This time, let’s hit a little closer to home. Let’s look at supposed “health foods” that aren’t. Leave it to the food industry to make junk out of a healthy food. Last time, we saw how this happens with yogurt: just add fructose & aspartame! Plain, cultured yogurt is fine, but let’s leave the modified food starch in the lab, k?
1. Earth Balance Natural Spreads Vegan Buttery Sticks
Here’s the label:
Non-GMO INGREDIENTS (well, that’s a good start at least): Expeller-pressed natural oil blend (soybean, palm fruit, canola and olive oils), filtered water, pure salt, natural flavor, (derived from corn, no MSG, no alcohol, no gluten), soy protein, soy lecithin, lactic acid (non-dairy, derived from sugar beets), colored with beta-carotene from natural sources. Contains soy.
Here’s the deal. I know that vegans need an alternative to butter, but “healthy” vegan products are always loaded with soy, mostly because it is versatile and adds protein. Soy oil, soy flour, soy protein, soy protein isolate. Repeated exposure to the same foods, such as corn and soy that are in practically everything in various forms, can lead to food allergies. Not to mention that soy can have detrimental effects on people. The truth is, we really don’t know how soy affects us. It contains plant-based estrogens. In some people, it plugs into estrogen receptors and can lower the body’s estrogen load, which is a good thing, because too much estrogen can lead to hormone-related cancers in men and women. In others, it just builds up in the system and can cause major hormonal imbalances. Avoid soy, unless you are eating it sparingly, not more than twice a week, and in fermented forms, like miso or tempeh. This also contains canola. See my last discussion of fake healthy foods for my thoughts on canola:
Anyway, “buttery stick spread” or whatever isn’t a natural food. It’s a food product. Avoid. Use real butter, ghee, or if you are vegan, use flax oil, olive oil, or apple or pumpkin butters.
2. Morningstar Farms Maple Flavored Veggie Sausage Patties
This is a good one. Morningstar Farms is popular for its numerous vegetarian products. Here is a look at their label:
TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (WHEAT GLUTEN, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, WATER FOR HYDRATION), WATER, SUGAR, CORN OIL, EGG WHITES, SODIUM CASEINATE, MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF LACTOSE, SOYBEAN OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (WHEAT GLUTEN, CORN GLUTEN, SOY PROTEIN), AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, SPICES, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS FROM NON-MEAT SOURCES, SODIUM PHOSPHATES (TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE, TETRAPYROPHOSPHATE, HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE, MONOPHOSPHATE), METHYLCELLULOSE, SALT, CARAMEL COLOR, DISODIUM INOSINATE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, WHEY POWDER, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, DEXTROSE, CORN SYRUP, ONION POWDER, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, SUCCINIC ACID, NIACINAMIDE, LACTIC ACID, ASCORBIC ACID, BREWER’S YEAST, TORULA YEAST, SOY LECITHIN, IRON (FERROUS SULFATE), THIAMIN MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1), PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), VITAMIN B12.
Ok, so basically my head is going to spin around and fly off. Where to begin? Well, for starters, this is a completely processed food filled with chemicals, beginning with its “textured vegetable protein,” which is a lab-generated form of protein with chemicals added, often MSG. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein also contains MSG. Plus, what the hell *is* hydrolyzed vegetable protein? Not something that exists in nature. Soy protein isolate is another chemicalized protein that can cause thyroid and hormonal disruption. I don’t think there is an honest, natural food in this product. Avoid.
3. Clif Bar Apricot
Clif Bar is trying to be a healthy and environmentally friendly company. They state that they offer natural & organic foods that are good for body and planet. Most of their bars are 70 percent organic. Here is an Apricot Clif Bar:
Ingredients: Organic Brown Rice Syrup, ClifPro® (Soy Rice Crisp [Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Barley Malt Extract, Calcium Carbonate], Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soy Flour), Organic Rolled Oats, Dried Apricots (Apricots, Evaporated Cane Juice, Rice Flour, Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid), Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, ClifCrunch® (Organic Oat Fiber, Inulin [Chicory Extract], Organic Milled Flaxseed, Organic Oat Bran, Psyllium), Organic Dried Apples, Organic Date Paste, Organic Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Salt, Colored With Annatto.
So they very well may be doing something positive for the environment, and I applaud their use of organics, but here again, we run into the dreaded soy protein isolate. Folks, this is nasty stuff, completely processed soy that beefs us the protein content of a food but has the potential to cause health and hormonal issues if you eat enough of it. And look at everything it’s in! Especially if you are vegetarian, you could be getting a double or triple dose of this daily. Please, please read your labels and avoid this junk.
First ingredient is brown rice syrup, which is fancy sugar. Soy flour, soy protein isolate, “soy crisps?” It has some flax and fiber-rich ingredients and contains real food, like apricots and apples, but all the processed soy in this Clif Bar scores it a C. Stick to the Clif Bar Nectar. They contain about 4-5 ingredients, all whole foods, usually dried fruits and nuts. Simple and natural.
4. Dr Pragers Tex Mex Veggie Burgers “Developed by two New Jersey-based heart surgeons, Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods are all natural, made with the finest ingredients.”
I guess heart surgeons think that breaded fish filets and pizza bagels are sensible foods? Well, I call their bluff. I’m guessing the fish filets aren’t fried, but again, highly processed products. The Tex Mex veggie burger isn’t too bad:
Carrots, Black Beans, Onions, String Beans, Corn, Zucchini, Soybeans, Oat Bran, Peas, Red Pepper, Spinach, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Broccoli, Textured Soy Flour, Oat Fiber, Arrowroot, Jalepeno Peppers, Chili Powder, Garlic, Corn Meal, Corn Starch, Cilantro, Salt, Parsley, Black Pepper, All Natural Vegetable Gum
Just some soybeans and canola, which is NOT a healthful oil (see above) and textured soy flour? Well, that’s bad. But this is the least offensive food of all the above, because it at least does contain some real foods, which are listed first on the list, meaning they are at least more abundant than the chemicals. B-
Stick to real foods. Make your own lentil burgers, apple butter, or granola bars, for that matter. Here’s a recipe for you. And read labels!
Makes 12 to 16 granola bars
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds or walnuts, or both
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed, unsweetened
2 tbsp coconut oil
2/3 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cup dried fruit, or a mix of dried fruit (try chopped apricots, dried apples, dates, cranberries, raisins, goji berries, whatever)
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter an 8×12-inch baking dish or 9×13-inch and line it with parchment paper. Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
While the mixture is still warm, stir in the honey, vanilla and salt until the mixture is well coated, then the dried fruit. Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish and press, press, press it in (wet fingers and/or a silicon spatula work great for this) until the mixture is packed as tightly as possible.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares — your best serrated knife is great for this. You can store these in an airtight container at room temperature, or wrap individually to take with you on the run. Or, store in the freezer. Stays more crisp this way, as all granola tends to soften at room temperature after a day or more.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.