Category Archives: controversial food additives

Taco Bell thinks we should be drinking Starburst candy.

TacoBellStarburstCherryFreeze-600x350For, a Starburst Cherry Freeze is a doubly appalling concept. Think about it for a minute – the nutrition website whose blog is full of damning information on sugary beverages cannot possibly like a sugary frozen beverage associated with candy (more sugar). We really can’t think of any reason why consumers would embrace this concept either.

Just in case the idea of that double shot of sugar isn’t enough to turn you off to it, we went to the Taco Bell website to find out the facts behind the Starburst Cherry Freeze.

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                190
Fat:                         0 grams
Sugar:                    51 grams

These nutrition facts are applicable to the 16 ounce size. Almost 13 TEASPOONS of sugar in a cup. That certainly puts the Starburst Cherry Freeze squarely in the sugary beverage category.

Going further, though, the ingredient list could be very important here. Starburst candies are brightly colored and this is a Starburst Cherry Freeze, so we’re envisioning something with color going on behind the scenes.

Ingredients: High fructose corn syrup, water, natural and artificial flavor, citric acid, yucca extract, quillaia extract, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (P), red 40 (C), calcium disodium EDTA (PF).

That color we were suspicious of is definitely in there. But it’s really worse than that. There are only 11 ingredients in this beverage and 6 of them are controversial. The Taco Bell Starburst Cherry Freeze isn’t really a beverage. It’s a frozen chemical concoction.

Not touching this one.

Jett-Puffed Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows attempt to sweeten up pumpkin season

pumpkin-spice-marshmallowsAt first blush, the idea of a Pumpkin Spice Marshmallow seemed pretty unappealing. We thought about it a little more though and figured out that we could make any cup of coffee pumpkin spice coffee or be really creative and innovative and enjoy a pumpkin spice hot chocolate. We could also make pumpkin spice Rice Krispy Treats. Of course, before got excited about any of this, you know we had to explore how the folks over at Kraft went about making Jet-Puffed Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows.

Nutrition Facts (about 5 regular-sized marshmallows):

Calories:                       100
Fat:                                0 grams
Sugar:                           17 grams

Honestly, the nutrition facts for marshmallows are really pretty good. They contain a reasonable amount of calories, no fat, and less than one teaspoon of sugar per regular size marshmallow. There are certainly worse sweet treats out there.

Now let’s find out about the ingredients:

Ingredients Corn Syrup, Sugar, Modified Cornstarch, Dextrose, Water, Gelatin, Contains Less Than 2% of Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (Whipping Aid), Natural And Artificial Flavor, Yellow 5, Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 1.

And here’s where our dreams of pumpkin spice coffee in an instant, pumpkin spice hot chocolate and pumpkin spice Rice Krispy Treats go flying out the window because we are not eating these.

Sorry, Kraft but we will be looking for our fall flavors elsewhere.

Pulled Pork Cheese Fries from Wendy’s … a new French fry vision knows that it’s important for companies of all kinds to continuously come up with new ideas and products that can help keep them relevant and important in a constantly-changing society. Fast food is certainly no exception to that and those of us who monitor the fast food chains can certainly recognize how new fast food offerings follow new trends … most of the time. There’s always an exception … today that exception comes from Wendy’s.

The new Pulled Pork Cheese Fries don’t seem to be picking up on anything that’s currently trending. Instead, while we’ll admit we haven’t tried these out, envisions a soggy plate of fries covered in an odd combination of cheese and barbecue sauce clumps of pork and onions. Actually, that’s what the image on the website resembles.

So if you were to eat these, what would you actually be eating?

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                       490
Fat:                                23 grams
Saturated Fat:             7 grams
Sodium:                       1030 mg

We know these fries are a meal, so we need to approach the nutrition facts a bit differently. This whole meal-on-a-plate-of-fries totals 490 calories – somewhat better than you’d fare adding fries to a burger order at Wendy’s – same thing with the fat and sodium, though the sodium is still high.

What about the ingredients?

Natural-Cut Fries: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following oils: canola, soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, corn), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (to maintain natural color). Cooked in Vegetable Oil (soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural flavor [vegetable], citric acid [preservative], dimethylpolysiloxane [anti-foaming agent]). Cooked in the same oil as menu items that contain Wheat, Egg, and Fish (where available). Seasoned with Sea Salt. Pulled Pork: Rubbed with: salt, sugar, spices, paprika. Pork, water, modified food starch, salt, sodium phosphate. Smoky BBQ Sauce: Water, Tomato Paste, Sugar, Distilled Vinegar, Brown Sugar, Corn Syrup, Salt, Modified Cornstarch, Chili Peppers, Natural Flavor (including smoke flavor), Caramel Color, Onion (dehydrated), Garlic (dehydrated), Potassium Sorbate And Sodium Benzoate (preservatives), Chipotle Peppers, Molasses, Spices (including mustard seed), Jalapeno Pepper (dehydrated), Tamarind, Soybean Oil. Cheddar Cheese Sauce: Water, Cheddar Cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), Milk, Cream Cheese Spread (pasteurized milk and cream, cheese culture, salt, carob bean gum), Modified Cornstarch, Non Fat Dry Milk, Soybean Oil, Palm Oil, Whey, Sodium Phosphate, Cream, Cheese Culture, Milk Fat, Parmesan Cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzyme), Butter, Salt And Sea Salt, Sodium Alginate, Carob Bean Gum, Mono & Diglycerides, Annatto And Apocarotenal (color), Lactic Acid. CONTAINS: MILK. Red Onion: Red Onion.

First of all, there are too many ingredients. And secondly, there are more than a few bad ingredients.

These aren’t the most attractive meal option we’ve ever seen. These fries are fattening, salty and full of ingredients we’d rather not eat. In addition, we can’t get away from the idea that the fries themselves would be sopping wet and mushy underneath all that other stuff.

Where’s our big thumbs’ down button??? We think we need one.

Pushing the pumpkin envelope … Pumpkin Spice Bagels from Thomas’

As we gingerly step out of summer and into fall, we can take notice of a cooler breeze helping to push us along. Ready or not the cooler weather is coming. Some other, less gentle indicators of the new season have already hit our grocery store shelves. Like it or not, there’s pumpkin everything all around us, everywhere. is really not exaggerating. Just take a look at Pumpkin Spice Bagels from Thomas’.

Now instead of simply enjoying pumpkin in your coffee, you can have it in every part of your breakfast. Let’s take a look at what’s really going on with these pumpkin bagels.

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                            270
Fat:                                     2 grams
Sodium:                             440 mg


We will definitely not be trying these bagels. It’s difficult to understand the necessity of three different, very controversial artificial colors in any one product – especially a bagel, which really has no need to be colorful at all.

We really don’t need to be pushing the pumpkin envelope, Thomas’. See you next fall.

Another valiant effort from McDonald’s … the Premium Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich doesn’t hesitate to point out horrible fast food options. In fact, we strongly feel that part of our mission of nutritional awareness and education is to let people know just how bad fast food items can be for our health. We’re very serious about our mission.

It is because we take that mission so seriously that we feel just as strongly about pointing out when one of those fast food chains puts something out there that’s not quite so terrible. We couldn’t justifiably call something healthy that comes out of the fast food world (unless they’re selling an apple, or a salad without dressing). But we can tell our community when the ingredients used to create a specific item are significantly “less bad” than usual.

It is in that spirit that we bring you McDonald’s new Premium Buttermilk Crisply Chicken Deluxe Sandwich. And we can tell you that this sandwich is actually not horrible. (That’s a big deal for when it comes to McDonald’s.)

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                          580
Fat:                                   24 grams
Saturated Fat:                4.5 grams
Sodium:                          900 mg

The nutrition facts are fairly typical fast food sandwich nutrition facts. They’re pretty bad and we eagerly await the day that we look at fast food sandwich facts and see more reasonable amounts of fat and sodium. Today is not that day. It’s the ingredient list here we want to focus your attention on:

BUTTERMILK CRISPY CHICKEN FILET: Chicken Breast Fillets with Rib Meat, Wheat Flour, Water, Buttermilk, Salt, Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Yellow Corn Flour, Pea Starch, Garlic Powder, Spice, Baking Soda, Natural Flavors (Plant and Dairy Sources), Citric Acid, Vinegar, Chicken Broth Powder, Lemon Juice Solids, Onion Powder, Sugar, Cultured Cream, Maltodextrin, Skim Milk Powder, Whey Protein Concentrate, Xanthan Gum, Inactive Yeast, Sea Salt, Honey, Milkfat, Whey Powder, Carrot Juice Concentrate. Breading set in Vegetable Oil (Canola, Hydrogenated Soybean, Corn, Soybean). Prepared in Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil) with TBHQ and Citric Acid to preserve freshness of the oil and Dimethylpolysiloxane to reduce oil splatter when cooking. ARTISAN ROLL: Wheat Flour or Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour or Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Malted Barley Flour, Water, Sugar, Yeast, Palm Oil, Wheat Gluten, Dextrose, Salt, Contains 2% or less: Natural Flavors (Plant Source), Corn Flour, Soybean Oil, Calcium Sulfate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Ascorbic Acid, Enzymes, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Vegetable Proteins (Pea, Potato, Rice), Sunflower Oil, Turmeric, Paprika, Corn Starch, Wheat Starch, Acetic Acid. TOMATO SLICE, MAYONNAISE DRESSING: Water, Soybean Oil, Distilled Vinegar, Maltodextrin, Modified Food Starch, Enzyme Modified Egg Yolk, Salt, Sugar, Xanthan Gum, Mustard Flour, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Lemon Juice Concentrate, Polysorbate 80, Natural Flavor (Animal Source), Calcium Disodium EDTA to Protect Flavor, Beta Carotene (Color). LEAF LETTUCE

There are four controversial ingredients in here … as opposed to 20 in a Big Mac. While that still doesn’t give the Premium Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich a great Health Score on the website, it’s certainly deserving of some recognition.

McDonald’s is trying. They’ve got a long way to go, but they are trying.

Kellogg’s Pumpkin Spice Mini-Wheats … Welcome to pumpkin season!

prod_img-3799532.png.thumb.319.319Well, we’ve arrived. It’s that time of year where everywhere you turn whether it’s through the door of your favorite coffee retailer or around the next aisle in your neighborhood grocery store, you will be bombarded with anything and everything pumpkin. likes to keep our community informed of the latest and greatest (or not so great) pumpkin possibilities. Today we give you Kellogg’s Pumpkin Spice Mini-Wheats.

Let’s see if we want to try this special tribute to fall in your breakfast bowl.

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                 190
Fat:                          1 gram
Sugar:                      12 grams

These are relatively reasonable nutrition facts for cereal … fairly standard and nothing shocking. Let’s move on to the ingredients:

Whole grain wheat, sugar, contains 2% or less of brown rice syrup, cinnamon, ginger, gelatin, nutmeg, allspice, annatto extract color, natural flavor, BHT for freshness.Vitamins and Minerals: Reduced iron, niacinamide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), folic acid, vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), zinc oxide, vitamin B12.

While there’s nothing shocking going on here either, we can find the standard cereal-esque controversial ingredients in this list – natural flavor and BHT. These are ingredients that remain on our avoid list. There are no pumpkin spice exceptions to our rules.

Sorry Kellogg’s, this pumpkin possibility doesn’t make our approved list.

The new Tailgater Breakfast Sandwich from Dunkin

1439797627427What exactly is the taste of tailgating? Dunkin Donuts seems to think so and hence has created the Tailgater Breakfast Sandwich. The Dunkin website encourages us to “Enjoy the flavors of tailgating with juicy Smoked Sausage, Peppers and Onions, and Ancho Chipotle Sauce.” will admit that we had no idea that tailgating involved Ancho Chipotle Sauce.  Or breakfast sandwiches.


Let’s take a closer look and see what we can find out about this new breakfast sandwich.

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                   610
Fat:                            29 grams
Saturated Fat:         10 grams
Sodium:                   1620 grams

That’s more than we really wanted to know. Too many calories. Too much fat. Too much saturated fat. Too much sodium. This particular breakfast sandwich is worse than most fast food breakfast sandwiches we’ve seen … which doesn’t bode well for the ingredient list.

INGREDIENTS: French Roll: Enriched Unbleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Enzyme, Folic Acid, Ascorbic Acid added as Dough Conditioner), Water, Contains less than 2% of the following: Yeast, Salt, Vegetable Oil (Soy or Canola), Dextrose, Concentrate Mix [Whole Bean Flour, Rye Sour (Wheat Flour, Rye Flour, Lactic Acid, Potato Starch, Acetic Acid), Rye Flour, Soy Lecithin, Ascorbic Acid, Enzyme], DATEM, Calcium Sulfate, Malted Barley Flour, Guar Gum; Split Smoked Sausage: Meat Ingredients (Pork, Beef), Water, Contains 2% or less of: Salt, Corn Syrup, Potassium Lactate, Natural Flavors, Dextrose, Sodium Phosphates, Monosodium Glutamate, Sodium Diacetate, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Sodium Nitrite; Fried Egg: Egg Whites, Water, Egg Yolks, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Sauteed Flavor (Soybean Oil, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Natural Flavor), Salt, Artificial Butter Flavor (Propylene Glycol, Artificial Flavor), Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Coarse Ground Black Pepper; Fire Roasted Vegetables: Yellow Onion, Green Bell Peppers, Red Bell Peppers; Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese: Pasteurized Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto (Color); Ancho Chipotle Sauce: Water, Vegetable Oil (Soybean and/or Canola), Vinegar, Sugar, Tomato Paste, Egg Yolk, Salt, Contains less than 2% of: Chipotle Sauce (Water, Sugar, Chipotle Peppers, Vinegar, Salt, Modified Food Starch), Molasses, Spice, Garlic, Ancho Chili Pepper, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Modified Food Starch, Xanthan Gum, Lactic Acid, Polysorbate 60, Sodium Benzoate and Calcium Disodium EDTA (Preservatives), Lemon Juice Concentrate, Onion, Caramel Color, Buttermilk Solids, Citric Acid, Sour Cream Solids, Yellow 6, Yellow 5.

There are over a dozen controversial ingredients in this sandwich. This newest breakfast effort from Dunkin is one of the worst breakfast options we can remember seeing in a very long time. We won’t be tailgating any time soon.

A new “Happy Meals” bill ‘Happy Meals’ may make parents a lot happier about healthier fast food choices for kids in New York City

ap110725132481“Happy Meals” is one of those phrases that no longer simply applies to the McDonald’s kids meals to which it actually refers. Kind of like “Kleenex” and “Coke” (referring to facial tissues and cola drinks), a “Happy Meal” is now a universal reference to a kids meal that comes in a box along with a toy or sometimes a book at a fast food restaurant. Traditionally, though, has always thought that a Happy Meal isn’t really a happy meal – at least not nutritionally. The term “miserable meal” would be much more fitting when you take a good look at what goes into those boxes.

Now, a new bill to improve the nutritional value of fast food restaurant meals marketed to children — like McDonald’s Happy Meals — could have a wide enough impact to reduce calories, fat, and sodium, according to a new study led by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The study, which will publish in the American Journal of Preventive Medicineonline on August 31, includes collaboration from NYU College of Global Public Health, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The “Healthy Happy Meals” Bill, proposed by New York City Council member Benjamin J. Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, would require that fast food meals marketed to kids using toys or other promotional items include a serving of fruit, vegetables or whole grain. They must also be limited to 500 calories or less, with fewer than 35 percent of calories coming from fat, fewer than 10 percent coming from saturated fat, fewer than 10 percent from added sugars, and fewer than 600 milligrams of sodium. The bill is currently being considered by the City Council, and is similar to legislation recently enacted in California.

To identify whether the bill might make a public health impact on nutrition improvement and number of children reached, the researchers analyzed receipts collected in 2013 and 2014 from 358 adults, which included purchases for 422 children at multiple New York City and New Jersey locations of Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, three fast food chains that market kids’ meals.

Adults purchased on average 600 calories for each child, with 36 percent of those calories coming from fat, according to the findings. Over one-third of children ordered kids’ meals, and 98 percent of kids’ meals did not meet the nutritional criteria outlined in the proposed legislation.

If kids’ meals meet the bill’s criteria and children’s orders do not shift, there would be a 9 percent drop in calories — representing 54 fewer calories — a 10 percent drop in sodium, and a 10 percent drop in percentage of calories from fat.

“While 54 calories at a given meal is a small reduction, small changes that affect a wide number of people can make a large impact,” said Brian Elbel, PhD, lead author and associate professor in the Departments of Population Health at NYU Langone and at NYU Wagner. “Passing the bill could be a step in the right direction, though no single policy can singlehandedly eliminate childhood obesity.”

“The policy’s effectiveness will depend on whether the food industry attempts to neutralize it through marketing or other strategies,” said Marie Bragg, PhD, co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and at the NYU College of Global Public Health. “For example, the industry could remove children’s meals altogether, forcing children to order the larger portions from the adult menu.”

Dr. Bragg offered another approach: “Policymakers could consider broader restrictions on marketing, similar to legislation in Chile that banned any use of toy premiums in children’s meals in 2012,” she said.

While it may not seem like it goes far enough, this bill is far better than recent attempts by fast food giants to make kids’ meals appear healthier by promoting them without soda and fries – even though the meals are still sold with soda and fries as options. We hope we see this get through the legislation process. It’s been a long time coming.

Starbucks finally gets the message … this year there will be pumpkin

635754202989362144-AP-Starbucks-Price-HikeLast year, our friend Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, uncovered the unfortunate fact that everyone’s favorite Pumpkin Spice Latte from from Starbucks contains absolutely no pumpkin. This came as a shock to hundreds of thousands of fans. In addition to the lack of pumpkin in the beverage, the ingredient list itself certainly proved to be lacking in many other areas. Here’s what we found out back then …

Espresso (Water, Brewed Espresso Coffee), Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce (Sugar, Condensed Non-Fat Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup or Sweetened Non-Fat Condensed Milk (Milk, Sugar), Annatto (for color), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Caramel Color (Class IV), Salt, Potassium Sorbate (preservative), Whipped Cream (Whipping Cream, Starbucks Vanilla Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid, Caramel Color (Class IV)), Pumpkin Spice Topping: Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove, Sulfites)

Not exactly the most appetizing ingredient list has ever seen.

This year, though, Starbucks has had a change of heart … or recipes anyway.

One of Starbucks’ most iconic drinks will finally be flavored with the ingredient that it’s only been mimicking for years.

The pumpkin spice latte will have real pumpkin on the ingredient list when it returns to stores this fall, Starbucks said in a blog post Monday. The drink will also no longer have caramel coloring added.

“After hearing from customers and partners about ingredients, we took another look at this beverage and why we created it so many years ago,” said Peter Dukes, Starbucks’ director of espresso Americas and the product manager who led development of the pumpkin spice latte 12 years ago.

A spate of major food companies have made announcements this year about using more natural ingredients in product lines and getting rid of artificial colors and flavors, including General Mills, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Subway and Kellogg.

The new pumpkin spice latte will include espresso, milk, pumpkin spice-flavored sauce made from ingredients including pumpkin puree, whipped cream, vanilla syrup and a spice topping of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger.

We’re hopeful that when the actual ingredient list is released it will include exactly that … nothing more and nothing less. That would certainly kick off pumpkin season the right way for all of us.

Taco Bell tries to heat things up again with Daredevil Loaded Grillers

pdp-DareDevil-Ghost-Pepper2Taco Bell’s newest introduction, Daredevil Loaded Grillers are certainly loaded. The website describes these “creations” as follows: “The Mild Chipotle Dare Devil Loaded Griller starts with a warm flour tortilla and is filled with seasoned beef, nacho cheese, crispy red strips and our mild chipotle sauce then wrapped up and grilled to perfection.” sometimes feels like fast food chains use code words that can translate into bad ingredients and nutrition facts. The same way you can safely assume that the word “cozy” in a rental apartment ad means “way too small,” things like “crispy red strips” and “mild chipotle sauce” stand for any number of controversial ingredients. Let’s find out what’s really in this one.

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                     420
Fat:                              22 grams
Saturated Fat:           5 grams
Sodium:                     940 mg

That’s pretty typical for fast food fare. The numbers aren’t good and the food isn’t good for you. Now let’s take a look at the ingredient list:

Flour Tortilla: Enriched wheat flour, water, vegetable shortening (soybean, hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil), sugar, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophophate), molasses, dough conditioner (fumaric acid, distilled monoglycerides, enzymes, wheat starch, calcium carbonate), calcium propionate, sorbic acid, and/or potassium sorbate (P). Contains: Wheat, Seasoned Beef: Beef, water, seasoning [cellulose, chili pepper, onion powder, salt, oats (contains wheat), maltodextrin, soy lecithin, tomato powder, sugar, soybean oil, spices, garlic powder, citric acid, caramel color (C), disodium inosinate & guanylate, cocoa powder, natural and artificial flavors (contains gluten), trehalose, modified corn starch, lactic acid, torula yeast], salt, phosphates. Contains: Soy, Wheat, Nacho Cheese Sauce: Nonfat milk, cheese whey, water, vegetable oil (canola and soybean oil), food starch, maltodextrin, natural flavors, sea salt, contains 1% or less of jalapeno puree, vinegar, lactic acid, potassium citrate, potassium phosphate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, citric acid, cellulose gum, annatto (VC), yellow 6 (C). Contains: Milk,Creamy Chipotle Sauce: Soybean oil, water, egg yolk, vinegar, sour cream, chipotle peppers, contains 1% or less of chili peppers, garlic, onion powder, garlic powder, spice, sugar, salt, natural flavors (including smoke flavor), xanthan gum, canola and sesame oil, propylene glycol alginate, calcium disodium EDTA (PF), potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (P). Contains: Egg, Milk, Red Strips: Ground corn masa, canola oil, carmine & yellow 6 (C).

There are at least a dozen items in this list that should have been left out altogether. We won’t be trying these, even on a dare.