derived from gm-soy and extracted using harsh chemical solvents.)
So… what can we munch and crunch?
First, I am going to be completely honest here. Sometimes, I do indulge in a handful of store-bought organic wheat crackers, bad oils and all. Or, maybe I'll eat a peanut butter cup made by one of the “better” candy companies. But when I do so, it's not because I'm being duped by marketing claims or deceived into thinking it's actually good for me, because I've done the research.
It's because, even after knowing all that I do, sometimes this girl just wants a peanut butter cup, and she's going to have one!
But there are other options that I use as well. Making crackers from soaked or sprouted flours and healthy oils and seasonings may take more time than opening a box, but it isn't that hard. I can fry store-bought organic or homegrown (definitely organically raised!) potato slices in coconut oil and have some perfectly acceptable potato chips. I could probably even make peanut butter cups if I tried! There are plenty of real food “junk” food recipes out there!
If you take away just one thing from this post, here's what I hope it'll be — don't be deceived by the claims on junky “health” food!
Do you have a favorite real-food cracker, chip, or candy recipe to share? I'd love to find some more! Especially one for a good peanut butter cup.
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