When I worked at General Mills I had the chance to do some channel marketing for the Green Giant brand. This involved coming up with retailer-specific plans for how to grow the brand at customers like Wal-Mart or Costco. What always amazed me, though, was how the ingredient label of even vegetables could be so complicated! Although I didn’t think about it much back then, it’s kind of ironic that those veggies that had been doused with lots of extra additives were called “value-added” vegetables within the company. Sigh. 🙁
Now while almost every piece of rationale dietary advice says we should eat more vegetables, what about these bags and boxes of sauced-up, frozen veggies? Personally, that’s where I think it can get a bit more complicated. In my book eating real vegetables of almost all sorts is a step in the right direction, but since many people don’t realize all the crazy ingredients that can be in some of these frozen vegetable mixes, I thought it would be worth sharing. After all, knowledge is power, right? So here’s the scoop on what’s in some of those bags of frozen, pre-sauced veggies, and you get to choose how to act on it, okay?
The first thing that’s pretty shocking is just the sheer length of ALL the ingredients in the bag of veggies. Simple? No! But when you take a closer look, there are some potentially concerning ingredients:
- Milk, Cream, Cheese Cultures, Cheese Flavors, Sweet Cream Powder, Butter, Dry Buttermilk, and Whey: The “cheese,” butter, and other dairy ingredients are definitely of a more “industrial” variety. What does that mean? First, they’ve probably been sourced from cows that have been fed GMO grains, routinely received antibiotics, and pumped up with rBGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone. Also, it’s quite likely these cows were raised on a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) where profits are the primary objective and humane treatment of animals falls to the wayside. Is cheap, less healthy food really worth this?
- Yeast Extract, Hydrolyzed Corn Gluten, and Autolyzed Yeast Extract: As consumers have become more reluctant to buy products with MSG, Big Food has developed some sneaky ways to hide MSG substitutes in its products—typically highly processed ingredients that are high in glutamic acid. While food companies and the FDA believe MSG and these high-glutamic acid alternatives are all safe, many people claim to still have adverse reactions to them. So, if you’re looking to avoid MSG and its chemically produced look-a-likes, what can you do? Look for foods that are labeled “No MSG” or “No added MSG.” Also, to avoid chemically produced high glutamic acid / MSG look-a-likes like these: HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable proteins), Wheat Protein (Hydrolyzed), Corn Protein (Hydrolyzed), Soy Protein (Hydrolyzed), Yeast Extracts, Hydrolyzed Yeast, Autolyzed Yeast, Soy Extracts, Soy Protein Concentrate, and Protein Isolates
- Food Starch-Modified: This is a Big Food catch-all phrase that covers a lot of territory. Although it doesn’t mean that the starch has been genetically modified, most modified food starch is sourced from GMO corn. What makes this starch earn its “modified” moniker? It refers to processing the starch has undergone to either physically, enzymatically, or chemically alter its natural properties. Yummy, huh?
- Natural Flavoring: These days a word like “flavorings” can mean so many different things it’s scary. While it could be fairly innocent, with the introduction of salt and sweet flavoring enhancers that have been minimally tested, I’m wary of this innocuous sounding ingredient.
- GMOs and other highly processed ingredients: If avoiding GMOs is important to you and your family then most of these sauced vegetable bags are off-limits. Beyond sourcing the dairy ingredients from animals that consumed GMO feed, ingredients like sugar, corn oil, xanthan gum, citric acid, and dextrose most likely are made from GMO crops.
Are you surprised that there are so many additives in some varieties of frozen vegetables? Do you think the convenience of pre-sauced vegetables is really worth it? While only you can make that decision for your family, I’ve decided to opt out from these sauced, frozen vegetables. Instead, I choose fresh or frozen vegetables and add my own simple seasonings to make them a perfect addition to our table.
Looking for an easy vegetable dish for your family that skips all these additives? Then stay tuned and check out my next post, Roasted Carrots and Broccoli! It’s so delicious you won’t have to plead with your kids to eat their veggies—instead they’ll be begging for more!