The word loaded when used with food catches my attention. Loaded can mean something is full of quality nutrients. In the food industry however, loaded is also used to refer to a product that is specifically designed to maximize taste as discussed in Dr. David Kessler's The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.
So when I started seeing ads for McDonald's new Fruit and Maple oatmeal, I confess that my eyes rolled a bit. This is part of the ongoing effort in the food industry to push out "healthy" food alternatives. After all, what's healthier than good old oatmeal?
So going over to check out McDonald's new product, on first blush the oatmeal doesn't look half bad. It's got fruit, a little cream, and oatmeal. Nothing wrong with that. Heck, even the calorie count is reasonable. With everything stacked on, you've got 290 calories. That's reasonable for a meal.
Then I shifted down and took a look at the ingredient list. Jackpot.
Whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, food starch-modified, salt, natural flavor (plant source), barley malt extract, caramel color.
…So we have oats. Not unexpected. Next us, sugar. Well heck, it's oatmeal! A little sugar is fine right? Well I'm not the sugar police, but my radar is up. This is the second ingredient, which means a good percentage of the oatmeal is sweet. Which makes it taste good. Food starch- modified. Modified by and to what? Next up salt. Now salt isn't an issue, unless you know that combining sweet and salty is a food industry technique used to increase consumption.
Next up, we have natural flavor. What natural flavor? And why is it not listed specifically? This actually was originally listed as maple syrup. The state of Vermont pitched a fit because it actually wasn't maple. Great. Now on to my favorite. Barley malt extract. Know what this is? Sugar. In another form. So we have sugar twice so far in the oats. Last but not least, caramel color.
So just in the oatmeal, we have ingredients that are all at least pronounceable. But you've got a couple hidden elements.
On to the fruit.
Apples, calcium ascorbate (a blend of calcium and vitamin C to maintain freshness and color).
Our first major chemistry lesson. Calcium ascorbate is a preservative used in a wide range of dried fruits. I don't flinch at this because I'm realistic. Fresh apples mean having to deal with spoilage which impacts the bottom line.
Cranberry Raisin Blend
Dried sweetened cranberries (sugar, cranberries), California raisins, golden raisins, sunflower oil, sulfur dioxide (preservative).
Again, nothing radical here. Sunflower oil helps give the fruit some shine and prevents sticking. Dried cranberries without sugar are…shall we say tart.
My personal favorite next.
Milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, carrageenan.
Translated- shelf stable milk product. I can't pronounce most of these, and I'm pretty sure this light cream takes a little time to spoil. Which means it's not going into me.
So we take what could be a healthy option and find there's several iffy things buried in the oatmeal. While calories count, what's with the calories counts too. Most folks don't realize that there's a ton of extra sugar buried in your food. That sugar isn't there to help you. It's there to help the food manufacturers sell more food to you.
Take the time to question your food. Learn what's going into you. You want to control your life? It starts with controlling your food.