sim·ple adj \ˈsim-pəl\ Having or composed of only one thing, element, or part. Not involved or complicated. Being without additions or modifications.
We all know what simple means, but “simple” is now a new marketing buzzword showing up on supermarket shelves. The “simple” foods have a more wholesome look and may make you believe that you’re buying something that’s better for you and your family. However, the new “simple” products have a more complex nutrition story to tell.
I’m all for foods with a single ingredient like apples, bananas, broccoli, nuts, eggs, lean meats and fish to name a few. They’re all as simple as foods can come and are loaded with nutrition and provide major health benefits. We’d all be healthier and live longer if we ate single-ingredient “basic” foods most of the time.
The new “simple” foods I’m talking about are things like gourmet ice cream, cookies, candy, butter and other other foods that may contain just a few ingredients. The problem is, those simple, all-natural ingredients those that don’t provide a nutritional punch and are considered “negative” nutrients. I’m talking about simple ingredients like sugar, cream, salt and oil. There is no shortfall of these simple ingredients in the typical American diet so positioning them as a health bonus is just, well, bogus.
I figure anytime a processed packaged food product markets the brand with squishy terms like “simple,” “all-natural,” “naturally sourced,” “wholesome,” it’s necessary to look beyond the bold type on the package and go straight to the Nutrition Facts panel. If the product has real
FDA-approved nutrient content claims that it qualifies for like “rich in calcium,” “low-sugar,” ” high-fiber” then the product would be making those claims. When you look at the ingredient list, if sugar, salt or fat is one of the first ingredients, the product is NOT a health food.
“Just because a food is made from simple ingredients doesn’t have any nutritional benefits for the food. According to Jennifer Neily, MS, RD, CSSD, “Even though a product may only have a few ingredients doesn’t mean it’s healthy. A five-ingredient ice cream may still be loaded with calories and artery-clogging saturated fat, so you have to read the labels for the whole story.”
Here are three of the best examples of “simple” marketing that reveals a more complex nutrition picture:
Haagen-Dazs Five: This new brand of Haagen-Dazs ice cream boasts “…crafted with only five ingredients for incredibly pure, balanced flavor…and surprisingly less fat!” is the best example of the unhealthy side of simple The five ingredients for the ginger flavor include: skim milk (good), cream (not-so-good), sugar (eek), and egg yolks (not great). A half-cup serving has 230 calories, 12 grams fat, 7 grams sat fat (more than one-third of your daily limit), one-quarter of your daily cholesterol allotment and 5 ½ teaspoons sugar.
Pillsbury Simply…Cookies: According to the brand marketers, these refrigerated gems “…are made with the simple, wholesome ingredients you and your family know and love…” These ingredients are well known, yes, but not for being nutritional all-stars. The ingredients include refined wheat flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate chips and peanuts butter…” The upgrade to this product is that the ingredient list no longer contains high fructose corn syrup. Okay, that’s a plus. While I love a good cookie, but I don’t try to pass my homemade creations off as something nutritionally superior that I can feel good about.
A one-ounce of a Simply…Chocolate Chip cookie will set you back 150 calories, and has 8 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat) and 3 teaspoons sugar. No appreciable fiber, whole grains, vitamins or minerals. That’s no nutritional bargain compared to any other chocolate chip cookie.
Sara Lee Simple Sweets. Now, at least frozen desserts don’t give any aura of health and wellness, so I’m going to give them a break. Anyone buying frozen apple or cherry pies aren’t thinking about diet quality or calories. In fairness, what’s so simple about these desserts is that go from freezer to perfect pie in five minutes. If you have a slice of cherry pie, you’ll need to debit 330 calories from your calorie account, not to mention the 16 grams of fat (about one-quarter of what you need in a day) and 6 teaspoons sugar.
Simple Foods that Aren’t Dumb
How about including more natural, single-ingredient foods in your shopping cart next time you visit your local retailer. Here’s a start of some of the simple, single ingredient foods on my shopping list today:
- Fruits and veggies
- Whole grains
- Dried fruit
- Olive oil and other vegetable oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Skim milk
- Lean meats, fish and poultry
- Nonfat plain Yogurt
Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD