Beware the phony foods in the supermarket

Delicious sweet potato chips in bowl, rosemary and sauce on table

Image: New Africa/

Some foods you see in the supermarket may not be what they seem. Marketing, these days, can be misleading with some food claims seeming too good to be true!

Here are our top three offenders. Beware: seemingly healthy foods can sometimes just be junk foods in disguise.

1. Veggie Chips/Veggie Straws

If your aim is to sneak more vegetables into your diet, then veggie chips or veggie straws may seem like the perfect answer. But alas, this snack food is not what it seems. If we take a closer look at the ingredients, the truth starts to become more clear. Here’s an ingredients list from a popular brand of veggie chips/straws:

[(Vegetable—71%) Potato, Spinach Powder, Tomato Powder, Beetroot Powder, Salt, Beta Carotene], Sunflower and or Canola Oil, Seasoning [Milk Solids, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Vegetable Powder, Salt, Yeast Extract, Cheese Powder, Flavour, Sour Cream Powder, Herb, Acidity Regulators (330, 270, 327), Anti-Caking Agent (551), Vegetable Oil].

You can see that the first ingredient is potato (usually in the form of starch or flour). Actually, the only vegetable in these chips is potato—the same as in ordinary potato crisps! The other “vegetable” ingredients appear to be used in a highly refined powdered form.

Our Verdict:

You may as well grab a bag of potato crisps!

2. Protein Bars

The word “protein” seems to be the newest marketing trend. But throwing the word “protein” into the name of a product does not automatically make it healthy. The devil is in the detail. Consider the oh-so-familiar protein bar.

The intention of choosing a protein bar as a snack might be satiety or to help repair muscles after a workout. But your goal should always be to eat foods or snacks that are minimally processed. This maximises your nutritional intake and health benefits. Yet some protein bars on the market have a super long ingredients list laden with additives.

As dietitians, we often wonder what’s wrong with opting for a whole-food protein-rich snack such as a tub of yoghurt or a handful of nuts? If your taste buds need something sweeter, don’t choose a protein bar with an ingredients list that looks like this:

Protein Blend (32%) (Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate), Prebiotic Fibre (Soluble Corn Fibre), Birthday Cake Flavoured Coating (15%) [Palm Kernel Oil, Protein Blend (4%) (Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate), Sweeteners (Erythritol, Sucralose), Sodium Caseinate, Edible Glitters (0,15%) [Stabiliser (Gum Arabic), Spirulina, Colours (Anthocyanins, Curcumin)]. Emulsifier (Sunflower Lecithin), Flavour Enhancer (Sea Salt), Natural Flavours] Water, Sweeteners (Erythritol, Sucralose), Almonds, Natural Flavours, Flavour Enhancer (Sea Salt)

Look for a bar with a shorter, simpler, ingredients list, which also includes more whole food or “real” ingredients. Something more like this:

Dates, Pears, Cashews, Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Protein Isolate, Pepitas, Coconut, Chia Seeds, Pea Protein Isolate, Natural Lemon Oil, Antioxidant (Vitamin E)

The Jury Says:

Read the labels carefully to avoid ultra-processed protein bars. Consider simple, whole food alternatives like nuts, yoghurt or tinned tuna for your hit of protein.

3. Veggie wraps

You may have noticed various veggie wraps on supermarket shelves—think spinach wraps, beetroot wraps or sweet potato wraps. Now, with products like this, you might be thinking, what could possibly be unhealthy or misleading?
Like the aforementioned veggie chips or veggie straws, veggie wraps are often lacking in actual vegetable content. Take a closer look at the following ingredients list for a spinach wrap.

Wheat Flour, Water, Vegetable Fat, Humectant (442), Cultured Dextrose, Spinach (1%), Vegetable Emulsifiers (481, 471), Raising Agents (500, 450, 350), Iodised Salt, Acidity Regulator (297), Soy Flour, Stabiliser (412), Natural Colours (Curcumin, Copper Chlorophyllin), Mixed Herbs (0.5%) (Thyme, Rosemary, Marjoram, Basil, Oregano, Sage), Vitamins (Thiamine, Folic Acid).

Did you notice that spinach appears as the 6th ingredient in the list and wheat flour is first? So what you’re really buying is a green coloured wrap made primarily from white flour.

This wrap will therefore contain less dietary fibre than its wholegrain wrap counterpart. Most veggie wraps suffer from a similar problem.

Case Closed.

Don’t sacrifice your intake of wholegrain fibre by opting for a veggie wrap over a whole grain wrap. Instead, add more salad/vegetables inside your wrap!

Dr Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016. Go to her website for more information.

Category: Lifestyle, Physical Health

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