Processed foods: Why Canadians may not be getting the nutrition they expect
Published Thursday, January 2, 2014 12:27PM EST
Many of us are vowing to eat healthier in 2014, but it’s easy to get fooled by packaged foods that sound more nutritious than they actually are.
From flavoured coffee creamers that contain no cream (just hydrogenated oils, gums, and glucose syrups), to blueberry waffles and fruit-filled cereals with no fruit (just artificially favoured and coloured sugar bits), it’s easy to get duped.
Even those of us who believe we can see through food-makers’ tricks can get tripped up from time to time.
Mary Bamford, a registered dietitian and the director of nutrition with the Cleveland Clinic in Toronto, says many Canadians might be surprised to learn, for example, that whole wheat flour in Canada isn’t actually whole grain.
Under Canadian regulations, flour makers can remove a significant portion of the wheat germ and still call their flour “100 per cent whole wheat.”
The germ is essentially the wheat’s seed, which sprouts into the new plant, so it’s filled with phytochemicals, protein, vitamins, minerals and essential acids, Bamford explained CTV’s Canada AM Thursday.
“It’s allowed to be removed because it shortens the shelf life of the flour,” she said.
The result is a flour that has lost a lot of its nutrition, she says. To compensate, Bamford says she always adds one tablespoon of fresh wheat germ to every cup of whole wheat flour she uses when baking at home.
Whole wheat breads also throw off a lot of consumers, Bamford says. For example, there’s a big difference between multigrain and whole wheat bread. Many multigrain breads actually use white flour as their main ingredient, not whole wheat flour.
Other healthy-sounding breads are made with white flour, but use confusing terms on their ingredient lists, such as “wheat flour”, “enriched wheat flour,” “unbleached wheat flour,” or “semolina flour.”
Bamford says white flour should really be considered more of a treat, not a source of nutrition, but surveys show that more half of the bread products that Canadians eat are refined white flour products.
“So much of what we think is normal is actually processed,” she says.
Pastas and cereal often over-processed
Most pastas, white rice, and cereals are actually not all that healthy either because they too have had most of their nutrition stripped out.
Corn flakes, for example, are made with processed corn flour; white rice has had its bran stripped; and pastas are highly processed. Even healthy-sounding cereals like All-Bran Buds are just sugar and milled bran, she says.
As a healthier alternative, Bamford recommends cooking with brown rice and whole, steel-cut oats, while also trying out other grains such as quinoa, millet and wheat berries.
Fruit snacks no healthier than candy
Other foods that often confuse consumers are fruit snacks that claim to be sweetened with 100 per cent fruit juice. Bamford says, while these products may sound healthy, they’re still highly processed products that are filled with sugar and empty calories.
Granola bars are often no better. She says, while some brands are starting to add in more fibre and whole grain, they still don’t pass her nutritional muster.
“They still have a lot of chemicals that you cannot pronounce. They still contain hydrogenated oils. They still contain strange sugars,” she says. What’s more, she adds, they are often loaded with preservatives.
“If you were to make a homemade cookie of muffin, you wouldn’t expect it to last on the shelf for three months. So if it’s going to last for three months, why are you putting it in your body?” she says.
Even fruit juices are too over-refined for Bamford’s taste. She says most have gone through so much processing, they have little left in common with real fruit. Yes, most juices contain vitamin C, but that’s because the vitamins were destroyed in the processing and had to be added back in, she says.
What’s left has none of the fibre and phytochemicals of real fruit.
“So the more you remove, the more you remove,” she says.