Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to Choose the Best Junk Food: 5 Easy Fixes

Nobody's perfect. In a food world like ours, it's near impossible to stick to a healthy, real-food diet 100% of the time. Eating healthy tends to put you in a bubble... a bubble full of kale, grass-fed beef, home-made sauerkraut, and herbal teas. And while I love that bubble, and you may love that bubble, society does not. Nope, our society doesn't value health and food quality like you and I do, and sometimes it's tempting to give in. So there are bound to be times when you feel like you want to indulge in some junk food, whether it's at a party, at a summer picnic, or maybe you just want to celebrate the new Backstreet Boys album! (Only part joking.)

But whenever it happens, whenever that craving comes upon you, I think it's important that you know how to eat junk food properly. You don't have to completely fall of the wagon and binge on a family size Doritos... there are compromises that can be made here. Rest assured, it IS possible to make choices that will satisfy your craving for junk food AND STILL allow you to fit in with your peers.

Recently, I took a trip to Stop & Shop, my local conventional grocery store, to awkwardly remove items from their places just to take pictures of the ingredients. So here you go... 5 junk foods, along with their healthy counterparts!

1. Tortilla Chips
Bad Choice: Doritos
Let's count the reasons why... non-organic corn means genetically modified corn. Canola and corn oils are genetically modified and extremely processed; corn oil especially is full of inflammatory omega-6 fats. Then we've got MSG (monosodium gluatamate). May or may not be a problem, I'm still unsure. And then there are the artificial colors that are banned in most other countries around the world... yellow 6, yellow 5, and red 40... linked to behavioral problems in children like ADHD, among other things.

Good Choice: Garden of Eatin' Tortilla Chips
Organic corn. That means it's not genetically modified. Expeller pressed oils... this means that the oils were extracted without the use of chemical solvents like hexane, which are used in regular vegetable oils. In addition to that, this product is Non-GMO Certified (see the seal on the front of the bag, above). Vegetable oils are still bad for you, don't get me wrong. But the non-GMO, expeller-pressed, hexane-free version is a much better alternative.

2. Bread

Bad Choice: Pepperidge Farm Italian Bread 
Or just about any average bread in the bread aisle, for that matter. Ingredient #1: Flour. Extremely refined, nutrient-poor, junk food. Have you ever seen a flour in nature??? Soybean oil. High fructose corn syrup. Chemicals to "retard spoilage" (thought that term was offensive). Dough conditioners. Since when do we need so many ingredients to make a bread?? We don't. Ain't nobody got time for that. Leave it on the shelf.

Good Choice: Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Bread
What do you really need to make bread? Wheat, yeast, salt. Done. Ezekiel bread happens to contain a variety of grains, all of which are sprouted... Sprouting is a form of natural fermentation that deactivates some of the antinutrients in grains, making the vitamins and minerals more bioavailable. You may have to scour the frozen food section for this guy, FYI.

Another Good Choice: Rudi's Ancient Grains Bread
There's a theory out there that modern wheat, the type we've grown since the 1960s, is killing us. Read the intro to the book Wheat Belly for a the full story, or watch this video. Better yet, read this blog post I wrote on the topic! As a result, you may have seen the term "ancient grains", or grains like spelt or farro. These are older varieties of wheat, and there's actually some evidence that they're healthier for us. I don't think we know for sure if modern wheat is a problem here, but if you'd like to play it safe, try a bread like this one!

3. Chocolate
Bad Choice: Hershey's Bar
Everyone needs a little chocolate in their life once in a while, right? It may be tempting, seeing this little guy at the register of the grocery store; it's so convenient, you just have to put it in your cart and it's over... DON'T! First of all, there's a shit ton of sugar in this thing. No one needs that. Then in addition, there's artificial flavor, along with some bogus emulsifier called "PGPR". Sounds innocent enough until you see the real name... Polyglycerol polyricinoleate. Unfortunately, it's used as a cheap replacement (sometimes only partial replacement) for cocoa butter, an ingredient that would normally provide potent antioxidants that prevent plaque buildup in your arteries. No, you don't really need that, Hershey's says.

Good Choice: Just about any dark, organic chocolate bar.
First, I'd like to point your attention to the sugar content. Just 8 g per serving in this 85% dark chocolate bar versus 44 g per serving in the above Hershey's bar! That's reason number one. (Side note: if you really can't stand the 85%, the 70% dark is still a good compromise!) Then look at the ingredients... just 5 ingredients and all of them are real, edible things. This is also a much more concentrated chocolate, since there's less sugar and fewer filler ingredients, so it's more concentrated in the good stuff... antioxidants, healthy fats... there's just more of what you want and less of what you don't. And look! Cocoa butter! And no PGPR! Rejoice!

4. Peanut Butter
Bad Choice: Skippy Peanut Butter
Okay, so I didn't take this picture myself, I found it online. Shoot me. Skippy peanut butter, along with all of the other popular brands... Jif, Peter Pan, whatever... they all contain hydrogenated oils. In case you're not familiar with the term, hydrogenation is a chemical process that turns liquid oils solid. The problem is, this creates trans fats in the process. If you were to look at the nutrition facts, it would tell you there are 0 grams trans fat... don't believe it, they're lying. As long as there are under 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, it can be listed as a trans fat free product. (I will refer you also to this blog post I wrote once upon a time.) Don't be fooled, that shit'll kill you. There is no level of trans fat that is good in your diet

Good Choice: Natural Peanut Butter
Any brand will do. This one happens to be the organic Stop & Shop store brand. No trans fats, no oils. Just peanuts and salt. That's all you need. This one is easy... you should be able to find this at any grocery store! And if you don't like the texture quite as much, I don't care. Get over it. Learn to eat like an adult. :)

5. Snack Bars
Bad Choice: Nutrigrain Bars
I hope this one comes as a surprise... my mom and sister certainly didn't know about it. Nutrigrain bars are one of the best examples of a junk food disguised by clever marketing. Just say it... Nutrigrain. How can that not be healthy!? Look at the box, and the website. The web page is titled "Take Care of You", colorful strawberries and healthy-looking grains of wheat are strewn about, they claim "No high-fructose corn syrup" and "Made with real fruit & whole grains". What they don't tell you, is that Nutrigrain bars are also made with the following: soybean oil, canola oil, sugar, fructose, carrageenan, natural and artificial flavors, invert sugar, corn syrup, red 40, and a bunch of other ingredients that, quite frankly, I don't even recognize. Healthy???? I've been trying to stop cursing on my blog, but I can't hold it in any longer. Fuck off, Kellogg's.

Good Choice: Larabars
If you want a truly healthy bar, you're going to have to venture out of the cereal aisle. You may have to click to enlarge that little guy, but this is an apple pie Larabar. Ingredients: Dates, almonds, unsweetened apples, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon. That's it. Real food... nothing but fruit, nuts, and scrumptious cinnamon. And the health claims? There are none. There's a lesson here: if a food needs to make health claims, you should probably leave it on the shelf. Real food makes no claims.

Whew, we made it! See now? There are some pretty healthy compromises to be made here. You can still eat some of the foods you love without compromising your health. All it takes is a little knowledge! I hope you learned something here, now get out there and put this to use!


  1. I'm glad you've got Nutrigrain on there as bad. When I was doing an experiment (trying to eat the dose of carbs recommended by nutritionists)I ate a Nutrigrain for breakfast, had to have another after an hour as I was starving (in an airport), got on plane, after an hour had to get one out of my bag in the overhead locker in the plane then by the time I landed, I collapsed on the floor of the airport shaking, weak, cold sweats, heart palpitations, ravenously starving hungry.
    Yeah, FUCK Kelloggs!

    1. Wow that's horrible! Yup, it's about time people see through the marketing garbage associated with Nutrigrain!!

  2. If you subscribe to the same philosophy I do (calories in vs. calories out), you'll know that it doesn't matter what type of food you eat.

    Your body will not know the difference beteen a 140 calorie nutrigrain bar and a 140 calorie organic larabar (or whatever you are pitching).

    Why do you assume that "soybean oil, canola oil, sugar, fructose, carrageenan, natural and artificial flavors, invert sugar, corn syrup, red 40" etc. are unhealthy? Countless studies have been done on these ingredients and all show that they are perfectly safe for human consumption.

    - Jame from NYCbody.com

    1. Red 40 is perfectly safe? http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/07/popular-food-dyes-linked-to-cancer-adhd-and-allergies/#.VAJVKPldVhw

  3. Ha! My favorite part "And if you don't like the texture quite as much, I don't care. Get over it. Learn to eat like an adult. :)" Now I know what to say to people who tell me that. I always used to think "What are you, five?"