Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Parents magazine says processed foods are “best”

Nutrition confusion abounds. I’m often asked “what should I look for on a food package?” Aside from choosing fewer foods that come in packages I usually suggest looking at the ingredient list. It’s also easy to trust a publication or expert and get sucked into “best of” lists. Sadly, the criteria for these lists is often some numerical cut off- making sure there isn’t too much sodium or too much sugar or fat in a product. I’d suggest turning this logic around. If a magazine is going to suggest something ask yourself what does this have in it or what nutrients or benefit does this offer me? It’s not enough for a food to be better than the worst of the worst.  That’s setting a very low bar for consumers or in this case parents and children.

So when this list of Parents magazine 25 best packaged foodspopped into my inbox I looked. And I found
Jif Whips

 “Families are so busy that it's more important than ever to ensure that our kids eat quality, healthy foods at home and on-the-go,” said Dana Points, Editor-in-Chief, Parents magazine. “We were impressed by the variety of packaged-food options at the supermarket that tasted great and had a good nutritional profile.” 

I know Dana, she's super smart but are parents so busy that they need sugar and bad fats “on the go”? Yes, there are a variety of packaged foods at the supermarket even one from a company on this same list, Smuckers, and the ingredients for their peanut butter? Peanuts and salt.

What other quality foods should our kids eat according to this? Parents magazine says processed cheese and Tyson nuggets. I get busy, I get easy but peanut butter doesn’t need processed fats, cheese ingredients can look like this Pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes (thank you Cabot) and doesn’t need to be from Laughing Cow. That’s not “fast and fabulous” as the online headline reads.

Sure there were a few organic items in the 25. It was nice to see Applegate listed even if it was for their bacon. There is a place for a healthy snack or even cookie but the options with the best ingredients, for my children and yours or for you and me, aren’t made by Keebler and Newton’s.
What do you do when you come across sub par nutrition advice? Do you mention on social media? Let the publication or person know? What are your favorite fast and fabulous foods?
For the record I wrote in to Parents and said this

I was happy to see your "25 Best Packaged Foods" in my inbox. I wasn't happy about what I saw. I understand busy and the need for convenience but I don't understand sub par ingredients certainly not on a "best" list from such a reputable publication. My thoughts are in this blog post. As I said here, it's not enough if an item isn't the worst of the worst (even though some listed well…) it needs to offer our children (or us) something. Let's set athe nutrition bar higher and perhaps say "maybe you will not purchase or require all 25 of these foods" but here are crackers or snacks with more fiber or non-refined grains etc"
Lauren Slayton MS RD
note: I initially indicated the Jif had trans fats (partial hydrogenation) it does not this is a processed fully hydrogenated fat- still far from the "best" and my fault for posting quickly.


  1. I completely agree with all of this. It sets the bar too low for everyone - if this is what we should all aspire to, then we're not going to get very far. As far as I'm concerned, we should all aspire to cut way, way back on packaged/processed foods - eat as little of them as possible. I know removing them entirely just isn't practical for most people, but some packaged foods are better than others. Peanut butter is a great example - there are lots of brands that are made from just peanuts, nothing else. They might cost a little more but that's ok with me.

    While we're at it, can we talk about sliced bread? I am not a bread-maker like some but I would like to buy bread without a bunch of chemical ingredients and it's hard in the supermarket. I usually spend upwards of 15 minutes in the bread aisle reading every label until I find one that's acceptable. Don't even get me started on english muffins. No Thomas' for me, have you seen their ingredient list!

  2. Jen, I think you nailed it "aspirational" versus the "realistic" that somehow has come to mean no effort required. Breat- how about the ortega taco flats on this list. If anything they can mention sprouted or at least 100% whole grain but fiberless junk? I can't...

  3. Overall, I think its misleading not only to say these options are the "best," but that the list doesn't give any information on each product other than calories and grams of fat. That doesn't tell the full story at all, as low calorie options can often be jam-packed with chemicals, sodium, and/or other less than desirable ingredients (like the Jif whips and the Tyson chicken nuggets).

  4. great idea, list ingredients for readers to decide or explain maybe why best (other than because company asked to be placed)

  5. We know we can how about Ginnys, Hillarys companies without gluten or GMOS

  6. There are few items on that list that I would consider buying (and if, only in an "emergency," like if we are out of town, and I'm not prepared, which doesn't happen very often).

    By the way, I see you mentioned Hillary's in a comment below. I won a coupon from you a while back, and I have been buying them every since, and we love them! It's a packaged food I feel good about!

  7. I am a super busy, working mom to 2 (an 8-year-old and a 38-year-old) and I don't have a single thing in my kitchen that has trans fat or hydrogenated oil. If I can do it (with the help of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and fresh fruit and vegetables) I think that anyone can do it.

  8. Trader Joe's has some really good bread, although I had to spend some time reading labels to distinguish which ingredients were acceptable and which were not....