Kids ask a lot of questions. Chances are, a five-year-old will give you the third degree within a few minutes of meeting you: “What’s this?” “Can I have that?” “Why is your belly so big?” “Why?” “Why?” “WHY?” This constant curiosity is endearing—and, OK, a little annoying—but it also serves a useful purpose: it helps the little rug rats make sense of the world around them.
But somewhere between crayons and credit card payments, that spirit of inquiry tends to wane, and we start accepting things as they are, no questions asked. Not only does this apathy make us boring grown-ups, but it can also take a toll on our health—particularly when it comes to our food choices.
Between the 3,000-plus list of FDA-accepted additives and the continuous invention of freakish fast-food creations, much of today’s food isn’t really food at all. In fact, if you take a closer look, a lot of the products on America’s supermarket shelves and restaurant menus are kind of like nutritional Trojan horses: They look like food, so we let them in our mouths and kitchens without a thought, and before we know it, their hidden chemicals and shoddy ingredients are unleashed to wreak havoc on our bodies.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time we reclaim our youthful sense of wonderment and start asking one of the most essential questions of our time: “What’s in our food?” To help get you started, I applied that very question to a few popular supermarket products and menu items, and I’ll warn you, the answers weren’t pretty. With help from the all-new Eat This, Not That! 2013, I tracked down some of the freakiest foods in the land. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, I present to you the 7 most UN-natural foods in America!
Reduced Fat, Sour Cream & Onion (1 oz)
7 g fat (2 g saturated)
170 mg sodium
Not sure whether Pringles count as potato chips? Neither are its manufacturers. In 2009, Frito-Lay asserted in British court that the snacks should be exempt from Britain’s chip tax, citing a lack of potato. They lost the case and had to pay up, but it does make you wonder exactly what’s in those tubes. In this case, the crisps are coated with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, the source of trans fat, and flavored with both MSG, a suspected neurotoxin, and MSG-producing additives.
BURGER BLUNDERS: Forty years ago, a standard burger would cost you about 333 calories. These days, chain restaurants are serving up versions with more than five times as many calories! Find out which of them are The 11 Worst Burgers in America.
26 g fat (10 g saturated)
980 mg sodium
Ever taken a big bite out of a babyback sandwich? Of course not—you’d chip a tooth on all of those pesky bones! That’s where this barbecued bastardization from McDonalds comes in. The pork patty has molded “bones” built in for maximum "authenticity" and is treated with artificial “smoke” to remind you of your grill. The meat is then glazed with barbecue sauce made primarily from high fructose corn syrup. Gross. (Did you know that barbecue sauce often harbors hidden sugars? Discover other Sneaky Sources of Sugar right here!)
3. Jack in the
Box NY Style Cheesecake
17 g fat (9 g saturated)
22 g sugars
A slice of premium restaurant cheesecake can easily run more than 1,000 calories, so with this dessert, Jack in the Box has achieved the impossible: a slice with fewer calories than a Lean Cuisine dinner. But if this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is—this cake doesn’t actually contain any cream cheese! Gelatin is used instead to set the shape and a battery of preservatives ensures that it won’t go bad. Quite possibly ever.
4. Cheez Whiz (2
7 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
440 mg sodium
This shelf-stabile “cheez” doesn’t actually contain any cheese. It contains both whey and milk, but not once does actual cheese surface on the ingredient statement. What does show up is canola oil, the second ingredient listed. That’s how this dip manages to pack about twice as much fat as actual cheese and is 4.5 times more caloric than half and half.
FIGHT FAT WITH FAT! The cheap, processed fats in Cheez Whiz won't help you slim down, but other types can. Don't believe it? Here's the proof: 5 Fatty Foods that Make You Skinny.
5. Coffee Mate,
Original (1 Tbsp)
1 g fat (0 g saturated)
<1 g sugars
Coffee-Mate replaces cream and sugar in your coffee, which sounds like a good thing in theory. The problem is, its undoubtedly worse for you than the real thing. The three main ingredients in this entirely dairy-free creamer are water, corn syrup solids, and partially hydrogenated oil. This means that you’re pouring liquid trans fat into your joe every morning. Compared with that, a dash of old-fashioned milk and sugar doesn’t seem so bad.
Robbins Made with Snickers Sundae
46 g fat (25 g saturated, 1 g trans)
113 g sugars
An ice cream sundae shouldn’t require a lengthy ingredient list, but the statement for this one is a good 3½ inches in length! Blame Baskin-Robbins’ affinity for additives—the list reads like a chemistry assignment. The ice cream itself even contains propyl paraben, a preservative that may interfere with hormone production. And the cherry on top? This sweet science experiment will cost you a cool 1,000 calories—that's half a day's!
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