Don’t Buy Nutrients

Have you noticed that packaged foods at the grocery store don’t advertise the product in the package, but instead highlight which nutrient happens to be hot at the moment?

Milk advertises CALCIUM. I’m not knocking milk and it does have calcium- about 300mg for 1 cup. However, it’s a common misconception that it’s the only good source of calcium. But did you know that 3 Tbsp of sesame seeds has 270mg of calcium? Or that 2 cups of broccoli contain 356mg of calcium? It’s like a well-kept secret since they don’t have labels that shout at you.

Froot Loops cereal highlights that it’s a good source of fiber at 3g of fiber per one cup of cereal. However, only 1/2 cup of black beans has 7g and one medium apple has 4g.

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By the way, I like that they spell it FROOT loops, instead of FRUIT, because the cereal doesn’t contain even a trace of real fruit. It does, however, have partially hydrogenated oils (transfat). But hey, 3g of fiber! (eyeroll)

My point is that this marketing can be deceptive to people trying to eat healthy. Perhaps they overheard the importance of fiber, so they throw a sugary, processed cereal in their cart instead of beans and berries. They are trying to make improvements to their health, but perhaps without the time to research nutrition, they rely on these labels to help guide them. It’s easy to get duped when the American Heart Association has its stamp on Heart Smart Bisquick, whose first two ingredients are enriched bleached flour and canola oil. But hey, no transfats, so it’s a health food!

So what’s a health conscious, but busy, consumer to do?

Eat the stuff without labels.

If you’re eating a wide variety of real foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and quality dairy and meats (if you’re into those), then your nutrient intake will take care of itself. It’s when we are eating processed garbage that has had all it’s “real” parts stripped away that we need to worry about getting enough of a certain nutrient.

And if you are buying products with labels, always read the ingredients. I’ve been shocked at some of the ingredients in a tub of “butter”. The ingredient list should be short and recognizable.

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Besides, real food is more than the sum of it’s nutrient parts. (I believe stole that thought from Michael Pollan). To reduce a food, like a vegetable, down to it’s breakdown of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates or even micronutrients, you’re undermining how brilliant nature is at creating synergistic nutritional powerhouses without the help of a laboratory.

Did that last sentence reveal my inner hippie? Sigh… it was bound to happen.

My point is that healthy eating isn’t supposed to be so hard. Unfortunately with science creating ‘food like products’, it’s made us have to pull out the calculators to compute whether our lunch was no more than 40% carbohydrates with at least 15% protein.

This post is written by a former Lean Cuisine Addict, so believe me, I know it can be scary to let go of the sense of control numbers give you, but once you’re on the other side, it’s so freeing.




  1. says

    Well said, Brittany! I’ll add my favorite Michael Pollan quote, too: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s interesting to think that all calories are not created equal–our bodies process real food differently than processed foods, so it’s not just about how many calories you’re taking in, but rather the way those calories interact with our bodies to provide us true nourishment.
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    • says

      Totally agree. That’s my favorite Pollan quote, too, because it is so simple to understand. I try to follow the advice as often as possible. I certainly fall short, but it’s a great way of eating to strive for!

  2. says

    Another thing I like to say to people, is that healthy eating starts with real foods like things that aren’t processed but rather fresh produce. That helps a lot.
    You have a point. I know many who eat cereals because of how convenient they are and how the are sold on what the package are saying. But if you read the label, it contains a lot of sugar and things that are artificial.
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  3. says

    great post! I was just talking to my parents the other day about how we focus so much on checking labels and ingredients etc, but we should try to eat foods without the label! I am going to send them this link so they can read more! Thanks :)
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  4. says

    I agree with you 100% in that eating foods without nutrition labels and carefully reading labels when they exist is the way to go. I wish there was mandatory nurition education in elementary, middle, and high school because I personally believe the healthy eating habit starts early. I also wish that grocery stores would hire people to help people make better decisions when shopping, but who am I kidding. Big Food would never allow that to happen.
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    • Paulina says

      Nutrition education in grade school is a wonderful idea. I didn’t learn about nutrition and eating “right” until after college, when I joined a medical weight loss clinic to loose the 25lbs I’d put on in college.

      • says

        I agree. If I could add some classes to grade school curriculum, nutrition and financial classes would be at the top of my list. I think some basic information on both would help everyone (myself included!) have a better start to an adult life.

  5. says

    love love love this post…I get so frustrated when I shop and see products like those “Froot Loops” and all of the labels they show because SO many people (clearly) aren’t educated in what is even considered “healthy” or “good for you” and they don’t know any different than packaged foods, so they grab it and put it in their cart! It’s so frustrating that marketing is skewed this way…..I’m always checking the ingredients on any food I buy, and no ingredient list is the best! :)
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  6. says

    I love this post! It really helps to highlight the truth of that matter, which is that a plant-based diet can and IS healthy and is a diet that can incorporate all of the body’s essential vitamins and nutrients. In my opinion, plant-based diets that focus on eating whole foods are definitely the way to go. One can be vegetarian and not eat healthy foods (e.g., the Froot Loops!), so the importance of choosing whole foods as opposed to processed foods is HUGE. I try to remember this when I visit the grocery store and ignore the marketing and food labeling that I see because I know that they are just telling me what they think that I want to see. The truth of the matter is that the foods without any label at all are generally the best :).
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  7. Kellie says

    This is great. I am an avid healthy eater but relatively new to the reading ingredients list band wagon. I am appalled at some of the things that we allow in our food that even other countries don’t allow in their food. Thanks for all the information you find for us.

  8. says

    Fun, informative post, Brittany! I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Our household has slowly left behind a lot of processed foods in favor of whole, real foods and we have certainly found it to be satisfying.

    I do crave some processed foods when I am pregnant but I’m okay with a few here and there. :)

    Marketing is amazing, in terms of what it “gives” people permission to buy.

    Reading through the comments here, on Twitter lately, etc. is really interesting. Some people seem to feel that many consumers are victims of food companies. (Maybe I just notice more of these comments?) I’m more of a free-will gal myself and believe that many people know which foods are “bad” and which foods are “good” and still choose the “bad” foods for convenience, ease, and taste.

    The reality is that some families simply aren’t going to buy sweet potatoes and kale instead of frozen meals…even if the nutritional information is staring them in the face at the store.

    I kind of went off on a tangent here- just my two cents! :)
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    • says

      You know I’m all about a little moderation here and there, so I don’t intend to preach perfection 😉

      I love your tangent because I feel we are on the same page. Do I think the marketing is a little ridiculous? Absolutely. But I think companies should be allowed to make and market whatever they want. People can ‘vote’ with their dollar and if more people start buying the real stuff, then the phony-food makers won’t make it very long.

      That’s why I also think the NYC limit of soda size is pretty silly, too, but that’s a topic for another day 😉

      • says

        I do love your moderation- and I hope I didn’t sound like I thought you were even on that topic- I have just noticed that overall “victim” theme in a lot of places lately and for some reason thought your post was a good place for me to vent about a barely related subject… 😉

        Love that you are on the same page, as I assumed you were, based on some of the earlier posts like the food desert one. I totally agree with you- people have the right to buy what they want and eat what they want and shouldn’t be policed for it. Universal healthcare makes my beliefs about unhealthy diets a little more challenging to accept, however. :)
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  9. Kelly W says

    I am a ‘Real’ Food junkie now. So eye opening that people think Low Fat and Fat Free will make them lose weight when they are adding in garage to make them that way (Low Fat and Fat Free) and they are actually gaining weight! My favorite Michael Pollan quote is ‘If it’s from a plant it it, if it was made in a plant, don’t’

  10. Sarah says

    I’m reading “Hungry for Change” (after watching and loving the movie) and in it, they say… and I’m paraphrasing:

    Cocaine is to coca leaves what high fructose corn syrup is to corn.

    Just because it comes from a natural source doesn’t mean it’s safe. If it’s been chemically reduced and processed down to a single, concentrated molecular item, it’s not the same thing!

    • says

      I JUST watched this the other day- the guy was saying he wouldn’t snort cocaine, but he drank coca tea- Made a lot of sense! I didn’t know there was a book on the same topic. I’ll have to check it out- thanks!

      • Sarah says

        They also made another documentary back in 2008 called “Food Matters”. I have yet to watch it but it sounds like it focuses a lot more on the health and medical side, rather than the looking-good stuff that was in Food Matters.

  11. says

    Excellent post Brittany! I think this is SUCH an important message to spread! Some people can just be so unaware that companies are trying to trick them by using these tactics. I mean, it’s probably pretty obvious to us HLB. But, to others they can actually believe these claims.
    Ugh, some packaging just makes me mad/sad at the same time.
    I just still can’t believe some of the ingredients used are allowed in our foods. Michael Polan knows his stuff;)
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  12. Ashlee says

    LOVE this post. I wish more people understood about ingredients and nutrients than just the caloric value. I work for a cardiology group and it amazes me how employees and doctors eat thinking that something is good for them.

  13. says

    LOVED this post! I’ve become quite passionate about clean eating the past few years. That doesn’t mean I do it 100% of the time. I’m consistent with it. I don’t let one little things throw me off because it’s not a diet, it’s a way of life!!!! I want to educate people (or shake them!) when I see them jump from one fad diet to the next. (no judgement, because believe me, I’ve been on my fair share of “diets”). Healthy living really is quite easy. Eat, whole, clean, unprocessed foods and exercise your body in a way you enjoy!

  14. says

    Just before reading his name in this post, I thought, “This is so Michael Pollan.” :) It is true that when we try to choose food based on nutrients, we ignore a lot of what might actually be beneficial about them in the first place. There is so much we don’t know about how the interaction of nutrients from the ‘whole food’ actually works, that when you try to extract just one component you don’t know what might be happening.

    Also, this reminds me of how they were trying to market carrots as like a ‘cool snack food’ with cartoons on the labels. I don’t think it worked. Additionally, I had a friend who worked for General Mills when they rolled out their low-sugar cereals, and they didn’t sell well at all. It is interesting what WILL catch someone’s eye and what won’t, I guess.

    Let’s just all eat our vegetables. And food in its lowest form of processing.

    P.S. Just heard about a new book called Pandora’s Lunchbox that you NEED to look up. I think it comes out next month.
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  15. says

    I love your inner hippie!! It’s so true; ingredient lists should be recognizable if you are buying stuff that has an ingredient list. I’m actually so proud that I’ve turned my hubby into a list reader. I think he’s more adamant than I am now, I think!!
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  16. says

    I have been buying a lot more whole foods now than I ever have before. What is funny, is that I do it because I have kids and I cringe at the idea of putting so much “junk” in them. I have heard awful things about food coloring in foods so that is something I have been super aware of lately.

    And how crazy is it that I never realized that “Fruit” Loops was spelled “Froot Loops”?!
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  17. says

    LOVE THIS!! So very well said! My boyfriend tried to convince me Fig Newtons were “natural” the other day he was joking of course but it can be misleading until you read the label. I used to be so concerned with calories that I didn’t think about what I was putting into my body. I try really hard not to get a ton of process foods now and feel a billion times better! Thank you so much for an awesome post :)
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  18. says

    Kind of off topic, but one thing in terms to labeling that bothers me is the word “all-natural” or “organic”. I know you have to get a seal to use the word organic, but those yummy tortilla chips I just bought last night are organic and by no means are they healthy. I’d rather eat organic and all natural ice cream than the traditional kind, but I think it’s very easy to talk yourself into that fact that its OK because of the labels. I research and read about healthy eating probably more than your average consumer and I STILL fall into that trap at Whole Foods …so I can’t imagine how many others are seeing the words organic and thinking that those potato chips are okay to eat since they aren’t conventional.
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  19. lakawak says

    So, your blog is just bullshit followed by whining?

    Who CARES if broccoli also contains calcium? No one is saying it doesn’t. But you are not going to substitute calcium for a glass of milk.

    Also..only idiots believe the myth that Froot Loops has to spell it FROOT because it doesn’t have fruit it in and there is some kind of law against it. OPEN YOUR EYES instead of being some pathetic little c*nt….frOOT lOOPs. I intentional left some letters lower case to show WHY they spelled FRUIT with an OO. Because it goes with the OO of LOOPS.

  20. lakawak says

    And you wonder if you revealed your INNER hippie? No…you are an outer hippie in every bad connotation of the word. You are EVERYTHING that responsible parents make sure their kids don’t grow up to be like.

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