On Sunday I sat down to eat a hamburger patty that my husband had lovingly grilled. The plump quarter pounder looked tasty. I cut into it with my knife and fork.
I put a piece in my mouth and began to chew. Something wasn’t right. It was mushy and springy at the same time–definitely not the texture you’d come to expect from your garden variety hamburger. He mentioned that it had soy in it, and I continued eating the burger, complimenting my husband for his find.
I went to the store and checked out the box later that week, and found out that this was no simple veggie burger–the first three ingredients were beef, beef hearts, and soy protein. This was a product that was meant to be passed off as a burger–a value burger at that, at 6 patties for 3 bucks–but was really some sort of scary Frankenfood.
I blocked the brand name out of my mind, but I Googled those three ingredients, and two reviewers of another, similar product debated whether these burgers were fit for their dogs to eat. (One said not on your life, and the other offered a recipe to make them palatable for dogs–but not for humans, in this person’s best recommendation.)
This creepy experience made me want to never venture out from my frozen turkey burgers or hand-crafted ground meat burgers ever again. But it also reminded me of how important it is to pay attention to the labels of everything you buy, and to understand what everything means.
Here are some things I look out for when I’m in the market:
Whole wheat woes: Sometimes a product that claims to be whole wheat or have whole grains isn’t really primarily whole grain. Sometimes products use that description when the whole grain is somewhere down the line on the list of ingredients. It should be the first ingredient to be a legit whole grain product.
Juice hijinks: The same thing can happen with juice. It’s amazing, when I go to buy juice for my son, how many items there are that aren’t 100 percent fruit juice. Some are 20 percent or only 10 percent real fruit juice, even. I always look for the 100 percent sign on the label to ensure he gets the best nutrition. (One exception: most cranberry beverages in the supermarket are not 100 percent “juice” but rather a “cocktail” or “drink” comprised of other ingredients because the full-on cranberry flavor is considered by most to be too tart.) This means I tend to stick to apple, orange and grape juices.
Fiber Fun: When I examine products for fiber, I’m usually comparing the fiber content between two items, to see which one will give me the most nutrition for the long haul. I am especially vigilant with cereals and granola bars. Knowing these are high-carb items, I want to make sure that I’m balancing the taste out with the staying power of fiber (and protein, too, if I’m really vigilant).
Checking cheese: I only buy reduced-fat cheese, except for parmesan. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to spot lighter varieties of cheddar, because the package will either say “made with 2% milk” or “reduced fat.” Mozzarella is a little more tricky. You’ll want the package that says “part-skim” to get the reduced fat version. (The full-fat versions will either say “whole milk” or nothing at all.)
Yogurt pointers: Sometimes not clear how much fat is in a particular kind of yogurt from the promotional language on the container, which means you’ll have to read the nutrition label. If you are inclined to maximize your nutritional value with yogurt, check the protein content on the label as well. Greek yogurt tends to have more protein that the versions traditionally sold in America.
These are items that I always take extra time to investigate. Let’s look out for each other, though. Please let me know which products you think should come with a buyer beware notice!