Why the Grocery Store Scares Me

Let me put this out there front and center.

I have NOT seen Food Inc.

I HAVE read Skinny Bitch.

I am knowledgable about nutrition but I am nowhere near a food nazi.

I like to eat McDonald’s once in a while (and yes, I saw Supersize Me). I enjoy the luxury of convenience foods when I don’t feel like cooking. I don’t like to spend a lot of money at the grocery store. I like cheap meats and produce.

And herein lies my problem.

Anytime I go to the store, I’m plagued by the health vs. nutrition vs. cost quandary with practically every product I select.

For example, I go to buy ketchup but I have to be careful because ketchup can have a lot of sugar. I like Hunt’s mainly because of the taste but also because it clearly says on the label “No High Fructose Corn Syrup.” When I was shopping with my husband recently, he told me to make sure I picked the right one. I told him that Hunt’s doesn’t use high fructose corn syrup but the truth of the matter is THEY DO. Some bottles are made with high fructose corn syrup. And those that are labeled “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” actually use sugar instead. BUT YOU HAVE TO KNOW THAT THEY SELL BOTH KINDS.

Why? If they can make a healthier version with no high fructose corn syrup, why both making one with it anyway?

And then there’s Kashi. I love Kashi cereals. I can’t say I’ve ever gone lean with the Go Lean cereals but I feel good eating something healthy for breakfast with good taste and low sugar. And then it turns out that Kashi was using genetically modified soy in their “natural” cereals. As a rule, I try to eat foods with their original genes intact, thank you very much.

How about pudding? I’m not a regular pudding shopper but every once in a while, I’d like a cup of vanilla pudding. Or maybe I want to go a little wild and get some tapioca pudding. So I pick up the old stand-by from my childhood, Jell-O Tapioca Pudding Snacks. And I look at the ingredient list:

Ingredients: SKIM MILK, WATER, SUGAR, TAPIOCA, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, CONTAINS LESS THAN 1.5% OF HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (COCONUT AND PALM KERNEL OILS), SALT, SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE (FOR SMOOTH TEXTURE), SODIUM ALGINATE, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SOY LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL COLOR, YELLOW 5, YELLOW 6, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, VITAMIN D.

I mean, is that normal for pudding? Is that simply the price I pay for pre-made, off-the-shelf pudding?

Then I pick up Kozy Shack Tapioca Pudding and actually see ingredients I recognize:

Ingredients: low fat milk, sugar, tapioca, egg whites, modified tapioca starch, natural flavors, salt, annatto (color)

There. Was that so hard?

I was shopping last night for ice cream and had the same issue. Milk, milk powder, nonfat milk powder, and a bunch of other chemicals. I’m getting in the habit of not even paying attention to nutrition anymore. I just want to trust what I eat. I go for the ingredients. Unfortunately, the only ice cream that passed my recognizable ingredients list was Breyer’s. And it came in a much smaller container at a much higher price. Not fair.

And finally, what really set this rant is motion is my latest purchase that made me feel completely duped.

I generally stay away from soda. I’ll occasionally have a Diet Coke and feel guilty for drinking it so I try to stay away from things with ingredients I can’t pronounce (McDonald’s, aside, of course). So I decided to give this new drink a try from Seagram’s. I picked up Sparkling Seltzer Water with Orange Citrus flavor. It didn’t taste artificial. It was light and refreshing and had a simple ingredient list: carbonated water, natural flavors.

So when I recently hauled myself up to the nearest BJ’s, I thought I’d look for the Seagram’s Seltzer Water to buy in bulk. Not available but I did see what I thought was an acceptable substitute. I brought it home, took a sip, and thought it was horrifically sweet. I wasn’t worried though because the bottle said “naturally flavored.” I thought maybe I didn’t like the mandarin orange flavor. My husband tried the lime flavor and had the same reaction.

That’s when he pointed me to the label and it was confirmed. The ingredients listed carbonated water, citric acid, natural flavor, sucralose, potassium benzoate, acesulfame potassium.

Yeah. That sounds like a lot more than sparkling water to me. In fact, after re-reading the label, I saw that I had purchased Sparkling Water Beverage, which I’m assuming has the same implications as Fruit Juice Drink.

Translation: Sweetener. And in the case of the BJ’s water, it’s sucralose. Also known as Splenda. That’s not what I planned to buy. And by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to the store to return it.

And don’t even get me started on Canola Oil. Ever thought about where it comes from? The Canola plant? Think again. Or better yet, read this pretty comprehensive piece on canola oil a friend from Facebook pointed me to.

I’m frustrated and tired of being frustrated. I’m a typical American. I like to eat cheaply and value convenience and taste. I don’t want to have to think. I want an FDA that looks out for what is for the good of the people. I want to go to the grocery store and not be afraid anymore.

I still refuse to become a food nazi. But I am a reader and will keep doing so until I don’t feel duped anymore.

  • http://www.jeanstshirt.blogspot.com Kia S.

    I don’t like the taste of Hunt’s (we are a Heinz house) but they also make 3 kinds of ketchup organic, normal and no HFCS. The 3 are never the same price and that’s part of the reason the companies bother to make them all. Boca now sells 2 kinds of burgers the red box and the brown box which uses non-gmo soy. Its crazy at the grocery store, i have to always read the drink labels because i can’t have any of the artificial sweeteners on the market right now. every single one gives me a nasty side effect so i intake more than my share of HFCS, but i’ve had more than one time i bought a drink i thought was flavored with fruit juice and it was hidden on the label it had either nutrasweet or splenda. 

    • FadraN

      Sounds like we’re in the exact same boat except, thankfully, I don’t have any health issues to contend with. I just don’t like putting the artificial stuff in my body unless I’m well aware of it and have made that choice. When I have sparkling water, I expect it to be, you know, WATER.

  • http://twitter.com/mommyhoodnxtrt Jessica F. Hinton

    I think most Americans are feeling the same way as you are. I know I am. It’s tough. I don’t want to be a food nazi either, at the same time, I want to eat and give my family the best foods that I possibly can. It’s tough. But I think reading labels is key, that, and being mindful of what your goals are. 

    • FadraN

      I used to stress over the carbs and the fiber. Now, I honestly look to make sure it doesn’t have trans fats, has minimal saturated fats, not too much sugar, and ingredients I understand (keep in mind, I minored in chemistry). But man, grocery shopping is becoming so complex and time-consuming.

  • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

    amen, Fadra.
    Only I have seen Food, Inc.
    I tell everyone they NEED to at least see it to educate themselves about what really goes on in the food industry. It made me go vegetarian for a while. And then the surprise pregnancy happened and my cravings for chick-fil-a far outweighed anything else and I relapsed.  If you watch it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. And I’ve read Skinny Bitch, too.

    Oh, and “natural flavors?” That’s code for “anything not natural that we don’t want to list here.”

    • FadraN

      I can TOTALLY understand those Chik-Fil-A cravings. I always get them on Sundays. It keeps calling my name every time I turn on Netflix but I have to be in the right mood and I think I’m really just avoiding the truth.

  • Melisa

    I’ve never read Skinny Bitch but I’ve seen Food Inc and Supersize Me and not enough American’s care…otherwise a food overhaul would be imminent and we just aren’t there yet. I get so dizzy having to read every label when we go to the store! And even if I did all my shopping at Whole Foods…I’d still have to read labels to see where my food might be coming from.  But at the same time? We love some Mickie D’s…

    • FadraN

      But at least you are fooling yourself into thinking McD’s is healthy (despite all their trying). You are making a choice. I just feel like I’m being fooled at the grocery store and it’s making me mad.

  • http://www.commonplacecrazy.com/ Cynthia Meents

    What bugs me is that the manufacturers hide the names of stuff we don’t want. It won’t be long before high fructose corn syrup goes by another name so we can’t avoid it.

    • FadraN

      Did you ever see the commercial that actually tried to sell us on the fact that it was “natural” and “good for you” because it came from corn? Nice try, HFCS. Nice try.

  • http://www.commonplacecrazy.com/ Cynthia Meents

    BTW, here’s an opposing look at canola oil: http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/canola.asp 

    • FadraN

      Thanks for sharing. I think both viewpoints are a bit skewed. I’ll probably use up the canola I have in the pantry and then focus on alternatives.

  • http://twitter.com/MomMadeItLookEZ Jennifer Williams

    Agreed. I just wish they made food like they did when I was a kid before they started putting HFCS in everything and making stuff with all fakey, fake ingredients. Just grow real food. Period.

    • FadraN

      I was telling my husband how so many of the same foods we had as kids taste different now. Not just the taste, but the texture and consistency. I blame it on chemicals to make our soup smoother and our chips crunchier. I miss the old days.

  • http://www.scargosun.com/ Scargosun

    Yeah…I am a bit of a food nazi.  No HFC at all, no artificial sweeteners, no GMO, no CAFO meat, only sustainable fish, belong to an organic CSA, etc.  It is normal to me now to be like this.  I realize most people are not but I am in an area where it is pretty important to others as well so I don’t feel like a crunchy freak very often.  You know what is hard?  Long car trips.  ONLY fast food on the road.  BTW – found the most awesome tasting ketchup at a food fest here.  OMG!  If I can get more of it soon I am totally sending you some.

    • FadraN

      I’m about halfway there. I do buy organic. Sometimes. Always with my milk. It just tastes better. And I used to belong to a local fruit/veggie service. It bothers me a lot more now to not buy local produce. I think I may have to find a local farmer’s market. 

      As for ketchup, here’s my problem. I like salt. And a lot of healthy foods take out all the salt. I need my flavor too!

      • http://www.scargosun.com/ Scargosun

         Not to worry my friend…still has salt. 

  • http://twitter.com/MommaBeThyName Stephanie Bernaba

    HAHAHAHA. I wrote a post almost identical to this last year. 
    http://mommabethyname.com/2011/11/15/food-not-so-glorious-food/

    • FadraN

      Loved it. Yes, we are on almost the exact same wavelength. I’m just really starting to get paranoid about it all.

  • http://genieinablog.com. Leigh Ann

    You just summed up so many of my issues with food. We don’t eat as healthfully as we should, but with a family of 5, it gets expensive, and we don’t have the budget to spare for a full on Whole Foods shopping experience. Plus I need a lot of convenience. I cook when I can, but sometimes I do bust out the fish sticks or frozen chicken nuggets for the kids. But we do try to avoid the HFCS (except for my occasional Dr Pepper). 

    Here in Texas, Blue Bell is THE ice cream, and people are appalled that we don’t eat it. But after buying Breyers for a while, due to their lack of HFCS, we bought a small pint of Blue Bell for some reason and it tasted like sugar, not ice cream.

  • http://www.misstejota.com miss tejota

    I have food intolerance’s (gluten and lactose) and I’m allergic to raspberries so I need to pay very close attention to what I consume. I think the easiest thing I do on my extremely limited budget is eating many of the same things on repeat. Yes, it sucks and is much easier for me because I am single person. But if I know a brand well I notice immediately when I see the label if they have changed the product. 

    Buying food regardless of what you can and can’t consume is frustrating if you are trying to be healthy. I’m waiting for the day that it won’t be. Until then I try to make as many things I can from scratch and use natural items to had flavor to my food and drinks.

  • IASoupMama

    So darn frustrating.  Why can’t companies assume that we want to feed our families the good stuff and then make ONLY that?   This is a huge part of the reason that we put in a garden with a footprint the size of a small house and raise chickens.  It’s hard to grow organic, but we think it’s with it.  If only weeding was more fun…

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  • http://twitter.com/MandiMcClure Mandi McClure

    I feel the same way.  I love to go grocery shopping but it’s so difficult and then takes forever because you have to read the labels and then figure out if you want to trade your first born for food or if you just want to get out as quickly as possible.  I am trying to buy better stuff though.  If I can’t read the chemical, then only God knows what the heck it’s gonna do to me.

  • http://lauraloutloud.com/ Laural Out Loud

    I’m so sick of all the crap that’s advertised as healthy or natural food.  Those labels aren’t regulated by the FDA (you can only trust if something is listed as Organic), so I find myself double checking everything I buy.  Most of the time I have to put it back on the shelf.  It’s gotten to the point that I’m willing to go Amish and make every last damn thing from scratch, just to be sure of what’s going in our bodies.  

  • Melissa_FillingOurBucket

    here here!! There is definitely a feeling of frustration and I think that more and more people are becoming educated and realizing that a lot of the food out there that is supposed to be healthy, is really just as much junk food as a package of oreos (although I do love me some oreos). It is frustrating to say the least.

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  • Tuwanda

    Amen! My mom was an ex-flower child of the sixties and I thought frozen yogurt was a frozen cup of freakin’ regular yogurt until I was 10! She hand-made me and my brother’s baby foods. Now that I am a mom myself, Grocery shopping is NOT as simple anymore! Try telling other typical Texas moms that you are into organic gardening…most assume I’m a yankee or a communist. I’m not a vegetarian, nor am I a hippie. I love a big fat steak and Taters, too. What I don’t love is growth hormones and corrosive chemicals ending up in something I just stuck in my mouth. I’m with the lady who is ready to go Amish. Dr. Oz says ban sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, enriched flour and anything white from your kitchen. That eliminates 2/3 of the crap on my local Wal-Mart shelves. Any ideas on where to shop, ladies?