April 13, 2015

Label Madness Monday: It's So Simple...

It’s time for another round of food label smackdown, folks!

If you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the next post in the cancer series, get a bigger seat and scoot back for a bit. I’ve been working on a big project and am falling a little behind on those cancer deep-dives. But fear not; I definitely haven’t forgotten about them and there will be more...eventually. In the meantime, let’s take a look at something as “simple” as the vegetable oil spreads that have been masquerading as butter for the past few decades.

First up: “Deliciously Simple,” by the food chemists who bring you I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!® (The company employing these food chemists is Unilever, the same company that brings you all these other non-foods and edible food-like products.

Let’s see just how “simple” this product is:

Hmm. Is it just me, or does this look like a lot of ingredients for something so simple? I commend Unilever for managing to make a vegetable oil spread without corn oil, but oh, look, they did sneak a corn byproduct in there, via the lactic acid. It is darn near impossible—im-pos-si-ble—to have any manufactured edible substance in the U.S. without tossing corn or soy into it somehow. Kudos, Unilever, kudos. At least there’s no soybean oil, though. (We have to acknowledge these tiny miracles when we find them.) I’m pretty happy with the presence of nourishing tropical fats in the forms of palm oil and palm kernel oil, but you have to chuckle when you remind yourself that the reason these vegetable oil spreads exist in the first place is because federal nutrition guidelines made everyone so scared to eat real butter (because of its saturated fat content), but palm oil is around 50% saturated, and palm kernel oil is about 81% saturated. So you can see Unilever keeps the total saturated fat content of this product down by using canola oil (about 7.5% saturated) and water as the first two ingredients.

As for the beta carotene, which is added for color, I addressed that way down toward the end of this post about chicken liver pâté. (Scroll down to the pictures of butter.) Okay, never mind. I'll save you the trouble and repost them here:

The Land o’ Lakes is the one toward the top, and the one from Trickling Springs Creamery, a dairy cooperative in Central PA, is below it. Note the stark contrast in color, owing to the cows’ diet.

Butter that is made from the milk of cows grazing on grass doesn’t need any added color. It’s naturally a vibrant yellow, because the carotenes in the grass concentrate in the animal’s fat. (This is the same reason tallow from grass-fed steers is usually yellower than that from grain-fed.) Either way, it’s kind of funny that they have to add color to a product whose third ingredient is palm oil—something that, in its natural state, is a bright, bold red. (When it’s not red, it’s because it’s been bleached, and also typically deodorized, to remove strong flavors and odors westerners tend not to care for.)

Also: what’s up with having nonfat yogurt in this concoction? Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a product that is primarily oil. (And just in case anyone’s new here, oils are composed of fatty acids. Fat.) So why not just use regular ol’ yogurt that contains regular ol’ fat? Your guess is as good as mine.

So yeah, this “simple” product is actually pretty complicated and wacky.

Let’s see if we can find another buttery spread that’s really simple. Any guesses?

How about this:

Cream and salt. Nice! (And no added color!)

Here’s the thing: It seems like all the warring nutritional factions—low-carbers, Paleoites, vegetarians, “balanced dieters,” and everyone else in the mix—manage to agree on one point: we should eat fewer processed foods. We don’t all agree on plants or animals, higher or lower carbs, but we seem to agree that the less chemical manipulation our foods undergo, and the fewer weirdo ingredients they contain, the better. So, looking at it from that perspective, which of these is really the “deliciously simple” one?

P.S. This label post has been brought to you by loyal north-of-the-border reader, J.

P.P.S. As far as vegetable oil spreads & margarines go, today's product actually is kind of simple. Sometime in the future, we'll take a look at some of the ones that contain added fish oil, interesterified fatty acids, soybean oil, and all sorts of other weirdness. Compared to those, Deliciously Simple will look positively wholesome!

Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition.

1 comment:

  1. Classic post.

    Also a recovered margarine eater. : )