Navigating The Supermarket: Aisle 2

Recently, I took a wander down the supermarket aisle to explore four jazzed up foods that most of us, myself included, have been left scratching our heads about. Are they worth their hype and did they live up to their nutrition claims? If you came down aisle 1 with me, hopefully you can now see straight through the marketers attempts to make us buy these products, but unfortunately those four products are not the only foods that have left the majority of us confused or misled. Hence, here we are, round two, with four more foods to unwrap metaphorically before we do so literally. 

Before we get started, a side note: the aim of this article is NOT to “ruin every food out there”. The reality is, processed foods come with packages and long ingredient lists and plenty of claims on what they can or can’t do, and these are a realistic part of many people’s diet- mine included. And there is most definitely room in a balanced diet for the foods I discuss, no matter how they stack up in the nutrition stakes. Rather, this post is about educating us all, so that we are not misled by the bright colors and clever slogans. It’s so that you can decide if the food should be an every day or occasional part of your diet. It’s so you can potentially make a money-saving or health improving swaps. And it’s to show that we can't be fooled!

Mission Spinach and Herb Wraps

If it’s green and has veggies in the title, it’s gotta be superior. If it’s far thinner than a fluffy loaf of bread, it’s going to have less carbs, (and carbs are bad), yeah? And with that, Mission Spinach and Herb wraps are in the shopping basket, and we’re feeling pretty proud about ourselves- NOT SO FAST. The amount of green added to these to make them look as nutrition-packed as they do is pitiful. If you were wanting to quantify “pitiful”, it’s 1%. The ingredient list states: “Spinach & Herb Seasoning [(1%), Colour (102,133)]”. So in each wrap there is 0.71g of “green goodness”: some of that green goodness is spinach, some of that is herb, and some of that is synthetic food dyes. Furthermore, if you compare one wrap to two slices of Helga’s Mixed Grain Bread, the old fashioned bread loaf has less kilojoules, fat, sugar and sodium compared to one wrap, only a tiny bit more carbohydrates, and more protein, fibre and salt- it essentially outranks the wrap in every nutritional component. Wraps are great lunchtime alternatives to a sandwich, but my suggestion with any bread based meal is to make it as grainy as possible, and keep the greens for filling it to the brim, not dying the flour. Ps. Carbs aren’t bad. 

Creamy Honey Quick Oats

Last time we investigated oats, we learnt that we were paying quadruple the price for 2 grams of alternative grains in the Uncle Toby’s Ancient Grains variety. Sorry, Uncle Toby, but your head’s back on the chopping block, and this time it’s due to your instant sachets. Convenient, most definitely. And I thumbs up any attempt at increasing the variety of grain’s in one’s diet beyond wheat and the occasional rice. But there are two downfalls to these little packages. The first is the glycemic index. If they’re marketed as “quick oats” (sachet or not), the oats have been rolled out thin to decrease cooking time. Unfortunately, this also decreases digestion time, meaning our body breaks them down quickly and there is a more elevated spike in blood glucose levels. Traditional oats, whilst taking a few minutes longer to cook, will help sustain you for longer throughout the morning as they have a much lower glycemic index. The second downfall is the sugar content. The Creamy Honey Quick Oats are only 64% oats- the remaining ingredients are three types of sugar (sugar, honey and glucose), plus some milk powder. This makes it equivalent in sugar to Nutrigrain- a breakfast cereal well known for it’s high sugar content. Looks like Uncle Toby has been learning from Aunty Sara Lee. So keep the oats, most definitely, but take an extra 3 minutes to measure out and cook your plain traditional oats, and add the flavour yourself- through some fresh or dried fruits and a small squeeze of honey. 

Weet Bix Go

Keeping in the theme of breakfast, for those who struggle to get something down in the morning (personally, the excitement for breakfast is the only thing that gets me out of bed some mornings), or for those short on time to stand at a stove, breakfast biscuits are becoming increasingly popular and available. There is no real definition for what constitutes a biscuit a “breakfast biscuit” as opposed to a “morning or afternoon tea biscuit”, though I can assure you the nutrition content (or lack of) doesn’t play an important role. If you compare Weet Bix Go to the old fashioned Teddy Bear biscuit, there isn’t a whole lot of difference, apart from the name. There is minimal difference in the kilojoule or sugar content, and only slightly less fat in the breakfast biscuit. Sugar, in fact, is the second highest ingredient in both the biscuits. Weet Bix Go do have the added benefit of fortified vitamins, which other breakfast biscuits like BelVita don’t have (Weet Bix, like most cereals, has added micronutrients like B vitamins and iron, though only 12% of the biscuit is Weet Bix, so this isn’t as high as you’d get in your standard bowl of 2 Weet Bix). On that topic, protein and calcium are quite vital nutrients in a healthy breakfast, and swapping a bowl of cereal to biscuits omits the milk, hence omits the protein and calcium. So if you were sticking with these breakfast biscuits, add a glass of milk or a cafe latte alongside the biscuits. Even better, swap them for a piece of fruit and a tub of yoghurt- almost equally as convenient and portable. 

Cobs Lightly Salted, Slightly Sweet Popcorn

Some thing were born to just go together. Noah and Ally. Bert and Ernie. Movies and popcorn. It’s hard to resist a tub when the smell of freshly popped corn lingers in the air, which is why swapping a bag of chips to one of popcorn isn’t so hard to do. Swapping a deep fried and salted vegetable to one that’s air popped can significantly lower the kilojoule, fat and salt content of your snack. However, supermarket (and cinema) popcorns often have a significant amount of fat and salt added to them so that we eat more and buy more- helped by our brain is telling us it’s healthier. But the label knows the truth. Plain popcorn has virtually no sodium, and is only 4% fat. Cobs Lightly Salted, Slightly Sweet Popcorn (green packaging+ “lightly”+ “slightly”= perception it is healthy) is 20% fat, 28% sugar, and 15 has times more salt than plain popcorn- in fact, it’s not too different to many chip brands, but with even more sugar! Keep popcorn as a snack staple, but pop it yourself (fat content controlled- tick) and flavour it yourself (sugar and salt content controlled- tick). A favourite of mine is Poppin Raw microwave popcorn:  ingredients: 100% popcorn. Though it is just as easy and much cheaper to buy some kernels, pop them in a bowl covered in Glad Wrap, and zap away. Accompany that with Noah and Ally, and I’d call that a top night in. 

This accompanying recipe, Quinoa, Salmon, Haloumi and Dill Pesto Fritters, has little ties to this topic. Sure it’s tinted green with a whole cups worth of dill, as opposed to a token gesture of “seasoning” but that’s where the similarities end. It’s just a recipe I really wanted to create. It’s nutrition jam-packed- the quinoa is a pleasant alternative to our usual staple grain foods, the salmon, walnuts and olive oil make it simply bursting with healthy, unsaturated fats, the haloumi adds flavour, salt, and dairy, and herbs are a great way to boost the antioxidant level of any meal. But really, we don’t eat in nutrients. We eat in ingredients and these ingredients were born to be married in this delicious fritter combination.