In the Juniper-Poplar Hall vending machines, peanuts and trail mix are “choice plus” healthy options – but so are Rice Krispies treats, Pop-Tarts, Chex Mix and actual candy bars.
Many of these healthy choices are only listed as such because they are low in calories, fat, sugar or other buzzwords. This alone does not make a healthy nutritional choice. It also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of basic nutrition – low calorie is not necessarily healthful, and just because a food is low in sugar doesn’t mean it is high in nutrients.
For example, though they contain a reasonable amount of sugar and are low in fat, Rice Krispies are naturally almost devoid of nutrition, which is why vitamins are added to the recipe.
Chex Mix, on the other hand, contains partially hydrogenated oils, which are a source of Trans Fats, a substance that the FDA may pull from its “Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)” label. And, essentially, while it is true that Rice Krispies and Chex Mix are not the worst snack options available, to put them in the same health realm as peanuts and other whole foods is laughable.
A walk down the cereal aisle is enough to see the extent of confused nutrition. Kellogg’s, the makers of Frosted Mini-Wheats, is one of the best distributors of misinformation. The Kellogg’s website proudly proclaims the benefits of cereal and milk alongside charming pictures of family, fresh food, and athletic activity.
However, they fail to mention that many of their cereals
contain artificial food colors, high levels of sugar, and that the
consumer will almost certainly feel hungry about two hours after downing their morning bowl.
Kellogg’s claims to focus on nutrition and health as key, but in reality, their products – from Frosted Mini-Wheats to chocolate chip cookie dough Pop-Tarts – are, in the words of humor columnist Dave Barry, “adjacent to this complete breakfast.”
The problem is that these companies are trying to satisfy two desires at once. They know that U.S. consumers have been, to an extent, successfully nagged into having some fleeting thought on health before mealtime. However, they also know that no matter how much we may think about eating the premium salad at McDonald’s, what we actually buy is a big sloppy burger with two slices of cheese, a side of fries and a soda.
The food industry is by no means innocent in this regard, but as a consumer base, Americans are giving these corporations a rather mixed message: “I want to at least be able to pretend I’m making a healthy choice, but you’ve got me hooked, so keep making the bacon sundaes for my cheat day.”
If Americans want to see legitimately healthy choices, we have to start really wanting it, and with some consistency. If we keep lying to ourselves, the food industry will keep serving it right back.