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    Archive for the ‘ingredients’ Category

    The Longest Ingredient Lists In The World?

    kfc-logoBehold the ingredient list for Kentucky Fried Chicken’s chicken pot pie.  And consider your eyeballs scarred.

    Continue Reading »


    And, For My Next Magic Trick… Guacamole With No Avocados!

    Calavo_With_TaglineAs a nutritionist and journalist, ingredient list hunting is one activity that is right up my alley.

    Oh, yes, I do mean “activity”.  It is not at all odd for me to walk the aisles of a supermarket for a good half hour with the sole intention of seeing if I encounter any blog-worthy “WTF”-ness.

    I’m not in there for any other reason.  I don’t need garlic for dinner.  Not even a stick of gum from the checkout counter.  I’m just there to walk and — cross my fingers! — come across something heinous.

    Alas, I struck gold today with Calavo’s Guacamole Tortilla Chips.

    Here is what the front of the bag tells us:

    “Rich Guacamole Taste!”

    That’s more than a statement — that is an enthused proclamation.  But wait, there’s more:

    “So green and so good, you’ll think you already dipped.”

    Alright, then.  Let’s get our avocado goodness on.  First, though, let’s take a look at the ingredient list (I purposefully bold part of it to make sure you read the really crazy part).

    Whole white corn, vegetable oil and/or canola oil and/or soybean oil and/or sunflower oil, guacamole seasoning (salt, cheddar cheese [pasteurized milk, salt, culture, enzymes], lactose, whey, buttermilk, maltodextrin, onion powder, garlic powder, sour cream [cream, nonfat milk, culture, enzymes], monosodium glutamate, citric acid, spice, lactic acid, natural flavor, tocopherols, yellow 6 lake, yellow 5 lake, titanium dioxide, blue 1 lake, red 40, corn flour, lime.

    I could potentially understand the use of guacamole seasoning in these chips, but why is it made from cheddar cheese?  At least Kraft’s highly controversial “faux guacamole” dip contained a smidge of avocado!

    The presence of all those artificial dyes in Calavo’s product also makes the “so green” tagline sound a whole less appetizing.

    What’s particularly odd, though, is that the company’s guacamole dips are the real thing (no artificial colors, no weird fillers, etc.).  These chips certainly tarnish their brand name.


    You Ask, I Answer: “Greek-Style” Yogurt

    JF08_IO5aI’m a little afraid to ask you this, but here it goes.

    I have noticed that some Greek yogurts actually say “Greek style” on their packaging (with the word “style” in tiny letters).  I’ve been reading your blog for a while, so I have a feeling this is significant.

    Are these different from (or less healthy than) a “real” Greek yogurt like Fage?

    — Melissa Heaney
    Albany, NY

    Ah, the drawbacks of being a sharp-eyed nutrition sleuth at the grocery store.

    I recall several years ago, when I first started reading ingredient lists for common brands I used to buy, walking around supermarket aisles in a heavy-hearted daze.  It was almost as if I had just been told that my significant other had been cheating on me on a daily basis.  Except that, rather than stumbling across a hurriedly-scribbled name and number on a piece of paper, I was alerted to the presence of artificial dyes, partially hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup.  Heartbreak on aisle five!

    Onto your question — there is a difference between Greek-style yogurts and actual Greek yogurts.  If you’re curious about what makes Greek yogurt special, please read this post.

    Here is the ingredient list for Fage non-fat Greek yogurt:

    Grade A Pasteurized Skimmed Milk, Live Active Yogurt Cultures (L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus)

    Now, let’s take a peek at the ingredient list for a Greek-style yogurt.  For this example, I am using The Greek Gods brand:

    Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat Milk, Inulin, Pectin, Active Cultures (S. Thermophilius, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, L. Casei)

    Whereas “true” Greek yogurt’s thick consistency is the result of straining out the watery whey, Greek-style yogurts add thickeners (ie: gum blends like pectin and inulin, milk solids, stabilizers).

    Each yogurt’s respective Nutrition Facts label also tells the tale.  Here is what 6 ounces of real Greek yogurt offer:

    • 90 calories
    • 0 grams fiber
    • 15 grams protein
    • 19% of the Adequate Intake of calcium

    That same amount of Greek-style yogurt contains:

    • 60 calories
    • 2 grams fiber
    • 6 grams protein
    • 25% of the Adequate Intake of calcium

    Let’s make sense of that.

    • The decrease in calories is due to the reduction in protein.  Remember, Greek yogurt’s higher protein levels are due to the absence of watery whey.  Greek-style yogurt retains the whey and adds on thickeners.
    • As you know, all dairy products are fiberless.  The 2 grams of fiber in Greek-style yogurt are due to the presence of thickening gums.  Depending on what other brands of Greek-style yogurt use, the fiber value may be zero.
    • The higher percentage of calcium is also attributed to the presence of whey.

    There is nothing troubling, disturbing, or unhealthy about pectin and inulin.  We aren’t talking about blue dyes or trans fats here.  Two FYIs, though:

    1. For optimal health benefits, fiber should come from foods that naturally contain it, rather than add-ons.
    2. If you’re looking for the higher protein benefits of Greek yogurt (mainly the ability to feel satiated for a little longer), reach for the authentic product.

    Let’s Play “Find The Grape”!

    ServeImagePop-Tarts® newest flavor?  Frosted wild grape.

    Let’s take a look at the ingredient list and see how quickly we can find a smidge of grapes.  Ready?

    First three ingredients:

    • enriched (white) flour
    • corn syrup
    • high fructose corn syrup

    Lovely.  The first three ingredients are a mere reflection of crop subsidies — wheat and corn.

    Alright, let’s take a look at the next three ingredients:

    • sugar
    • soybean and palm oil
    • dextrose

    No luck there, either.  But, hey, there’s some more sugar for you!

    Maybe the next group of three will be the charm?  By the way, every ingredient from here on out makes up two percent — or less — of a Pop-Tart:

    • cracker meal
    • wheat starch
    • salt

    Hmmm.  Starting to get a little impatient now.  This was a grape flavor, wasn’t it?  Well, let’s cross our fingers as we read the next three ingredients:

    • dried grapes
    • dried apples
    • cornstarch

    Success (sort of)!  Nine ingredients later, we come to the so-called central figure of the product.

    With that kind of ingredient list, it’s no surprise that each Pop-Tart contributes four teaspoons of sugar to breakfast.


    Made with Real Fruit. Really!

    018627431640Avid readers of Small Bites know how much I despise the “made with real fruit” scam so many processed foods love to advertise.

    In case you are not familiar with it, I am referring to items like fruit snacks or sugary cereals which boast about fruit on their ingredient list only to simply offer juice concentrates (think concentrated fruit sugar devoid of any nutrition).

    Alas, the folks at Kashi  mean what the say.

    Their new fruit & grain Tasty Little Chewies are advertised as being “made with real fruit” and, well, they’re not pulling a fast one on us!  The second ingredient, after all, is dates.  Not date juice,  not dehydrated date concentrate, but REAL dates.

    In fact, dates appear BEFORE chocolate on the ingredient list.  Knock me over with a flaxseed!

    These new bars are delicious, by the way.  I recently tried the Dark Chocolate Coconut flavor and am a fan.  I recommend adding it to your snack repertoire, particularly with this nutrition profile:

    • 120 calories
    • 1.5 grams saturated fat
    • 50 milligrams sodium (a mere 2% of the allotted maximum)
    • 4 grams fiber
    • 7 grams sugar (I am guessing only 4 grams are from added sugars)

    TLC indeed!


    You Ask, I Answer/Perfect Pickings: Cereal

    I love cereal and eat it almost every morning but I often feel like the ones I eat are probably too sugary or not very substantial.

    Can you recommend a cereal or two that you consider healthy and nutritious?

    — Jenna Kozel
    Washington, DC

    Since the cereal market is so vast, I find it easier to recommend particular nutrient values and ingredients to look for in these products.

    The first thing to take note of is the serving size.

    Many brands of granola, for instance, use a quarter cup as their serving size, which is absolutely laughable.

    A lot of cereals, meanwhile, list their serving size as a half cup.

    If you have a measuring cup at home, please pour enough cereal into it to fill it to the brim. Yes, that tiny amount is what many companies use as a “serving.” Unreal!

    What I recommend you do as early as tomorrow morning is pour the amount of cereal you normally eat into a bowl.

    Then, use a measuring cup to determine the exact amount of cereal in that bowl.

    Keep that figure as a reference each time you read a cereal’s nutrition label, as it will help you make smarter choices when shopping.

    Let’s say you eat 1.5 cups of cereal every morning.

    If a cereal using half cup servings delivers 150 calories per serving, while another using 1 cup servings offers 200, you now know which is the better choice for you (in this case, the latter would add 300 calories to your day, while the first one would add up to 450.)

    You also want to pay attention to fiber content.

    I recommend anywhere from 4 to 7 grams of fiber per serving.

    Again, since the average person eats more than one serving of cereal in one sitting, I don’t think it’s necessary to track down cereals offering fiber in the double digits.

    Sugar values are also important. I consider up to 3 grams per serving to be the limit (especially since, again, most people eat two or three servings of cereal at a time).

    Be careful with cereals containing raisins or other fruit, as the naturally-occurring fruit sugars “unfairly” drive up sugar numbers.

    Twelve grams of sugar per serving from a cereal with marshmallows offers less nutrition than twelve grams of sugar from a cereal that contains raisins (which provide antioxidants and phytonutrients.)

    If you enjoy raisins in your cereal, you — and your wallet — are better off buying raisins separately and adding them yourself.

    Finally, take a look at the ingredient list. You want to this to be short and, ideally, be absent of refined grains (i.e.: enriched wheat flour.)

    When in doubt, look for the Whole Grains Council Stamp.


    You Ask, I Answer: Alpha Tocopherols

    I have seen alpha tocopherols on a lot of ingredient lists, especially for packaged products.

    What are they, and what purpose do they serve?

    — Andrea Chalen
    (city withheld), SC

    Alpha Tocopherols are a completely harmless form of Vitamin E.

    They are mainly added to human and pet foods to delay spoilage and prevent alterations in taste (that’s why “for freshness” is usually added after alpha tocopherols on an ingredient list.)

    Much like ascorbic acid (the fancy name for vitamin C), alpha tocopherols are a food additive you shouldn’t be concerned about.


    The Numbers Speak for Themselves

    Kraft’s latest snack product is Mac ‘n Cheese baked crackers available in three varieties: cheddar, mild cheedar, and white cheddar.

    “Made with real cheddar cheese!” the boxes proudly display.

    Let’s get down to the facts.

    150: the calories in a 1-ounce serving. This is the exact same caloric content of an ounce of Lay’s potato chips or Cheetos.

    300: the milligrams of sodium in a 1-ounce serving of the cheddar flavor. This is almost twice as much as the same amount of Lay’s potato chips and 10 more milligrams than 1 ounce of Cheetos.

    380: the milligrams of sodium contained in a 1-ounce serving of the white cheddar flavor.

    35: the number of ingredients that make up the cheddar and white cheddar flavors.

    Swap: 1 ounce of whole grain crackers and one stick of string cheese pretty much delivers the same calories with more substantial nutrition.


    Say What?: You Say "Wholesome," I Say "Really?"

    The Slim-Fast Foods Company describes itself as being “committed to the development of wholesome and balanced nutritional products to aid in weight management and improved health.”

    An interesting description, to say the least, given the ingredient list for their 120-calorie chocolate peanut nougat snack bar:

    Maltitol Syrup, Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel And Palm Oil, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Sugar, Roasted Peanuts (Peanuts, Peanut Oil), Sweetened Condensed Skim Milk (Skim Milk, Sugar), Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel And Soybean), Whey Protein Isolate, Gum Arabic, Malted Milk (Extracts Of Wheat Flour And Malt Barley, Milk, Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate), Nonfat Milk, Salt, Egg Whites, Artificial Flavor, Caramel Color, Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin, Tbhq And Citric Acid, Vitamins And Minerals (Calcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Ferric Orthophosphate, Vitamin E Acetate, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E Acetate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrocholoride, Riboflavin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12).

    How a product with partially hydrogenated oils and maltitol syrup (the syrup of a sugar alcohol!) as its first ingredient can be described as ‘wholesome’ beats me.

    You might as well eat a small chocolate bar and pop a multivitamin.

    Why not have a handful (160 calories’ worth) of peanuts instead?

    It’s just as convenient and portable a snack as one of these bars, and doesn’t contribute added sugars or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) to your day.

    Added bonus if you choose peanuts? Heart-healthy monounsaturated fats!

    By the way, the “40% less sugar” banner on the box of these bars is the result of replacing half the sugar with maltitol (the sugar alcohol most likely to cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Yum!)

    Craving chocolate but looking to control calories? Have a 100-calorie chocolate bar, sans sugar alcohols. Savor it, enjoy it, and go about your day.


    Survey Results: Nutrition Labels, Part Deux

    The latest Small Bites survey asked readers what values they paid most attention to when reading food labels.

    The most important figure on a label relates to calories per serving — at least that’s how seventy-five percent of respondents voted.

    The ingredients list (32%), fiber content (30%), and serving size (29%) also received a good deal of votes.

    While saturated fat was considered important by 23% of readers, total fat content received a significant 40% of votes.

    I’m not too sure why this is the case.

    Fat content in and of itself doesn’t tell us much about the food that we can’t already gauge by taking a look at calories per serving (since fat contributes 9 calories per gram, foods with higher fat contents provide more calories than lower-fat ones).

    If you only look at total fat values, wonderfully healthy foods like guacamole or walnuts appear no different than brownies or ice cream sandwiches.

    When it comes to fat content, saturated fat (and trans fat, although once food companies were mandated to display trans fat figures on their products they miraculously found new trans-fat-free formulas for their products) is the value to keep your eye on.

    Remember, high intakes of saturated fat are linked to higher risks of heart disease and a decrease in HDL (or “good”) cholesterol.

    Guacamole, though, is mostly composed of monounsaturated fats (the kind that help lower LDL — or “bad” — cholesterol).

    This is why fat content — without a more specific breakdown — isn’t an appropriate factor to base food purchases on (unless, as previously mentioned, you are trying to gauge calories).

    I was surprised to see that vitamin and mineral values are largely considered irrelevant. Only 5 percent of respondents consider vitamin content to be important, and a measly 4 percent feel that way about mineral figures.

    A huge thank you to those of you who took a minute to participate!

    Please leave comments and thoughts on the results in the “comments” section.


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