Sugar in Food: Are These Nut Products Healthy or Just Well-Marketed Junk Food?

“With cocoa roast almonds,” says the box of Emerald Breakfast on the go! S’mores Nut Blend, which has more vanilla (read: sweetened) granola, honey roasted (read: sweetened) peanuts, milk chocolate candies, and marshmallow bits than almonds.


“Wholesome fuel to energize your day,” says the box of Planters NUT•rition Chocolate Nut Sustaining Energy Mix, which has more peanuts, candy-coated dark chocolate soynuts, and honey soy clusters than the huge almonds (“enlarged to show detail”) featured on the box.

Nuts, especially almonds, are the new health food.

“Almonds are on fire, says Blue Diamond CEO as meteoric growth rates continue,” ran the headine on foodnavigator .com in March.

One reason for the industry’s success: almond milk.

With so many almonds on most cartons, people must think it’s like drinking liquid nuts. In fact, a cup of almond milk has just four almonds (and only 1 gram of protein). The rest is mostly water and (unless it’s unsweetened) sugar.

Ditto for Hershey’s Chocolate with Almond Spread. It’s largely sugar and oil (sunflower and palm), with a smidgen of nonfat milk, almonds, and cocoa.

Nuts—especially almonds and walnuts— are rich in polyunsaturated fat, which helps lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. And they have some protein, though not that much. (Almonds have about 6 grams of protein and 165 calories per ounce, or roughly two dozen nuts. Walnuts have 4 grams of protein and 185 calories per ounce, or about 14 halves.)

But companies have discovered that there’s money to be made selling more than plain old almonds or walnuts.

“It’s called added value,” says Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

“You can’t make any money selling plain nuts or fruit or vegetables. Therefore, companies are under pressure to add value. And adding value in America means adding sugar, salt, fat, or white flour. They’re cheap, and your product is shelf-stable.”

That means selling S’mores Nut Blend or Sustaining Energy Mix instead of a bag of nuts.

“They’re turning nuts into candy,” says Nestle. “Corn syrup is cheaper than nuts. Why not just have 200 calories’ worth of nuts without the artificial color, corn syrup, and other junk?”


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