I’m Supposed to Eat What?

Awesome reader Karen sent me an article about healthy foods in schools that I will do a blog on later.  Today I want to focus on one piece of it and that is that in order to be healthier, the schools were only offering low-fat and fat-free options.

It seems that this is the recommendation of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, the abhorrent fallacy of which I have already covered in this blogA couple of times.

While of course I still think it’s monumentally stupid to be against obese children instead of for healthy ones, today I want to discuss how healthy these low fat and fat free options really are.

Let’s do some comparison shopping:

Ingredient for Regular Sour Cream:  Grade A Cultured Cream

Ingredients for Fat Free Sour Cream:  Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Fat Free Milk and Cream, Modified Corn Starch,Grade A Nonfat Dry Milk, Gelatin, Propylene Glycol Esters, Artificial Color, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Phosphate, Agar, Sodium Citrate, Locust Bean Gum, Vitamin A Palmitate.

I find it very difficult to believe that all of those chemicals are  healthier than just eating Grade A Cultured Cream.  How and why did they modify Corn Starch?  Propylene Glycol Esters?  What the hell?

Let’s look at cookies:

Newman’s Own Creme Filled Cookies: Organic Unbleached Flour, Organic Sugar, Powdered Sugar, Organic Palm Oil, Canola Oil, Organic cocoa, Cocoa, Organic Unsweetened Chocolate, Natural Flavor, Salt, Sodium Bicoarbonate, Soy Lecithin.

Snackwells Creme Cookies:  Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine, Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid) Sugar, Vegetable Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Canola, Soybean, and/or Cottonseed Oils), Dextrose, Corn Flour, Glycerin, Whey, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Leavening (Baking Soda, Calcium Phosphate), Cornstarch, Emulsifiers (Datem, Mono- and DiGlycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate), salt, Wheat Starch, Cellulose Gum and Gel, Natural and Artificial Flavor.

The part where they say “partially hydrogenated canola, soybean, and/or cottonseed oils” I find particularly charming.  What do you mean “and/or”?  If you don’t know what’s in these cookies then who the hell does?

And the prize for ingesting all of that crap?   20 calories and 2 grams of fat less than the version that doesn’t contain Datem, Mono- and DiGlycerides and Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate.  Pass.

I once saw salad dressing that was “No calories, fat, carbs, gluten or sugar”.  Ok, anything that makes that claim and isn’t AIR or WATER doesn’t pass my test for being something that goes in my body.

Look, I’m happy for people to eat whatever they want, but when I hear that schools are taking away all of the options except those filled with manufactured chemicals and devoid of actual food, I have to wonder how strong the fat free foods lobby is and who is REALLY looking out kids’ health.

As for me and my house, we will eat real food.

43 thoughts on “I’m Supposed to Eat What?

  1. Eating real food rather than chemicals is always better. My schedule is from hell lately but I am trying to get back to eating healthier food rather than fast food. And no, I’m not worrying about counting calories, fat grams, carbs, or whatever. Just eating real, honest food.

    1. Kudos to you. This whole post is great. It reminds me of Michael Pollan’s awesome book “In Defense of Food.” The only thing i didn’t like about it was that he conflates weight and health a couple times 😦 . Still a great read, though.

  2. I remember the fat makes you fat diet craze. You could eat what you like just don’t go over XX grams of fat, a day. This diet did nothing but make me fatter in the end! As I looked back later, I realized that all those “fat free” products often had/have more calories and way more sugar than the “regular” product. Of course, I now also realize all the chemicals that were in there, too.

    1. Oh yes the all carbs and no fat diet. I gained 20 pounds on that! Then the high protein no carbs diet. I was a raging bitch while on that one and my urine stank to high heaven! Imbalanced diets are horrible for the body and it will rebel!

  3. The ‘canola, soybean and/or cottonseed oils’ thing, I learned about on a radio program that was discussing palm oil (which I, and lots of people,v try to avoid for environmental reasons – some manufacturers use sustainably grown stuff, many don’t). The guy from the food industry explained that many manufacturers use various similar plant oils, alone or in combination, according to their availability and price, so they don’t know what they’re going to have coming into the factory from one week to the next, so they have to put all of them on the label just in case (they also often just say ‘vegetable oil’, but that’s tricky for people with soy and nut allergies). Which doesn’t make the ingredients any less icky, but does explain the ‘and/or’.

    I’d way rather have cookies with butter. Made from milk. Squirted out of a cow. (Not that you always know where you are with cows these days, given what they feed some of them on, but it’s still preferable to that hydrogenated crap.)

    And, the ‘fat free’ thing? Made me crave brownies like never before. Real brownies, not the ones I was trying to make with mushed-up banana instead of fat. Which does not work, trust me.

  4. My skinny husband was the king of fat free and low fat foods. I put an end to that when I started my whole food way of living. Because, like you, I read the labels and was horrified! There’s no way a chemical can be “better” for you than an actual food product!

    We do have the occasional processed food (stove top sutffing, anyone) because we aren’t perfect. But 90 percent of the time it’s all whole.

    xo Susie

    ps great post as always!

  5. Wow, so nice to see I’m not the only label reader out there! That’s what used to always frustrate me about weight watchers program when I was doing that. Trying to follow program and eat whole foods. Finally, I just quit ww when I realized that I was eating healthier than anyone there!

  6. Hi Ragen,

    Good book recommendation: Food Politics by Marion Nestle. She discusses what your last point asks. Of course, you may have already read it, but it blew my mind. She discusses the development of the food pyramid, the vitamin/supplement industry, the milk campaign, and several other things and how the food industry has dramatically influenced them.

    1. Marion Nestle also wrote “What To Eat”, which I’m reading right now. It’s sort of a guide to the supermarket and all the different political and health aspects of each kind of food, so you can make informed choices at the store. Fascinating stuff. Heh, I already knew I liked real butter over the fake stuff, but now I know why! 😉

  7. I’m sure one would find a lot of overlap in the fat free foods lobby and the cancer medication lobby. Chemicals DO have consequences.

  8. I used to eat Lean Cuisines for lunch every day. I figured I was usually getting a serving of veggies (I’m not a veggie person) and they were convenient. Well, over time my body let me know that it really didn’t like frozen meals on a daily basis. So I’m not eating them anymore. My sodium intake has dropped significantly and other issues were mostly resolved. Another “duh” moment came when I was reading Health at Every Size and Linda Bacon mentions that Lean Cuisine type meals really don’t have any proof that they help people lose weight. They’re just a convenient, sodium and chemical laden food-stuff bomb.

    1. I always feel kinda queasy after eating Lean Cuisine. “It’s not just lean, it’s cuisine,” is their tag line. Well, maybe it’s lean, but it sure as hell ain’t cuisine!

      1. They’re damn sure not cuisine, they’re full of chemicals and a lot of them have 250 calories so you might feel queasy because you’ve not had enough food!


      2. Agreed! I’m an extremely un-picky eater, but I CANNOT eat Lean Cuisines anymore. I used to bring them to work for the convenience factor, but then I started gagging at the thought of them, even when I was ravenous. That’s when I knew I needed to give up that “food”. And yeah 250 calories?!? WTF!!

  9. To this day I am shocked at what people (in general of course) are willing to put in their bodies for the sake of “health.” Sure, I eat some things that aren’t exactly mainstream “healthy”, (wow, that sounded rather hipster of me!) but more often than not I find that my body functions on a much happier level if I eat more naturally occurring foods than if I throw a bunch of chemicals in it. It’s one thing, as an adult, to make the conscious choice to eat said chemicals, it’s an entirely different thing, in my mind, to practically force feed our children the same thing.

    Thank you for another excellent post! I look forward to reading more.

  10. I freaked out my husband a little by pointing at the screen and saying, “Yes!” a bunch of times after reading that comparison of regular sour cream and the fat free. It’s not real sour cream any more. The first time I saw fat free half&half in the store I thought it was a joke. If I wanted to put something fat free in my coffee I’d just use skim milk, thank you. The flavor/texture is not fooling anyone, so I’ll just go with the more natural, whole food. We call that other stuff “fake”.

  11. Propylene glycol.

    Propylene glycol.


    I always knew that fake sour cream was evil. Now I have proof.

  12. A thousand times yes to this. The other big problem with low- and fat-free product substitutes is that your body can tell it’s not the real thing, and you end up eating more, which utterly defeats the purpose. Defatted milk mixed with a bunch of thickeners just isn’t as satisfying as real sour cream. And don’t get me started on the horror that is low-fat cheese.

  13. We heard on the news last night that some school districts are trying to prevent children from bringing their lunches to school in order to force them to purchase or obtain “free” lunches at school. Their reasoning is that they can prepare a more nutritious, well balanced meal for the children. I shudder, knowing what institutional food is like, to think that this could happen. I’m one of the lucky ones – I went to school in the 60’s when each and every school had a real kitchen where real “lunch ladies” prepared real food that was delicious and nutritious.

    One thing that gets overlooked in this rush to Low-Fat No-Fat is that our brains require a certain amount of fat in order to function properly, and the younger the child, the more important having adequate fat in the diet is. Far better, in my opinion, to bring back recess and PE, and encourage children to move their bodies more. Like dancing, for example. Do children even learn to dance in grammar school any more? We had classes in square dance, round dance, and folk dance … and picked up history, music appreciation, and cultural awareness in the process. I wish every child now could experience grade school as I did; we may not have had computers, but our overall experience was healthier all the way around.

    I enjoy your blog very much – I’m a new reader, and this is my first comment.

  14. Cutting out fat might create some other problems too. I don’t know if this applies to school-aged children, but infants and toddlers need diets that are high in fat for proper brain development. This is a big issue with low-income families, where neither the mother nor the child is receiving optimal nutrition. School meals are sometimes the best food these older kids are getting, so it’s important that they be nutritious and filling, not just “healthy.” I don’t really think removing necessary parts of the human diet is an effective way to promote healthiness or healthy habits.

    1. My nephew, who is studying to be a pharmacist, blows a gasket whenever he hears about people putting young children on low-fat diets. I’ve been a nurse aide for many years and will (hopefully) be a nurse soon, and I agree with him. Fat is necessary for nerve development. Kids should be getting fat from plant sources, such as olive oil and avocados, and unless they can’t tolerate dairy or their family is vegan, they should also be eating full fat yogurt, not that “Light and Fit” or whatever other crap which is gelatin and fillers with very little of yogurt left to it. They should also have whole milk. I don’t know how people can think that “food” which is nothing but fillers is healthier than the real thing.

      1. I absolutely agree. I was at a coffee shop and a group of moms and their babies sat down next to me. I overheard them FLIP OUT when one of the moms gave her infant skim milk because she wanted to “start good habits early”. She really thought it was a healthy choice. Yikes!
        Congratulations on soon being a nurse!!!


  15. Yet another reason I am friggin terrified for my kids to become school aged. I know they’ll definitely be bringing their lunches, but it’s about the messages they’ll be receiving. I come closer and closer to home schooling every day.

  16. Kids are still growing—to cut out fat and sugar in a panic to not make them fat is physically and mentally dangerous to their bodies. They’re not going to be able to concentrate in school if they don’t get the nutrients they need.

    The moral panic over childhood obesity (and as I type this, a study came out this week saying obesity rates have again leveled off, so there goes that theory of everyone getting fatty fat) combined with the trumping of standardized testing over a well-rounded education, has made the schools lose their minds.

    They need to: Stop teaching children that certain foods are bad. Stop listening to Michelle Obama and other town criers screaming that fat kids are bringing the country down and they will drop dead before graduation. Make PE fun instead of forcing children to be mini Derek Jeters and Serena Williamses. In other words, leave the kids’ diets alone and stop the body-shaming. If all this worked, then all kids would be thin.

    1. “Make PE fun instead of forcing children to be mini Derek Jeters and Serena Williamses.”

      Thank you so much for making this point. Because I was shamed so much in PE for not being a natural athlete( or rather not looking like one) I hated PE even though I did sometimes have fun. It really is scary how some teachers focus more on whether or not someone is an athlete, instead of just teaching kids to enjoy feeling their bodies move. If I was taught to appreciate the gift that was my body rather than being told ” you don’t have a runner’s build, so don’t bother,” or ” you aren’t coordinated enough for martial arts” I would have been spared a lot of body angst. It wasn’t until I was 26( I’m 32 now) that I started to have real confidence in the fact that my body could do amazing things, even if it was never going to be in Sports Illustrated.

  17. For whatever it’s worth, an explanation about the and/or on the ingredient lists of processed foods.

    When it comes to making certain processed foods, especially those with chemically altered ingredients like trans-hydrogenated oils, it turns out not to matter from a taste or prep standpoint which ingredient is used from a selection of choices. For example, soybean, corn, canola or cottonseed oils when partially or fully hydrogenated are all pretty much interchangeable parts. So really big companies take their pick from batch to batch based on current market price. But label changes are expensive, and not something to be done batch to batch. The solution is to write and/or on the ingredient list.

  18. The thing about this that makes me shake my head is the apparent belief that these lowfat/fat-free foods will actually have an impact on obesity. Hello!! Diet foods like this have been around for decades, and we’re not any thinner! Diet coke and lowfat salad dressing didn’t do anything for my weight!

    1. And things like Snackwell’s are actually higher in sugar content than regular cookies. This crap is not healthy. It’s been altered to make up for the fact that it really tastes like cardboard.

  19. The thing about fake foods is your body doesn’t really know what to do with them – so it stores the chemicals in fat cells in your liver – not good!
    My eating philosophy is as far as possible to buy food in its component parts – potato, lettuce, fish, rice etc and if I do buy processed for the most part if I can’t visualise the ingredients on the label I don’t buy it.
    “Fat free” diets are, in my humble opinion, part of a larger conspiracy to make people stupid and docile.

  20. I have wondered this for many, many years. How can putting flour, sugar, eggs, milk, etc in my body be worse than putting in a bunch of chemicals I can’t even say or spell, let alone know what they actually are?

  21. I once read the ingredient list for a McDonald’s McNugget in the US. One of the 37 different components of the supposedly 100% breast meat product (chopped and formed, of course), was ‘decharacterised black pepper’. I am still trying to figure out if this is actually pepper or not. Does anyone know?

    1. Thing is, nobody is pretending chicken McNuggets are “health” foods. They’re not being sold as healthy alternatives to chicken breast. They’re fast food and we know it.

      The things that bother me are those things that are sold as health foods, but are nothing more than a conglomeration of chemicals. There’s all this moralising about how wheat, sugar, dairy products, fat, carbs etc are “bad” foods, but they’re quite happy for kids to eat petrochemical derivatives.

      Re-affirms to me that it is not about health at all, it’s about someone making money.

      1. You have, as always, hit the nail right on the head. Not only are they being marketed as health foods, but in this school students aren’t given another option so they are forced to either eat this crap, or have salad with no dressing. I absolutely agree that this has nothing to do with health.


  22. i’m a BIG believer in eating food & appreciate your approach to healthy behaviors on this blog. i may not be skinny, but i’m healthy. i had my first bought of flu/cold in 3 years this spring and it’ll probably be another 2 or 3 years before i get sick again.

    and it’s a funny thing, the better i eat, the better i feel. if i feel the need to modify my diet, i just make an effort to add more fruits and vegetables. when i do that, i find that it’s less about what i can’t have and more about enjoying what i can have (i’m a terrible dieter…the second i decide to go on a diet, i have a terrible craving for a doughnut).

    michael pollan advises not eating anything with more than 5 ingredients. i think that’s actually not a bad guidline (not always practical, but a good start).

    i read a study that showed that people who ate full fat yoghurt for breakfast actually ate less the rest of the day than people who ate fat free yoghurt. fat is filling…it’s satisfying, and when it comes from food, your body knows what to do with it.

    1. Dana~ I totally agree… adding healthy foods like fruit and vegetables into my diet is waaay more effective than cutting “bad” foods out. I also find that when I’m eating more fruits and vegies and other healthier foods, I’m not as likely to eat processed snack foods or otherwise junky things. They get sort of naturally cut out because I’m feeling healthier in my choices and don’t want to eat that stuff so much. And eating full-fat dairy products and other whole foods is so much more appealing. After being on WW, where the holy grail is the 1-point whatever, this is a real shift, and it feels good.

  23. I used to only eat low-fat and fat-free foods, back When I Was Sick, even though there was always that niggling voice in the back of my mind screaming that all I was eating was chemicals. A couple of years ago, I started reading more and more about our food system and the politics that went into (and still go into) what we eat, and I realized that eating full-fat products is WAY healthier for the most part than eating shit crammed with chemicals. I’ll wait for embalming until after I’m dead, thanks.

  24. I’ve started your oldest blog posts and reading up toward the present. My first thought upon seeing this entry was, yay! A kindred spirit who cares about what goes into her body, never mind if it doesn’t magically make you skinny! I know you’ve alluded to this kind of thing with “intuitive eating,” but yay to talking about organic, real foods.
    But, at the same time, I’m a little bit…I don’t know the word. Confused? I noticed that you, and most of the commentators, make claims about the inherent health and unhealthiness of foods. For some reason it reminds me of the “everyone knows” statements regarding weight=health. I kind of thought that you would consider that sort of thing a version of healthism. This particular post doesn’t have statistically relevant studies about the health benefits of chemical-free foods nor the causal relationship between processed foods and health. I happen to believe there’s great value, health-wise, ethics-wise, enviroment-wise, and so on and so forth in foods less removed from their natural state and organically cultivated foods. I know many people don’t believe that, though. People may think it’s a kind of snobby elitism, and many see it as suckers buying into a marketing ploy by health food stores–my husband calls Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck.”
    There’s that advertisement (public service announcement?) that challenges the widely popular belief that high fructose corn syrup is bad and that cane sugar is highly preferable. Granted, I don’t believe them (and know the corn industry has a vested interest in “debunking” this view) and I still think HF corn syrup is…bad. But I couldn’t tell you exactly why because I haven’t researched the studies and don’t have the scientific background to critically evaluate the studies. While you are not obligated in any way shape or form to do that kind of research, I suspect you would want to, and maybe even HAVE, but it doesn’t show up in this post.
    I’d love to hear what you think of my observation about the vague nature of food beliefs expressed on this page. Am I full of BS?

    Disclaimer – I know you’re not trying to impose your eating habits on anyone the way schools, for-profit groups, etc. are. I am familiar with the not the boss of anyone’s underpants idea and agree! I hope my question it doesn’t sound paternalistic because I hate those posts and the writers of them don’t seem to notice their patronizing while ignorant tone.

    1. Oh, I should have thrown something in there about confirmation bias, because I wonder if (er, where) I fall prey to that. And it would make me sound smart.

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