Food in the News: Junk Food, Plain and Simple

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged an article in the New York Times about food manufacturers returning to the use of cane sugar in their foods and then touting these products as being more healthful than foods produced with high fructose corn syrup.

And, in my post, I noted that while high fructose corn syrup -may- be metabolized a little bit differently in our bodies than cane sugar, it doesn’t make cane sugar a health food. Large amounts of any kind of sugar in anyone’s diet is going to cause health problems, including weight gain and metabolic imbalances such as diabetes and hyper or hypoglycemia–not to mention higher levels of tooth decay.

Today a similar article can be found in the Washington Post, outlining how food manufacturers are now advertising products with short ingredient lists–such as Haagan-Daz’s vanilla ice cream–as being somehow more healthful and pure than other foods which have longer ingredient lists that include unpronounceable preservatives, colorings and flavorings.

But when we are talking about ice cream and potato chips, the fact is–the short ingredient list is nice and yes, I would much rather eat something with fewer ingredients which I can identify as being real, live foodstuffs than something that sounds like a Chemistry 101 experiment gone awry, but people–junk food is still junk food. Ice cream is still high in fat, sugar and calories, and potatoes are still high in fat, salt and calories, and both of them are still low on nutritive value, no matter if they are made with artificial flavors and colors or not.

Now don’t get me wrong–I love me some ice cream and potato chips, and I do eat my fair share of both, but not on a daily basis. And I am under no illusion that when I do eat these foods that I am eating anything that is intrinsically healthful. No, when I eat ice cream and potato chips, I am not thinking of my health at all–I am eating them because they taste good and I want to eat them for the pleasure of it.

Both of these items are high-calorie investments, and so when I do eat them and take the caloric hit, I have decided to eat the very tastiest versions of these foods that I can get my hands on. Which means I eat Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (when I am in Columbus) or Haagan Daz when I am at home and cannot get Jeni’s handmade creations. Both of these ice creams have short ingredient lists–and that is why they have amazing flavors and creamy, velvety textures-because they are not filled with artificial flavors and stabilizers like many other brands do.

And when I eat potato chips, I tend to eat Kettle brand–even their flavored chips have short ingredient lists filled only with stuff I can recognize as food. And they taste great–potatoey-crispy with just the right amount of salt or natural flavorings to enhance the potato flavor.

And the fact that the ice cream and potato chip brands I eat also happen to have short ingredient lists has nothing to do with my belief that I am eating healthier junk food–it has to do with the fact that these high calorie snacks taste better.

I mean, if I am going to eat junk food–let it taste good enough to be worth the extra calories!

So, yeah, I guess it is nice to see manufacturers taking note of the fact that people want to eat more simply and thus are touting their short ingredient lists as proof of the purity of their products. But to lead people to believe that these foods are healthier just because they have a short list of “all natural ingredients” is misdirection at best.


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  1. Better for the health or best for the health? It is more healthy to eat an organic potato chip with no chemicals or preservatives sprayed on it than it is to eat a pesticide soaked chip covered in flavor aides. Is it better for your weight loss diet? No. Is it more nourishing? No. But is it better for your body than the alternative? I hope that the answer is yes.

    To make people think that these things are guilt free is cashing in on the people who read the cliffs notes version of Michael Pollan. However, I’d love to see pressure for this country to abandon HFCS, a product of an over abundance of government subsidized monoculture. I don’t care what it takes.

    Comment by Emma — April 7, 2009 #

  2. I think that junk food with real ingredients can reasonably be called “less unhealthy” than the sort with lots of unpronouncable ingredients. It’s a start.

    The trend isn’t limited to junk food. For example, Quaker Oats now makes Simple Harvest granola bars: all grains are whole and most of the ingredients are real foods. Again, it’s a start.

    Comment by Harry — April 7, 2009 #

  3. You guys have some really interesting Kettle chips flavour combos:) I like the occasional packet of chips and Lord knows I love ice cream, but I won’t even pretend any of it is healthy. I have to say… I dunno what it’s like in the US, but here in the UK I find chips ridiculously expensive. For the price of a family pack you could knock up a tasty soup. Granted, not the same thing, but since everyone is feeling the pinch now, I wonder why chips continue to sell when they’re poor value for money. And let’s face it, it’s not like they fill your belly and provide a meal, pleasant as they are to eat.

    Comment by Mamlambo — April 8, 2009 #

  4. Honeybee update – have you seen the latest article from Scientific American on CCD? Interesting description of research on what causes CCD.

    (Thanks to for the link.)

    Comment by Ardene — April 8, 2009 #

  5. I was at the store yesterday with my husband and the two teenage girls in front of were buying sodas when one girl said to the other girl “See, it’s healthy. It has sugar.”

    Sugar? My husband and I looked at each other and roared. Sugar. The new healthy ingredient.

    What a backlash against HFCS!


    Comment by — April 9, 2009 #

  6. I have a girlfriend who diets by the “Is It Worth The Calories?” method.

    Is a low fat Twinkie (and yes, they make such a thing) worth the calories? No.

    Is a slice of homemade sponge cake topped with strawberries and lightly sweetened real whip cream worth the calories? Frankly, yes. It’s also harder to come by – you have to make it yourself. It’s all sorts of satisfying on all sorts of levels. The Twinkie is just something to put in your mouth and chew.

    Comment by Jan — April 9, 2009 #

  7. I like that philosophy Jan! If I want something sweet, unless it’s a good dark chocolate that I’m craving, I will usually make it myself. I savor it more; take my time enjoying it; experience a food-gasm of sorts. All because I know how hard I worked to create it. Such a dish is so much more satisfying than just shoving grocery store junk down your gullet.

    FYI, anything you prepare yourself will, most likely, have far less salt and less sugar in it than anything you could get from the grocery store–including potato chips.

    Comment by Roxanne — April 9, 2009 #

  8. Hey, Barbara!

    Just wanted to say thanks for the kind words about our ice cream — and to let you know that you can enjoy our handmade creations even when you’re not in Columbus! We regularly ship all across the US to discerning folks like yourself.

    (You can find our shipping FAQ here:

    Thanks again!


    Comment by Ryan at Jeni's — June 2, 2009 #

  9. Hello, Ryan!

    I’ve shipped your ice cream as gifts to my in-laws several times–they live in New Hampshire in the summer and Miami in the winter–and they fell in love with Jeni’s when they were visiting us in Columbus years ago. So, for treats, we send some to them once or twice a year.

    In the winter, when it is cold, we have been known to buy pints of your goodies–especially the Gravel Road—and bring it back to Athens in a cooler.

    I will tell you, when and if I open my own restaurant here in Athens, I would love to feature some of your ice creams on my dessert menu.

    Comment by Barbara — June 2, 2009 #

  10. Deal!

    Thanks again for all your business — should’ve intuited that your a regular shipper…


    Comment by Ryan at Jeni's — June 3, 2009 #

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