Several clients have asked me about a certain brand of "breakfast biscuits" over the last couple of months. They're super convenient and tasty, I hear. And look at that packaging! The scattered oats and the green writing screams "NATURAL!" There's a claim of 19 grams of whole grains in a serving plus "4 Hours of Nutritious Steady Energy." Front of package claims mean absolutely nothing, and there's no FDA requirement around the energy claim, so to evaluate the quality of this product, let's ignore the packaging and move right to the ingredient listing, where ingredients are listed by volume:
WHOLE GRAIN BLEND (ROLLED OATS, RYE FLAKES)
Interesting that rather than listing OATS and RYE FLAKES separately in the ingredient list, the company chose to list these two ingredients as a "blend." Because items in an ingredient list are listed by volume, if oats and rye were listed separately, each ingredient would be pushed farther down the ingredient list, leaving the next ingredient as the first. And why wouldn't they want that item to be first?
ENRICHED FLOUR [WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN
MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), FOLIC ACID]
Make no mistake, "Enriched Flour" is white flour. Yep, the refined white stuff that we're all trying to avoid due to its impact on our blood sugar and our waistlines. Our bodies process white flour like sugar, spiking our blood sugar then sending us on a crash shortly after--not something I want my clients to include in their breakfast! White flour is stripped of its bran and germ, the parts of the whole grain containing vitamins, minerals and fiber. The flour becomes softer and more shelf-stable, but it must be "Enriched" by food manufacturers to add back in synthetic vitamins and minerals, essentially replacing some of what was stripped out.
HIGH OLEIC CANOLA OIL
"High Oleic" is a descriptor that lets us know that canola oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which act to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, except that added oil is not necessarily the best way to consume these fats. The good news here is that the product doesn't contain trans fats, the most dangerous fats to our hearts.
EVAPORATED CANE SUGAR
There are four sources of sugar in this product: Sugar, Evaporated Cane Sugar, and below there's invert sugar and malt syrup. Many companies deliberately use several sources of sugar rather than one or two to push the individual sugar ingredients farther down in the ingredient listing. Were all of these sugars added together into "Sugar Blend" similar to the way the grains were combined into "Whole Grain Blend," my hunch is that "Sugar Blend" would be very close to the top, if not the first ingredient!
WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT FLOUR
Waaaay down here is the whole wheat flour. No need to enrich this whole grain flour, as it hasn't been stripped of its nutrients the way the white flour has.
MALT SYRUP (FROM CORN AND BARLEY)
See "SUGAR" above.
This is an emulsifier--it helps keep the ingredients from separating and is generally regarded as a safe food additive. Still, I wouldn't put it in my baked goods!
This is a synthetic chemical preservative that must be used to keep this packaged product from going stale or rotting quickly. If you baked your own oat cookies, you know that you can't leave them out on a shelf for weeks or months--this preservative makes it possible to do just that.
Datem--sounds like it's made from dates! Not quite. It's an acronym for Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides. Sounds tasty, right? It's a dough conditioner that provides volume. Is it safe? The FDA says so, but again, it's not something that HAS to be added to freshly made baked goods.
FERRIC ORTHOPHOSPHATE (IRON), NIACINAMIDE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1).
Because there is very little inherent nutritional value in this food, the company has added in synthetic vitamins and minerals to improve the nutritional profile.
At this point, I've already made my decision as to whether this is a health-promoting choice for breakfast, but to confirm it, let's take a look at the nutrition panel and make a couple observations: