My wife served a popular brand of “real vegetable chips” as a side dish at a poolside lunch with friends the other day. I helped return the uneaten chips to the bag, and out of curiosity…I looked at the nutrition label.
A one ounce serving contains 16 grams of carbs, including 3 of fiber and 2 of sugar, with 0 grams of “added sugar.” It also contains 1 gram of protein and 9 grams of fat, of which 0.5 grams are saturated.
What the label doesn’t tell you (because they don’t have to) is that the remaining 11 grams of carbohydrates are starches (long chain glucose molecules) from “diverse root vegetables” that have been milled and are easily digested. The 2 grams of sugars inherent in the tuberous ingredients are combinations of monosaccharides (100% glucose) and disaccharides (50% glucose/50% fructose). So carbs from the starches (100% glucose) will raise your blood sugar faster and higher than the 2 grams of sugar.
The label also doesn’t tell you (because they don’t have to) that the other fats in this manufactured “food” product are all unsaturated fats, the vast majority of them polyunsaturated (PUFAs). The actual percentage is not determinable because the label says the product includes, “expeller expressed Canola oil and/or safflower oil and/or sunflower oil.” So who knows what percentage of which oil was used, or if it was all one of them?
Of course, “expeller expressed” canola oil is listed first because that would be the best of the worst. “Expeller expressed” means it is less processed and refined. And of the three “seed” oils, Canola oil has the highest percentage of the good monounsaturated fats. But the other “and/or” seed oils are not “expeller expressed.”
Rounding out the ingredients list, after tubers, PUFAs and sea salt is “beet juice concentrate (color).” Note: the word “color” is within the quotes lest you think they added “beet juice concentrate” as a sweetener. But just in case you weren’t aware of it, the USDA reports that U.S. beet sugar production is almost 50% greater than cane sugar production, and sugar beets for food use is 1½ times greater than sugar cane for food use. Do you think the beet sugar juice in these chips is used just for color, as they say? I don’t. But the USDA allows it.
It’s just another deception, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s admit the consumer is a willing dolt. We are prepared to be snookered by clever marketing to assuage the guilt we feel for eating something that we know in our hearts (pardon the double entendre) is bad for us. These days, the bogey man is “added sugar,” so labels now have the new subcategory “added sugar.” This has recently been added to the requirement that it specify “saturated fat,” but not polyunsaturated fat, or refined starches, both arguably much worse for our health than "added sugar."
But here’s the contradiction and irony: “Vegetable chips” are a manufactured food. They are not a whole, unprocessed food with inherent sugars, such as the “taro, sweet potato, batata, yuca or parsnip” from which they are made. So, if you put a label on taro, sweet potato, batata, yucca or parsnip, I could understand how and why you could claim that there were no “added sugars” (although we’d have to ignore the successful efforts of agronomists to hybridize fruits and vegetables.) But these “vegetable chips” are manufactured!
So what have we got here: You take a natural whole food, mill it, process it and refine it, then add a sweetener camouflaged as an additive for color, then cook it in highly processed, inflammatory, oxidized and unnatural fat and you get a snack food with a nutritional halo: “real vegetable chips.” Good marketing, I’d say.
I’m sure the USDA rule that allows a snack “food” manufactured from processed and refined tubers (starchy root vegetables), combined with unhealthy, polyunsaturated seed oils, and salt, and sugar juice concentrate to create a product that has by definition, no “added sugar,” is a common practice. But then, I don’t think adding the sub-category “added sugar” has any meaning or value, except to delude us and help the consumer (and the lobbyists and politicians who made the law) feel good. So, just eat your “vegetables, ” kids, and forget it.