Thursday, June 11, 2009

Real Foods Vs. Fake Foods: Coffee Creamer, Salad Dressings, And Hamburgers
June 7, 2009

In round one a couple months ago, butter wholloped margarine, bacon took down turkey bacon, and eggs KOed Egg Beaters. Today, I want to look at three more foods that have been replaced by seemingly healthy industrial alternatives and are far too prevalent in our world.

Cream vs. Non-Dairy Creamer
I’m a big fan of coffee…dark roast and black as can be. I try not to drink it too often, but as a vice, I think it ranks as pretty harmless in small quantities. Lots of people don’t share my love of black coffee, however, prefering a little something to color their coffee brown (if they’d start with good coffee though, they might change their tune). And few people use cream, opting instead for “non-dairy creamer”. Let’s see how these non-dairy alternatives measure up to the real deal.
Since the use of cream is pretty much verboten in our society, I’m going to consider it the challenger. So what is cream? Simple…it’s the butterfat layer that comes with real milk. That’s it…just butterfat. It’s about 64% saturated fat (not something I have an issue with of course) and has about 6g of fat per tablespoon, an amount I’d assume is sufficient for a mug of coffee.
Now what about the leader of the pack when it comes to flavoring coffee? Let’s look at the ingredient list for Coffee Mate Original, a variety of non-dairy creamer found in many office breakrooms and more than a couple household kitchens.
“Corn syrup solids, Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, palm kernel or hydrogenated soybean), sodium caseinate (a milk derivative but not a source of lactose), Dipotassium phosphate, mono- and digycerides, artificial flavor and annatto color.”
Okay, so we start off with corn syrup solids, which is corn syrup liquid dehydrated of most of its water. Next up is our good buddy, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, aka trans fats. Here’s the part that boggles my mind though. Coconut and palm kernal oils are both highly saturated, making them already stable at room temperature. Why is there a need to hydrogenate these oils?
We then have sodium casienate, which is marked as a milk derivative. Can someone please explain how a product with a milk derivative is “non-dairy”? Regardless, it’s added to give a thicker creamier texture to the aforementioned sugar and trans fats. The dipotassium phosphate (or phosporic acid) and mono- and diglycerides basically serve to improve mouth feel, keeping ingredients that don’t want to go to together, together. The only ingredient in that list that I approve of is “annatto color”. It comes from the annatto seed, a darn tasty spice also used for its bright red color.
Essentially, when you choose to put Coffee Mate (rest assured that all of their flavors contain similar ingredients) in your coffee, you are basically pouring in sweetened trans fats. No matter what your thoughts are of saturated fats, you absolutely cannot believe that trans fat-laced corn syrup is a better alternative. If you can actually make that argument, please do so in the comments…I’d love to see this.
The funny part is that Nestle bills Coffee Mate with the tagline “Stir it up with coffee’s Perfect Mate.” Now, I know of some good pairs, such as peanut butter and jelly, pizza and beer, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. I’ve never considered “coffee and pseudo-food” to be on that list.
Your best option: Ditch the Coffee Mate and go with full-fat cream or coconut milk if you can’t stomach black coffee.

Oil and Vinegar vs. Fat-free Italian Dressing
Here’s one that really gets me in a twist. When you walk through the salad dressing aisle or through the dressing section of any salad bar, what do you see? Inevitably, there are a few fat-free dressings, usually fat-free ranch (already covered by our buddy Mark Sisson here) and fat-free Italian. As bad as fat-free ranch is, taking a cream-based dressing and somehow making it fat-free, fat-free Italian really confuses me.
Real Italian dressing is olive oil, vinegar, perhaps a few herbs, and salt and pepper. Pretty simple and definitely made of stuff that’s good for you and that you can easily envision in its natural state. We all know that olive oil is a healthy oil and the rest of the ingredients don’t have any real drawbacks. The best part is that you can tailor this dressing to your own liking.
And now, I present to you Kraft Fat-Free Italian:
water, vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, contains less than 2% of parmesan cheese (part-skim milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), garlic, onion juice, whey, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate and calcium disodium edta as preservatives, yeast extract, spice, red bell peppers, lemon juice concentrate, dried garlic, buttermilk, caramel color, sodium phosphate, enzymes, oleoresin paprika
Other than “vinegar” and “salt,” I don’t see anything remotely resembling real Italian dressing in that list. It’s basically flavored, sweetened water with a bunch of preservatives. It may be low-calorie, but it neither tastes like, nor is health-promoting like, real Italian dressing. Next time you’re at a salad bar, pick the spoon up out of the fat-free Italian dressing and notice how sludgy it is. Then put it down and grab the tiny bottle of oil and vinegar hidden somewhere in the area.
Your best option: 2 parts olive oil, 1 part vinegar (such as balsamic or red wine), a handful of fresh herbs, and a few cracks from your pepper mill.

A Grass-Fed Hamburger Vs. The Boca Burger
Finally, our top match-up, a real hamburger versus a veggie burger. Now when I make a burger in my kitchen, it’s made of grass-fed ground beef, an egg (to help hold things together), and some combination of onions, garlic, cilantro, cumin, or various other herbs and spices. I’d imagine most homemade hamburgers are similar.
Or, I could have delicious vegetarian option from Boca, makers of various meat alternatives, like Boca Burgers, Boca Breakfast Sausage, and Boca Chik’n. How about this Boca Burger on your plate?
water, soy protein concentrate, reduced fat cheddar cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes, annatto (color), vitamin a palmitate), wheat gluten, corn oil, contains less than 2% of methylcellulose, hydrolyzed corn protein, wheat gluten and soy protein, salt, caramel color, cheese powder (cheddar cheese, [milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes], cream, salt, sodium phosphate, lactic acid), dried onions, yeast extract, natural flavor (non-meat), sesame oil, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate. browned in corn oil. contains: soy, milk, wheat, sesame.
Seriously? Do people just not care about what they eat or do they actually look at these ingredient labels and think, “Yeah, that’s better than meat”? We have soy, which isn’t the health food it’s made out to be. We have wheat gluten, destroying intestinal linings since 10,000 BC. We then have some emulsifiers, a bit of cheese powder, which is obviously nothing like real cheese, and natural flavor (*cough* MSG *cough*). And don’t forget the low-fat cheese, another highly processed food since milk is not naturally low in fat.
Okay, so here’s me being blunt about these meatless alternatives. I really have no problem with you not eating meat, if that’s what you choose. However, if you really don’t want to eat meat, stop trying to replace it with fake alternatives. If you’re not going to eat meat or if you’re going to talk about how meat is unnecessary in the human diet, trying to replicate the taste is only undermining your argument. Sure, vegetarians can definitely put together a healthy, meatless diet with a good bit of care and focus on not consuming too many grains. One thing is for sure though…a healthy vegetarian diet will never include fake foods like this one.
Your best option: Eat grass-fed meat; avoid fake alternatives no matter how pretty the packaging.
Once Again, The Winner Is Clear
Does anyone vote for the fake foods over the real foods? Now, I’m not going to say that any of the foods here are right for everyone. I don’t think cream, real oil and vinegar, or a hamburger are unhealthy; perhaps you do. So avoid those foods if they don’t agree with you. But don’t seek fake alternatives to these foods, made up of various industrial ingredients, low-quality proteins, hydrogenated fats, sugars, and flavorings.
It actually blows my mind that people can fall for the marketing that somehow makes sugary trans fats, flavored sugary water, and some strange amalgamation formed into a patty healthier than the foods they are intended to replace. Marketing is amazing!


  1. Isn't this from Life Spotlight? This was on Mike O'Donnell's site....(citations?)

  2. "Taco Bell's New Green Menu Takes No Ingredients From Nature"