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Beware of seemingly healthy options

Whenever I am travelling, I look at food that is available ‘on the road’ in my quest to try to help people make healthier choices. This blog shows a classic example of how hard it can be to make the right choice. I was in a Marks & Spencer food shop in some Motorway services in the UK last week, I can’t remember which motorway I was on, the M5 or M6 I think, and I needed a light lunch, so I was looking at the available choices. Normally, I would have prepared my own at home and brought it with me, but for some reason, on this occasion, I did not have lunch ready.

I picked a plain salad, which was fine, as the dressing was supplied in a separate sachet inside, so I threw the dressing away, leaving me with a healthy plain salad…not very exciting and over-priced, but it was a healthy option.

However, this Vanilla Bean & Maple Syrup Smoothie caught my eye, and I had a look at the nutrition label. Now I don’t know what you think when you look at this, but I see ‘Vanilla Bean Smoothie’ and ‘Low Fat Probiotic Yoghurt’ and I see a picture of a flower, and broadly speaking, this conjures up a fairly healthy image in my mind. A few years ago, I would have grabbed this as a quick and easy healthy option, a quick snack lunch to grab and drink on the go.

Now let’s flip it over and read the label on the other side.

Smoothie image 2

First up, we see wording again about ‘low fat’ and ‘probiotic’ and then a green box saying something about this product being part of a healthy lifestyle, then another green box telling us how probiotics are healthy and friendly. We even have a web address which suggests the company name .com/health. Then there are recycling logo’s and green bits and in general it all looks like this is a food choice for a person who cares, this is a good choice, a responsible choice, a healthy choice.

How let’s twist the bottle round and see the other half of the label, let’s look at the nutrition info.

smoothie image 3

The ingredients show that whole milk yoghurt makes up 52% of this product, and our ‘healthy option’ low-fat probiotic yoghurt only makes up 20% of the total. Then the next biggest ingredient is pasteurized apple juice, then the maple syrup makes up 9%. The ingredients show the calories at 225, for HALF the bottle, so this small bottle, no bigger than my hand, contains a massive 450 calories! It’s only a drink, a fairly small drink, I could down in a gulp, but that’s 450 calories of fat and sugar right there in that gulp.

To put 450 calories in some perspective: One of the most popular chain slimming clubs in the UK is The Rosemary Conley Diet. There are 2000 Rosemary Conley slimming clubs running in the UK every week, and 80,000 people (mostly women) attend every week. If you were following the Rosemary Conley plan, for the first two weeks you would be restricted to 1200 calories per day - a 200 calorie breakfast, a 300 calorie lunch and a 400 calorie dinner, plus a couple of small snacks.

At 450 calories for one small drink, this smoothie would be too big to drink as your main meal of the day!

Where are those calories coming from?

The label lists 4 grams of fat in half the bottle, so 8 grams of fat in the whole bottle - which is 72 calories form fat, so one sixth of the drink is fat, mostly saturated fat (5.6 of those 8 grams). However, the label lists carbohydrate per half bottle at 35.3 grams, of which sugars are 27.3 grams. For a full bottle, that makes 54.6 grams of sugar. On average, there are 4.1 calories in a gram of carbohydrate. A gram or pure refined sugar contains 3.87 calories, but in general, food labelling usually allocated 4 calories per gram of sugar unless otherwise stated.

So assuming 4 calories per gram, and 54.6 grams of sugar per bottle, that’s 218.4 calories of sugar, out of 450 calories for the total drink. 48.5% of this drink is SUGAR. To give that more perspective, one average teaspoon of sugar contains between 4 and 6 grams of sugar. If we took 5 as the average, that means there are 11 spoons of sugar in this ‘healthy’ probiotic yoghurt drink. ELEVEN SPOONS OF SUGAR!!!!!!!!!!!

The total carbohydrate count is 35.3 grams per half bottle, therefore 70.6 grams per bottle, therefore 282.4 calories per bottle. Remember, carbs all turn into sugars in your body, so carbs are sugars really.

  • This product is 10% protein, 17% fat and 48.5% sugar
  • There are 11 teaspoons of sugar in this product
  • There are so many calories in this small drink, that it would exceed the meal size for a number of calorie-controlled diet programs
  • Beware the seemingly healthy options. Packaging can be deceiving, and indeed it is often purposefully designed to do just that
  • The big companies pack sugar into everything
  • If it has a label, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Real food doesn’t have a label

Make wiser choices, study the numbers, plan your meals in advance, take food with you when you travel.

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