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One Small Change

The Next Big Food Trend: "Simply" Confusing

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"Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun."

Based on this well-known ditty, it would appear that the venerable Big Mac just missed qualifying for my One Small Change experiment this month. My goal is not to put anything in my mouth that contains more than five ingredients—and the Big Mac apparently has seven. I got this idea from the food industry’s budding “simplicity” trend (more on that later) and author Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, where he suggests applying the same rule to packaged foods.

The Big Mac is a great example of just how vigilant you have to be when deciding what to eat. When you break it down, how many individual ingredients do you think are actually in that sandwich? Well, hang onto your sesame seeds because according to my calculations from McDonalds’ nutrition chart, there are about 70. The bun alone has 33, and even the innocuous-looking pickle slices have 10.

And this is the challenge I faced recently as I pushed my buggy into the local supermarket to stock up on “five-or-less” foods. Outside of the produce department, hardly anything is as it appears. Yogurt isn’t as “natural” as claimed. Juices aren’t as “real” as their labels say. And cereals exist in a smokescreen of “fortified goodness.” (But if it’s naturally good, why does it need to be fortified?)

Understand also that I purposely didn’t go to Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s because I wanted to see if it was possible to pull this off on a budget at a typical supermarket. But before I get into that, I need to warn you that you better dial in your BS detector because you’re going to need it in the coming months.

Amanda Carlson-Phillips, M.S., R.D., the director of performance nutrition for Athletes’ Performance says “the move to so-called clean foods will be the biggest food trend in the next 12 to 18 months.” And I saw plenty of evidence of that even where I live in the boondocks of Schnecksville, Pennsylvania. For example:

  • Haagen-Dazs Five:
    “All-natural ice cream crafted with only five ingredients for incredibly pure, balanced flavor.”
    Oh, plus 220 calories per half cup and 7 grams of saturated fat.
  • Pillsbury Simply… Cookies:
    “Made with just the simple, wholesome ingredients you and your family know and love.”
    I don’t know about you, but my kids really loved soy lecithin and sodium aluminum phosphate when they were growing up.
  • Lay’s Classic Potato Chips:
    "Made with three simple ingredients in as little as 24 hours and that’s it. After all, Happiness is Simple.” But what about the depression that sets in after eating just one ounce and discovering you’ve ingested 150 calories and 10 grams of fat?
  • Sara Lee Simple Sweets Apple Pie:
    Next to the enticing product photo, the word “simple” is the biggest thing on the box. But one slice contains all sorts of stuff, such as malic acid, soy protein isolate, L-Cysteine, tricalcium phosphate, plus about 25% of your daily fat allotment.
  • Snapple All Natural Lemon Tea:
    “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth.”
    Which would be “filtered water, sugar, citric acid, tea and natural flavors.” Hey, what planet are they from?

Anyway, you get the idea. You’re going to be seeing more and more of this type of marketing as food companies race to capitalize on America’s back-to-basics mentality. It reminds me of the low- and no-fat craze a few years ago when companies convinced us that as long as they limited the fat in food, you could eat as much of it as you wanted. (Go on, admit it, how many boxes of Snack Well cookies did you eat?)

“Keep in mind that just because it’s a clean ice cream does not take away from the fact that it still has lots of calories and fat,” explains Carlson-Phillips, “and just because the French fries are fried in trans-fat-free oils does not make them healthy. Be aware that food companies have one objective, and it’s not your health. Rather, it’s to sell product. So you have to be smart. You have to look at ingredients even closer than ever.”

And that’s what I did for two hours as my afternoon grocery trip became like a visit to the New York Public Library. Although I couldn’t find a packaged bread or tortilla that met my criteria, I did find pretzels, popcorn, rice, beans, grains and, of course, lots of organic fruits and vegetables. Carlson-Phillips recommended LARABAR as a wholesome convenience food, and I grabbed four of them even though they cost $1.39 for each 1.7-oz bar, and the lemon variety contained 210 calories and 11 grams of total fat. When it was time to check out, I had the most impressive cart in line and the equally wholesome cashier smiled her approval. My delight faded, however, at the $232 total.

Next challenge: Making and (gulp) eating this stuff. Tell me: Is it possible to die from too much fiber?

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Calories, Food, Nutrients