20 Foods That Aren’t Food

“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” — Michael Pollan

The problem with most food today is that it isn’t food. Much of modern food today is, in the words of Michael Pollan, “edible foodlike substances” that are masquerading as food. Here’s a list of 20 fake foods you will want to avoid.

1. Blueberry Pancakes

Craving blueberry pancakes? Skip the blueberry pancake mix — those are “imitation blueberries” made in a factory out of dextrose, fractionated palm kernel oil, flour, citric acid, cellulose gum, maltodextrin, artificial flavors, plus blue and red food coloring.

Ingredients: Enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, may contain malted barley flour), imitation blueberry pieces (dextrose, fractionated palm kernel oil, enriched flour [wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], citric acid, cellulose gum, maltodextrin, artificial flavor, red 40, blue 1, blue 2), sugar, soy flour, leavening (sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate), canola or soybean oil, dextrose, salt, mono-diglycerides, guar gum, artificial flavor.

2. Bacon Bits

“bacon bits” are named Bac’n Pieces™ because they’re not actually made from bacon. In fact, if you are vegan, you can eat them!

Ingredients: Textured soy flour, canola oil, salt, caramel color, maltodextrin, natural and artificial flavor, lactic acid, yeast extract, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate (flavor enhancers), and FD&C Red 40.

3. Chocolate Chip Cookies

Read the label carefully on the chocolate chip cookie package. If it says “chocolate flavored chips,” avoid!

The FDA requires that real chocolate contain cocoa butter. “Chocolate flavored chips” use cheap hydrogenated vegetable oils instead. Yes — that’s trans fat.

Ingredients: Enriched flour bleached (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, chocolate flavored chips (sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, cocoa, cocoa processed with alkali, dextrose, soy lecithin), partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, water, contains 2% or less of: molasses, wheat protein isolate, baking powder (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate), salt, eggs, artificial flavor, nonfat milk.

4. Chocolate Milk

Is that really chocolate milk you’re drinking? Or a chocolate flavored drink?

Yoo-hoo doesn’t contain milk, and instead is made up of partially hydrogenated soybean oil (which is a trans fat).

Ingredients: Water, high fructose corn syrup, whey (from milk), sugar, corn syrup solids, cocoa (alkali process), partially hydrogenated soybean oil, sodium caseinate (from milk), nonfat dry milk, salt, tricalcium phosphate, dipotassium phosphate, xanthan gum, guar gum, natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, vitamin A palmitate, niacinamide (vitamin B3), vitamin D3, riboflavin (vitamin B2).

5. Cheese

“Pasteurized cheese snacks” like Easy Cheese are full of fillers, cheap vegetable oil, and emulsifiers. These fake cheeses have different amounts of actual cheese — you’ll need to read the label:

  • Pasteurized process cheese – contains 100% cheese
  • Pasteurized process cheese food – contains at least 51% cheese
  • Pasteurized process cheese product – contains less than 51% cheese

Ingredients: Whey, cheddar cheese (milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), canola oil, milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, milk, contains less than 2% of sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, salt, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, sodium alginate, autolyzed yeast extract, sorbic acid as a preservative, cheese culture, enzymes, apocarotenal (color), annatto (color).

6. Cream

Real frosting is called buttercream and it’s made with butter, cream (or milk) and sugar. Sadly, most frosting is not made with vitamin-rich dairy these days. It’s made with cheap vegetable oils that have little to no nutrition.

The Oreo, the world’s most popular cookie, is actually vegan. The white stuff in the middle — what they call “creme” — is not made from cream. Oreo’s “creme” a blend of canola oil, artificial flavors, and the cheap factory-made GMO sweetener, high fructose corn syrup.

Ingredients: Sugar, unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid), high oleic canola and/or palm and/or canola oil, cocoa (processed with alkali), high fructose corn syrup, leavening (baking soda and/or calcium phosphate), cornstarch, salt, soy lecithin, vanillin—an artificial flavor, chocolate.

7. Whipped Cream

Is your whipped cream real? Better read the label… Imitation whipped cream is far from “food.” It’s made mainly from hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans fat) and high fructose corn syrup. GMOs and zero nutrition, whereas real whipped cream contains healthful fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D and A. There’s no need to skip the whipped cream — but get the real thing.

Ingredients: Water, hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut and palm kernel oils), high fructose corn syrup, skim milk, light cream, contains less than 2% of: sodium caseinate, natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, beta carotene (color).

8. Mayonnaise

Modern mayonnaise doesn’t even meet the official definition of “mayonnaise,” which requires at least 65% vegetable oil. Traditionally, mayonnaise is made with just 2 healthful ingredients: olive oil and egg yolks. You can add salt and mustard, maybe a pinch of sugar, but that’s all you need.

Nowadays you get “Dressing,” which is made from mainly water, plus cheap soybean oil, vinegar, and high fructose corn syrup. Plus some preservatives and chemical flavorings.

Ingredients: Water, soybean oil, vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, modified cornstarch, sugar, eggs, salt, natural flavor, mustard flour, potassium sorbate as a preservative, paprika, spice, dried garlic.

9. Ice Cream

Are you buying real ice cream? Again, you need to read the label. You might be buying Frozen Dairy Dessert, which can’t legally be called ice cream without containing at least 10% milk fat. Breyer’s Extra Creamy Vanilla Frozen Dairy Dessert contains a lot of corn syrup, gums, and whey.

Ingredients: Milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, whey, mono and diglycerides, carob bean gum, guar gum, carrageenan, natural flavor, annatto (for color), vitamin A palmitate, Tara gum.

10. Eggs

Real eggs contain one ingredient. Egg substitutes contain 20 ingredients. After eggs, the next ingredient is a proprietary blend of “natural flavors”.

Worried about the cholesterol from egg yolks? That’s been debunked. Read this: The Incredible, Edible Egg Yolk. Bottom line: if you’re going to eat eggs, get the real thing.

Ingredients: Egg whites (99%), less than 1% of the following: natural flavor, color (includes beta carotene), spices, salt, onion powder, vegetable gums (xanthan gum, guar gum). Vitamins and minerals: calcium (sulfate), iron (ferric phosphate), vitamin E (alpha tocopherol acetate), zinc (sulfate), calcium pantothenate, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamine mononitrate), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin D3, biotin.

11. Margarine

Real butter is truly a health food. It’s rich in vitamins A, D, E and K2; lauric acid (found in breast milk), CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), as well as iodine and other trace minerals.

Margarine contains none of these critical nutrients. You might as well eat plastic.

Ingredients: Water, soybean oil, salt, sweet cream buttermilk, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, lactic acid, (potassium sorbate, calcium disodium EDTA) used to protect quality, natural and artificial flavor, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color).

12. Lemonade

Lemonade, made from real lemons and cane sugar, is a delicious and healthy treat on a hot day. If you’re going to drink lemonade, make it yourself. Avoid the ready-made “lemonade drink mix” available in the supermarket — it’s full of chemicals made in a factory.

Ingredients: Sugar, fructose, citric acid, contains less than 2% of maltodextrin, natural flavor, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium citrate, magnesium oxide, calcium fumarate, soy lecithin, artificial color, yellow 5 lake, tocopherol (preserves freshness). Contains soy.

13. Nilla Wafers

Nilla is short for vanilla, and yet there’s no vanilla on the ingredient list of Nilla Wafers. It’s been replaced by artificial flavors. Plus a bunch of soybean oil, hydrogenated cotton seed oil and high fructose corn syrup.

Ingredients: Unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid), sugar, soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, whey (from milk), eggs, natural and artificial flavor, salt, leavening (baking soda, and/or calcium, phosphate), emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin).

14. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a healthy, protein-rich food. When it’s made traditionally with plain ground roasted peanuts. Check the label to make sure if there is oil added, it’s a healthy traditional oil like palm oil. Avoid the hydrogenated cheap vegetable oils like soybean, cottonseed and canola oil.

Ingredients: Peanut butter [roasted peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed and rapeseed), molasses, salt, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil], sugar, and honey.

15. Mashed Potatoes

Mashed-potatoes-in-a-box are made from dehydrated potato flakes with lots of added preservatives, emulsifiers, flavorings, and trans fats. You’re a whole lot better off taking a few minutes to peel a real potato.

Ingredients: Potato flakes (sodium bisulfite, BHA, and citric acid added to protect color and flavor), contains 2% or less of: Monoglycerides, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, natural flavor, sodium acid pyrophosphate, butteroil.

16. Orange Juice

Sunny D “orange drink” is primarily high fructose corn syrup mixed with water. It contains less than 2% real juice. Buy real orange juice, or better yet, squeeze your own oranges.

Ingredients: Water, high fructose corn syrup, and 2% or less of each of the following: concentrated juices (orange, tangerine, apple, lime, grapefruit). Citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta-carotene, thiamin hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), natural flavors, food starch-modified, canola oil, cellulose gum, xanthan gum, sodium hexametaphosphate, sodium benzoate to protect flavor, Yellow #5, Yellow #6.

17. Maple Syrup

Most maple syrup is totally fake. Check the label — if it doesn’t say “maple syrup,” it’s not real. Instead, you’re getting two kinds of corn syrup (made from genetically modified — GMO — corn) and a bunch of artificial flavorings.

Ingredients: Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water, cellulose gum, caramel color, salt, sodium benzoate and sorbic acid (preservatives), artificial and natural flavors, sodium hexametaphosphate.

18. Green Tea

Green tea is good for you, but check the ingredients on the label. If there are added colors and flavors, you should probably skip it. How hard is it to put the kettle on and add a tea bag? Want iced tea? Add ice.

Ingredients: Filtered water, sugar, natural flavor, citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), green tea extract, caramel color, Reb A (purified stevia extract), guarana seed extract, panax ginseng root extract, rose hips extract.

19. Chicken Nuggets

Frying chicken is so easy. You dip pieces of chicken into a batter made from eggs and milk, dredge them in a bowl of flour with a little salt, pepper and spices, then fry the chicken in hot oil (we recommend traditional coconut oil or lard) until the chicken is light brown and crispy.

Chicken only accounts for about 50% of a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget. The other 50% contains corn derivatives, sugars, leavening agents and other synthetic ingredients.

For example, dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent made of silicone that is also used in Silly Putty. And tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), a chemical preservative and form of butane (lighter fluid). Plus lots of other GMO-corn-derived ingredients.

Ingredient list for a Chicken McNugget (from McDonald’s website): White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning (autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, rosemary), sodium phosphates, seasoning (canola oil, mono- and diglycerides, extractives of rosemary). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, whey, corn starch. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.

20. Caramel

Real caramel is made from one ingredient: sugar. As you can see from the ingredient list below, industrial caramel has 11 ingredients and is not even made from real sugar, but rather our good friend, genetically modified (GMO) high fructose corn syrup.

Industrial “caramel color” is processed with ammonia. Companies don’t have to disclose whether they use ammonia in their caramel color, so it’s best to make your own. Here’s a recipe for how to make your own caramel.

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