Saturday, December 26, 2009

Oscar Mayer Lunchable: Additives Overload

( We set out to check the labels on some common convenience kids' lunches, and were shocked to find a long list of food additives in a popular choice - the Oscar Meyer Lunchables product line.
To use an example, here are the food additives we identified (in bold) in the Kraft Oscar Mayer Lunchables Turkey and Cheddar Sub:

Oscar Mayer Lunchables Turkey + Cheddar Sub Sandwich

Ingredients: Water - spring water. Applesauce - apples, apple juice concentrate, water, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Sub bun - enriched bleached wheat flour ([wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, folic acid], malted barley flour), water, sugar, white wheat bran, contains 2% or less of the following: soybean oil, yeast, wheat germ, dough conditioners (mono & diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, enzyme modified soy lecithin, datem), salt, guar gum, modified cellulose, calcium propionate (preservative), xanthan gum, artificial flavors, enzymes. Contains: wheat, soy. Oven roasted turkey breast - cured - smoked flavor added - browned with caramel color - turkey breast, water, potassium lactate, modified corn starch, contains less than 2% of salt, dextrose, carrageenan, sodium phosphated, sodium diacetate, sodium ascorbate, sodium nitrite, natural and artificial flavor, smoke flavor, caramel color. 2% milk reduced fat cheddar pasteurized prepared cheese product - pasteurized part-skim milk, water, milkfat, sodium citrate, contains less than 2% of milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, lactic acid, sorbic acid as a preservative, salt, oleoresin paprika (color), annatto (color), Vitamin A palmitate, enzymes, cheese culture with starch added for slice separation. Contains: milk. Nilla wafers - 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), mono- and diglycerides (emulsifier). Contains: wheat, milk. Egg. Nonfat mayonnaise dressing - water, modified food starch, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, vinegar, soybean oil*, contains less than 2% of salt, cellulose gel, natural flavor, artificial color, egg yolks*, xanthan gum, mustard flour, lactic acid, cellulose gum, phosphoric acid, Vitamin E acetate, lemon juice concentrate, dried garlic, dried onions, spice, yellow 6, beta carotene, blue 1, with potassium sorbate and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives. Contains: egg. *trivial source of fat and cholesterol. Tropical punch artificial flavor soft drink mix - sugar, fructose, citric acid (provides tartness), contains less than 2% of atural and artificial flavor, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), Vitamin E acetate, calcium phosphate (prevents caking), acesulfame potassium and sucralose (sweeteners), artificial color, red 40, blue 1, BHA (preserves freshness).

The Bottom Line

Many of the scientific-sounding ingredients are used mostly to enhance the flavor, texture, or appearance of the product - or to extend its shelf life - and do not contribute nutritionally. Avoid over-engineered "food-like" items, and go for the real thing instead. If you would like to pack a turkey sub for your kids, simply create your own with whole grain bread, leftover cooked turkey (instead of the cold cuts), a slice of real cheese (instead of the processed cheese product), and bump up the veggie quotient by including cucumber slices, tomatoes, or carrots, wrapped separately from the sub to prevent sogginess. 

For the sandwich spread, there are numerous options besides mayo, such as mashed avocado (seasoned with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper), hummus, or pesto, which can do double-duty as tasty dip for the veggies you pack along.

Written by Sofia Layarda, MPH, RD
Published in August 2009

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