I made the mistake last week while I was house-bound after surgery of sending my husband to the local health food store to pick up some things that we needed. He came home with a few things that we almost never eat. I’m guessing he was thinking, “Hey, these are at the health food store, so they must be okay!” Among the “treats” were two bags of processed snacks, one a bag of Barbara’s baked jalapeno cheese puffs and the other a bag of Kettle’s “fully loaded baked potato” potato chips (fried, not baked). The cheese puffs were okay but not addicting. The potato chips didn’t taste that good, but I didn’t want to stop eating them. I looked at the ingredients and discovered why.
The Kettle chips had the key mix of ingredients, combining salty with sweet and flavor enhancers, to make you keep reaching in the bag. I don’t know about you, but I don’t add sugar or maltodextrin (processed in your body as glucose) or autolyzed yeast extract (MSG under a deceptive name) to my loaded baked potato. Do you add these things to your baked potato? Do you add citric acid? Me neither. Put these ingredients together with salt and starch, though, and you have a perfect blend of flavors–salty, sweet, sour–that will have you and your children reaching into the bag over and over again until you break the cycle by stepping away from the bag and cleansing your palate.
Americans weights have increased dramatically since 1960–25 pounds on average, the difference between fit and fat. Part of that increase is due to our sedentary lifestyles compared to earlier generations who were less dependent on cars and television, computers, and electronic games, but another big part of it is due to food flavor engineering. Old-fashioned french fries taste good because they are starch, fat, and salt. Add the sweet-sour ketchup, and you’ve got a mouth party. McDonald’s puts together the favor party in advance by adding ingredients like sugar to the fries themselves. So do many of the companies that make fries for your freezer. Look back at the potato chips you can’t put down; any chip starts with the potential for overeating, but enjoy it with a sweet drink or put weird ingredients like sugar in it, and you’ll end up eating too much. The same is true for processed salad dressings. Hidden Valley Ranch, for example, includes not only MSG but also significant sugar. No wonder it’s become the dip of choice for kids.
If you want to keep your family healthy, keep the processed foods to a limit in your house. If you do have to buy processed foods every once in a while, read the label and avoid products with that lethal combination of sugar, salt, flavor enhancers, and sour. Go for products that have no more than two of the four. For example, salty baked Kettle chips have no sugar (although they do have yeast extract, another flavor enhancer variation on MSG). Be aware too that making homemade products like ranch dressing without nasty, addictive stuff and with better flavor overall is really, really easy–just mayonnaise, buttermilk or kefir, and garlic powder and other spices to taste–and much cheaper than the store-bought products.
Truth in Labeling has provided a great list of other names for MSG, and I found a decent list of sugar naming games at IVillage. Print out these lists and stick them with your shopping list, along with the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of foods with high pesticide levels. Eliminate these foods from your family’s food, and you’ll have a healthier, slimmer family.
Update: My husband read this post. He says I asked for chips to eat with a sandwich. I have no memory of the incident, but, then again, I was on pain medication. Honey, see, I ‘fessed up! Please go to the store for me again some day.
Have you found weird ingredients like sugar in savory food or any of the many forms of MSG that you didn’t know were in the foods your family eats? Share a comment!
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