How about your diet? Wouldn't you prefer to make your diet simpler as well? Especially if you knew that simpler was also healthier? Then why do so many of us insist on choosing the most complicated foods we can find, when the simplest foods are always better?
Case in point: Let's say you had a choice between two seemingly similar products. Both had about the same number of calories, and had similar tastes. Based on these ingredient lists, which would you choose?
Beverage #1: Water; high fructose corn syrup; concentrated juices of orange, tangerine, apple, lime and/or grapefruit; citric acid; ascorbic acid; beta-carotene; thiamin hydrochloride; natural flavors; modified food starch; canola oil; cellulose gum; xanthan gum; sodium hexametaphosphate; sodium benzoate; yellow dyes #5 and 6.
Beverage #2: Fresh-squeezed orange juice.
If you picked beverage #2, you'd be getting three times the vitamin C and about one-eighth the sodium, as well as a nice hit of calcium. But if you picked #1, then you'd be getting a nutritional cocktail made up primarily of water and high fructose corn syrup, with a variety of scary surprises. (Canola oil?!)
Yet many of us pick #1 on a regular basis—those are the ingredients for Sunny Delight original, by the way—because we seem dead-set on complicating our diets. And complicated is always bad. Simpler is always better. (Speaking of nutritionally empty drinks, watch out for these gut-busters with ingredients most of us could never, ever pronounce. Take them in even as a weekly treat and you could be adding an extra pound or two of belly fat a month.)
Check out the four popular processed foods below. Each violates the Eat This, Not That! cardinal rule—which is to say, they're just too complicated. Wait till you discover some of the junk we found hiding in each.
What's Really In …
NACHO CHEESE DORITOS (11 chips)
8 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
180 mg sodium
The concept is, well, sort of brilliant: Nachos and cheese without the hassle of a microwave. Or even a plate, for that matter. You just tear open the bag and start snarfing. And as a parting gift, Dorito's leave your fingers sticky with something that looks like radioactive bee pollen. Now here's the question: Do you have any clue what's in that stuff? Here you go:
To create each Dorito, the Frito-Lay food scientists draw from a well of 39 different ingredients. How many does it take to make a regular tortilla chip? About three. That means some 36 ingredients wind up in that weird cheese fuzz. Of those 36, only two are ingredients you'd use to make nachos at home: Romano and cheddar cheeses. Alongside those are a cache of empty carbohydrate fillers like dextrin, maltodextrin, dextrose, flour, and corn syrup solids. Then come a rotating cast of oils. Depending on what bag you get, you might find any combination of corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, and sunflower oil. Some of those will be partially hydrogenated, meaning they give the chip a longer shelf life and spike your heart with a little shot of trans fat. (The reason you won't see this on the nutrition label is that FDA guidelines allow food manufacturers to "round down" to zero.)
What's Really In …
SUBWAY 9-GRAIN WHEAT (6")
2 g fat (0.5 g saturated)
410 mg sodium
Okay, so you're probably not in the habit of ordering a la carte bread loaves at Subway, but there’s a good chance you've eaten at least a few sandwiches built on this bread. The good news is that Subway actually delivers on the nine-grain promise. The bad news: Eight of those nine grains appear in miniscule amounts. If you look at a Subway ingredient statement, you'll find every grain except wheat listed at the bottom of the list, just beneath the qualifier "contains 2% or less." In fact, the primary ingredient in this bread is plain old white flour, and high-fructose corn syrup plays a more prominent role than any single whole grain. Essentially this is a white-wheat hybrid with trace amounts of other whole grains like oats, barley, and rye.
So outside of the nine grains, how many ingredients does Subway use to keep this bread together? Sixteen, including such far-from-simple ingredients as DATEM, sodium steroyl lactylate, calcium sulfate, and azodiacarbonamide. But here's one that's a little unnerving: ammonium sulfate. This compound is loaded with nitrogen, which is why it's most common use is as fertilizer. You might have used it to nourish your plants at home. And Subway does the same thing; the ammonium sulfate nourishes the yeast and helps the bread turn brown. What, did you think that dark hue was the result of whole grains? Hardly. It's a combination of the ammonium sulfate and the caramel coloring. Seems like Jarod might frown on that sort of subterfuge.
Of course, in terms of calories, Subway's still one of your best allies in the sandwich game. But here's an even better idea: Whip up one at at home in minutes. You'll save calories, money, and precious time.
What's Really In …
ORIGINAL SKITTLES (1 pack)
2.5 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
47 g sugars
They're sweet, chewy, and brightly colored. Now, what are they? Well, the basic formula for each chewy neon orb is a gross mashup of sugar, corn syrup, and hydrogenated palm kernal oil. That explains why every gram of fat is saturated and each package has more sugar than two twin-wrapped packages of Peanut Butter Twix.
What's Really In …
TACO BELL MEXICAN PIZZA
30 g fat (8 g saturated)
1,020 mg sodium
It's Italian, it's Mexican, it's . . . well, it's got a whopping 64 different ingredients, so it's hard to tell just what exactly it is. On the face of it, this meal doesn't look too bad. There are two pizza shells, ground beef, beans, pizza sauce, tomatoes, and three cheeses. That's when you see all of those 64 smaller ingredients, including an astounding 24 in the ground beef alone. Yikes.
So why exactly does Taco Bell put sand in the Mexican Pizza? To make it taste like spring break in Cancun? Not quite. As it turns out, Taco Bell adds silica to the beef to prevent it from clumping together during shipping and processing. The restaurant uses the same anti-caking strategy with the chicken, shrimp, and rice.
Is it unusual to add silica to food? Yes. Is it dangerous? Probably not. The mineral actually occurs naturally in all sorts of foods like vegetables and milk.