Cream powder, partially hydrogenated soybean oil (trans fat), "flavors," saturated fats, sodium, controversial ingredients and added sugar. That was dinner for thousands, maybe millions, of babies and toddlers last night who ate Gerber Graduates Lil' Meals Pasta Shells and Cheese.
Most of us know the healthiest foods are natural and unprocessed like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Yet we spend a great deal of our nutrition equity chowing down on chemicals disguised as food. And unaware, feeding them to our children.
So I was excited to find this user-friendly food rating website FoodFacts.com. FoodFacts can help you and your family eat more healthfully by knowing if a food has excessive sugar, fat, salt or harmful chemicals.
FoodFacts reviews more than 100,000 popular packaged, non-packaged and fast foods and 20,000 ingredients. Each product or food is graded from a head-of-the-class "A" to a failing "F" based on the quality of ingredients and whether a food offers any nutritional value.
There's also a full list of ingredients, nutrition facts panel and bulleted good news/bad news report card for each product. Taste is not considered.
Stanley Rak, FoodFacts' founder and sole funder, started the site after he was feeding his 3-year-old grandson and noticed the food was sticking to his fingers. "I thought what's in this?" Rak told me. "So I looked at the label on the jar and couldn't pronounce most of the ingredients!" Rak then went home and looked at the ingredients in everything in his cupboard. That was the beginning of FoodFacts.com.
I marvel at and support the initiative of one individual doing what he can to protect all of our health. Rak's aim is to help people eat more nutritiously, eat safely if they have food allergies or dietary restrictions, and create a community where members (it's free) can share their food findings and experiences.
Rak also hopes FoodFacts will influence manufacturers to produce healthier products. For instance, manufacturers can still hide ingredients. "They don't have to list trans fat on the package if it's under half a percent," Rak told me, "but you'll see it on FoodFacts." Paid for only by Rak, FoodFacts is entirely transparent and not supported by any advertising.
"Sometimes my neighbors are afraid to invite me to dinner," said Rak chuckling, but he's always adding to the site. A recent addition goes back to its roots -- a "Baby Nutrition, Allergen and Score Guide" to help new mothers provide their babies nutritious products. "Because," Rak says, "the abundance of sugar, including hidden sugars, in baby foods is where our lifelong struggle with obesity and nutrition begins."
Five Healthier Foods and Their Scores, as Rated by FoodFacts.com
Dreamfields Pasta Linguine Low Carb (A)
Low in calories, fat and sodium, Dreamfields Pasta packs a nutritional punch, providing 40 percent of our folic acid and thiamin requirements, as well as riboflavin, niacin and iron.
Little Duck Organics Blueberry Apple Tiny Fruits (A)
Organic freeze-dried apples and blueberries, this product is low in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, contains no controversial ingredients and is an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
Beech Nut Good Morning Oatmeal & Mixed Fruit Cereal (A)
A baby food product with only good news! Low in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and contains no controversial ingredients. It is also an excellent source of twelve vitamins and minerals.
Bumble Bee Chunk White in Water Tuna Albacore(A-)
Low in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, contains no controversial ingredients and contains naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals, and is an excellent source of niacin.
Triscuit Original Low Sodium Whole Wheat Crackers(B+)
Low sodium, low in calories and no controversial ingredients, makes Triscuit a great snack. It doesn't score an "A" because it's also low in vitamins and minerals.
Five Unhealthy Foods and Their Scores, as rated by FoodFacts.com
Hot Pockets Beef and Cheddar Sandwiches (F)
The entire line of Hot Pockets products gets an "F." This product has multiple controversial ingredients, there is little "good" in this product and it displays a hidden form of MSG. Hot Pockets products have one of the longest lists of ingredients, up to 160!
MorningStar Farms Veggie Chik'n Nuggets (F)
These vegetarian imitation chicken nuggets are high in sodium and contain the controversial ingredients hydrolyzed corn gluten and yeast extract (both are nicknames for MSG). The product also provides little vitamin content.
Arby's All American Classic Roastburger (F)
Equal parts good and bad -- low in calories, cholesterol and contains Fiber, Vitamin C and Iron. Yet high in saturated fat, sodium, contains a moderate amount of added sugar and several controversial ingredients.
Propel Zero Berry Flavored Fitness Water (D+)
This product has no calories, fat or sugars, but gets a poor grade due to its very controversial ingredients, like acesulfame potassium, potassium sorbate and other preservatives. A great example of a product that looks healthy based on the nutrition label, until you read the ingredients. Plus, researchers are linking 1 in 10 deaths in the U.S. to overconsumption of salt, and this flavored water has over 160 mg of sodium!
Apple and Eve Grover's No Sugar Added White Grape Juice (D)
While most believe 100 percent fruit juice is healthy, it's mostly sugar. A single eight-ounce serving of this grape juice contains 38 grams of sugar and 130 calories. Comparatively, Coca-Cola contains 27 grams of sugar. This product also contains "natural flavors," a label food manufacturers are permitted to use for any number of chemicals that they don't have to disclose. This usually indicates that the real thing (often fruit) has been left out.
Riva's new book, Diabetes Do's & How-To's, is available in print and Kindle, along with her other books, 50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life and the 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It and The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes. Riva speaks to patients and health care providers about flourishing with diabetes. Visit her website DiabetesStories.com.
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