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August 2017. It’s August and that means it’s back to school time. Parents begin thinking about quick breakfasts and snacks and lunches to add to lunchboxes. So how are the grocery stores helping moms and dads prepare for the coming school year?
This is my inaugural article on what I hope will become a monthly feature. This morning I visited the local Walmart Superstore and took photos of the groceries on the displays that block the main aisle. You know which ones I mean – you have to maneuver your cart to the right or left to get around these behemoth displays. You can’t avoid them!
I have to admit that I am not a Walmart shopper. I stop in to pick up kitty litter and an occasional necessity, but I generally don’t buy my groceries at the store. Consequently, I never really paid much attention to the grocery end of the store…until today. Here’s what I found!
To be fair, I found one display of health-oriented food. It was tucked away at the end of the produce aisle. The display was labeled “Nature’s Harvest” and had a good variety of nuts as well as some dried fruits. But that was the one and only intentional display of healthy options. Here’s a list of some of the items I found on the main display bins:
Just for fun, I researched three of these popular items: Little Hug fruit drinks, Cotton Candy Twinkies, and Pop-Tarts. Take a look at what I found!
Here’s the latest review from a Walmart customer: “I don’t know how anyone has such an awful review, I love these and need to grab more! Perfect amount and the sugar and calorie content is hardly nothing! Perfect for kids, and a thirst quench too.” At first glance, it looks like she’s spot on about the sugar and calorie claims – the product has 2 grams of sugar and 0 calories. Sounds terrific, right? Let’s look a little closer at the ingredients.
Ingredients: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Sodium Polyphosphates, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate (to Protect Flavor), Sodium Citrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Red 40 (Fruit Punch, Grape), Blue 1 (Grape, Blue Raspberry and Kiwi Strawberry), Vitamin E Acetate, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Biotin.
There are tons of “red flags” in the ingredient list. High fructose corn syrup is the second item, and after that you have a mix of unpronounceable chemical compounds. And exactly what are “natural and artificial flavors”? I googled the fourth ingredient – sodium polyphosphates – and found that it is an additive that has been banned in the European Union and has been linked to kidney stones in susceptible people. Most searches turned up sodium phosphate, which is a laxative that should not be used in children younger than five years of age. Why do we need this in a child’s beverage?
I couldn’t wait to research this one when I got home! Really? Cotton Candy Twinkies? Who thought up such a nasty idea? Check out the really cool kid-oriented packaging, complete with circus tent and “Twinkie the Kid” holding bright pink cotton candy. And this is a “limited edition” screaming customers to indulge in Cotton Candy Twinkies before they’re all gone! Pick this up from the grocery store and here’s what you’ll consume:
Ingredients: Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour [Wheat Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate (Iron), Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)], High Fructose Corn Syrup, Animal and Vegetable Shortening (Tallow, Hydrogenated Tallow, Cottonseed Oil, Mono and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60, Soy Lecithin), Dextrose, Eggs, Sucrose, Contains 2% or Less: Soy Lecithin Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup Solids, Whey, Glycerin, Salt Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Sorbic Acid and Potassium Sorbate (To Retain Freshness), Cellulose Gum, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Xanthan Gum, Monocalcium Phosphate Enzymes, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Caramel Color, Yellow 5, Red 40.
The serving size is 2 cakes, worth 260 calories and 31 grams of sugar. And you get multiple versions of sugar, from high fructose corn syrup to dextrose and sucrose. And there’s more of the mysterious “natural and artificial flavor.” What exactly are you eating?
I was curious about the use of palm oil in Cotton Candy Twinkies. Why palm oil when there are so many other oils available? When I googled palm oil, I was inundated with information on how the large-scale cultivation of palm oil has resulted in deforestation and the loss of natural habitat of endangered species, including the two surviving species of orangutan. Ugghhh! Hostess Brands: PLEASE STOP!!!
Does anyone really need a mammoth box of 48 Pop-Tarts? Apparently so! This one comes with 24 Frosted S’more and 24 Frosted Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tarts. A Walmart reviewer said this about her S’mores: “Great way to enjoy the fun of a campfire s’mores without all the work. Crust is made of real graham cracker with chocolate and marshmallows neatly on topping.” Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? Here are the ingredients for the S’mores Pop-Tarts:
Ingredients: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Vitamin B1 [Thiamin Mononitrate], Vitamin B2 [Riboflavin], Folic Acid), Sugar, Dextrose, Soybean and Palm Oil (With TBHQ for Freshness), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Whole Wheat Flour, Bleached Wheat Flour, Whey, Contains two Percent or less of Molasses, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Cornstarch, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Milk, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate), Calcium Carbonate, Salt, Modified Corn Starch, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Soy Lecithin, Egg Whites, Gelatin, Color Added, Xanthan Gum, Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Both Pop-Tart flavors contain 200 calories and 19 grams of sugar per pastry. Hey, they use the term “pastry,” not me! It’s a really long list of ingredients and the TBHQ jumped out at me. What is TBHQ? A little investigation found that TBHQ stands for Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, and it’s a controversial additive. I was shocked to learn that TBHQ is also used in paints, varnishes, and skin care products and that the FDA has placed strict limits on its usage due to evidence of health concerns at higher levels (see this article). Some scientists have associated TBHQ with a higher incidence of tumors in rats and the Feingold Diet, which seeks to improve behavioral health among children, prohibits TBHQ. Avoid!!!
You know what? I was shocked by what I learned! I have always had one rule at the grocery store – never buy anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce! When my daughter was younger, inevitably, she would pick up an item and ask to place it in the cart. And I would kindly ask her to read the ingredients. She knew that nothing went in our cart that had mysterious and unpronounceable ingredients. So it’s been years since I really looked at the items in the big grocery store aisles. In hindsight, it looks like I pulled out these specific ingredients because I knew in advance they were trouble. Believe it or not, that wasn’t the case at all! I wondered about sodium polyphosphate because it was listed so high on the ingredient list, and I had no idea what TBHQ was. And while I had heard some information in regard to palm oil, I had no idea how widespread the devastating environmental impact was until I researched further. THIS IS NOT FOOD!
If you’re a regular reader here at The Five Journeys, you know that I stick to a Whole30-based diet and offer menu plans that require food prep and cooking. I avoid processed food. I know I am in the minority. Clearly, people around the world love their Pop-Tarts – the Kellogg’s Company sells more than 2 BILLION Pop-Tarts annually! But if you’d like to eat healthier and get your kids on a better path, what’s a person to do? For starters, there are more and more healthy options out there. Even the big box stores, yes even Walmart, have a special organic and often gluten-free section that may offer some better options. But you’ll still have to steer around these large displays of processed unhealthy products.
There are two companies in particular that I promote on my site – Thrive Market and Barefoot Provisions.* Both companies offer an assortment of organic and healthy options that do not contain harmful additives. Creating a healthy lifestyle should be your #1 priority, and eating REAL FOOD is absolutely essential. Read your ingredients. Buy organic when you can. Eat to Live!
Dr. Brenda is a financial coach, educator, researcher, and sociologist. In addition to blogging at The Five Journeys, she writes 30-day challenges at BetterLifeChallenges.com. Her passion is guiding people on their journey to financial freedom through coaching at DrBrendaMoneyCoach and online courses at EarlyExitAcademy.com.
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