Welcome to Liz’s Lemonade Stand, where the lemons of life are twisted into the sweetest lemonade.
The Lemon: Once upon a time, food was food. Food did not come in plastic, airtight bags shoved inside a brightly festooned cardboard box. It did not have a shelf life rivaling the lifespan of a cockroach, nor did nutrition labels look like an excerpt from a chemistry textbook. Food was simply food.
Today, purchasing and eating food has become needlessly complicated. Conflicting nutrition reports clash on the nightly news, so it’s no wonder that average consumers head to the grocery store confused. Poor nutrition and the national obesity epidemic are plaguing American health, clogging arteries and leaving Americans as the (increasingly large) butt of international jokes. While there are a myriad of factors contributing to this, in my opinion, one of the most irritating trends in the mainstream American diet is the idea of the 100-calorie snack pack. Food manufacturers tout the 100-calorie snack as the dieter’s best friend; I see it as the dieter’s demise.
The Lemonade: Sifting through the Health Claims
More often than not, these conveniently wrapped pouches of munchies reminiscent of cardboard and preservatives are laden with sugar in attempts to reduce fat. On the whole, the vast majority of processed snack foods have ingredient lists that put high school chemistry labs to shame. Yet through persistent advertising and clever marketing, there is something magical now about the number 100. Perhaps it’s just human nature to be drawn to a solid, complete number like 100. After all, there are one hundred pennies to a dollar; we round up to the nearest tenth regularly. Now, 100 has become the acceptable number of calories for a food to have. The problem is, these convenience foods are taking the place of much more satisfying whole foods that have been minimally, if at all, processed. A banana’s satiating power is far greater than that of some bland “baked” chips or cookies laced with “real chocolate.”
“All natural” replacements galore, the whole foods movement has gradually begun creeping into the average American’s shopping cart. Though the purest sense of this lifestyle change entails completely forgoing processed, packaged food and shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, there are a few companies who have managed to make a name for themselves in this new market. One such brand name that has made natural foods less alien is the Greek yogurt mogul Chobani. When I started my endeavor into a less processed, more nutrient-dense diet, Chobani yogurts were the only yogurts I deemed acceptable to eat. When I eventually realized that I didn’t actually care for the texture of Chobani and was only eating it because it was the cool, “healthy” thing to do, I experimented with a few other brands before finding one that I truly liked (shameless plug for Fage Greek yogurt right here).
I still appreciated the philosophy behind Chobani yogurts, however. In fact, I thought it was great that a company had been able to market a healthy alternative to reach so many consumers. Unfortunately, with the new line of “Simply 100” Greek yogurts, it seems that Chobani has joined ranks with the rest of the snack food industry. They’re now selling 5.3 ounce cups of yogurt that weigh in at 100 calories with five grams of fiber. Wait, what? Fiber, you say? What is fiber doing in a dairy product? In a sneaky attempt to make 100 calories in a cup more appealing to the diet-desperate, they have added inulin, a type of fiber derived from chicory root. Chicory root fiber has popped up in oodles of less than healthy foods in an attempt to make them look more wholesome, and it is with great sadness that I say Chobani has also jumped on this bandwagon.
Well, why is this a lame thing of them to have done? Fiber is good, right? Fiber is incredibly important to maintain healthy digestive system function. But, not all types of fiber are equal. Inulin does have several nutritional benefits, especially regarding bacterial gut health, but it is not the kind of fiber that makes you feel full. The issue I have with Chobani prancing around with their new gem is that advertising inulin is generally misleading! Most people are not going to know that chicory root fiber works a little differently than the fiber you’d expect from whole wheat bread. In an effort to pander to a weight loss-obsessed crowd, Chobani has given us the silver bullet of snacks: 12 grams of protein! 5 grams of fiber! Only 8 grams of sugar! All for 100 calories! (As for the reduced amount of sugar, it comes from the use of the “natural” sweeteners stevia and monkfruit extract; while they are not artificial, the amount of processing they undergo makes one question just how natural they really are.)
I do not mean to single out Chobani as the prime culprit; there are a plethora of other companies putting out even more questionable products. Rather, I am merely trying to make a point of how marketing tricks like the 100-calorie snack pack may actually be hurting peoples’ attempts to clean up their eating. Health claims like the added inulin fiber are misleading (Fiber One bars are also guilty of adding inulin to make their products seem healthier, but don’t be fooled: they are essentially a candy bar). With a little effort, you can become an educated eater and take control of what you are fueling your body with.