How to Diet: Decode These Fruit and Veggie Claims on Processed Foods

“We pop a flavorful blend of nine (count ’em, nine) veggies and add a hint of olive oil and a touch of sea salt for tasty chips that are light, crispy, and gluten free,” says the Pop Chips Hint of Olive Oil Veggie Chips bag.

There may be nine veggies, but there’s more dried potato than any other ingredient, more tapioca starch than beet, spinach, pumpkin, tomato, or red bell pepper powder, and more salt than kale powder.

Then there’s the “half serving of vegetables per 2 oz. portion” of Ronzoni Garden Delight Tricolor Rotini, which comes from “vegetable solids from dried vegetables.”

What’s going on?


“Ingredient manufacturers turn powder into health gold,” ran the 2008 headline in Food Processing magazine. “Fruit and vegetable powders, extracts and super-concentrates are making five-a-day easier.”

Easier? Maybe. But the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 5 A Day campaign was designed to get people to eat actual fruits and vegetables, not foods (or supplements) with powders or concentrates.

“The marketing is quite misleading,” says Barbara Rolls, professor and Guthrie chair of nutritional sciences at Penn State University.

“If we eat a variety of vegetables and fruits, we get all of their nutrients and phytochemicals, some of which we don’t even understand. So how could food companies know if powders have the same benefits?”

They don’t. Yet that hasn’t stopped them from stuffing fruit and vegetable powders into a growing list of foods. And wholesalers have a ready supply.

“Whether you want to add nutrition to your label, infuse full color or formulate a specific flavor profile for your discerning consumers, PowderPure has the right powder to enhance your presence in the marketplace,” says PowderPure, which sells organic broccoli, spinach, and two dozen other fruit and vegetable powders.

And Milne Fruit Products’ fruit and vegetable powders are ideal for adding to “break¬fast cereals, fruit pieces, bakery goods, snack chips, smoothies and yogurt, spreads, candies and choco¬late, and juices.”

Even if powders had all of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, they still would come up short.

“For satiety, we know that you need the whole food to get the full benefit,” says Rolls. “You need the chewing, the mouthfeel, the water, the fiber, and the whole cell wall, which provides more volume.”

In one study, Rolls fed people a 125-calorie “appetizer” of apple slices, applesauce (made from the same apples), or apple juice either with or without as much fiber as the apple and applesauce had.

“The apple slices were most satiating,” says Rolls. People ate 190 fewer calories at their next meal after eating them, but only 100 fewer calories after the applesauce and no fewer calories after either juice.

“The apple takes more time to eat,” she notes. “Applesauce and juice go down very quickly.”

Yet V8 V-Fusion Açai Mixed Berry 100% Juice boasts that it has “1 full serving of vegetables” (from sweet potato and carrot concentrates) and “1 full serving of fruit” (mostly from apple and grape juice concentrates), as though juice and fruit were equally good.

Then there’s calorie density.

“Vegetables are so low in calories because they’re mostly water,” says Rolls. “If it’s dried powder, you don’t get that benefit because you don’t get the water content.”

Replacing some of the ingredients in almost any dish with vegetables (but not powders) should lower its calorie density—that is, the calories per ounce of food.

“If you reduce the calorie density of a dish by 20 percent by adding vegetables, people eat about 20 percent fewer calories because they tend to eat a consistent weight or volume of food,” notes Rolls.

So if you add mushrooms and onions to your brown rice, odds are that you’ll eat less rice. Add broccoli and red peppers to your pasta, and you’ll eat less pasta. Add fresh berries to your cereal, and you’ll eat less cereal.

“You can even add puréed or chopped stealth vegetables,” says Rolls. “It’s very effective.”

But adding vegetable powder to pasta or chips or other processed foods doesn’t lower their calorie density. It also increases the odds that you’ll be eating more white flour. And it guarantees that you’ll be missing something.

“There’s the pleasure, the variety of taste, and the culinary experience of eating fruits and vegetables,” says Rolls. “Who would want to replace that? How would you look forward to the summer produce season?”

Sources: Appetite 52: 416, 2009; Appetite 66: 75, 2013; Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 93: 756, 2011.

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