Healthy Brownies: Fact or Food Company Fiction?

Are healthy brownies possible? Food companies want you to think so!

Are brownies healthy? Processed food companies would love for you to think so, but you know better, right?

Unfortunately there are plenty of people who are falling victim to Big Food’s “healthy dessert” scam. Let’s make sure you and your friends aren’t one of them.

How Does the Healthy Brownies Scam Work?

Brownies taste great, and we really like to treat ourselves. So what do food companies do? They tempt us into eating brownies and other treats by giving us permission.

How? It’s as easy as sprinkling in some fiber or making some other health claims like low calories, reduced fat, or even something as ridiculous as “gives you energy to conquer your day.” But for many of us that’s all we need—just a little nudge, a misleading fact, or an outright deception—all wrapped in a story that hijacks our brain.

Don’t believe me? Check out this recent ad from Fiber One.

This Fiber One ad epitomizes permission-giving marketing. In fact, it literally says “Don’t Fight Your Instincts” and then goes on to close the sale with, “Go On … Have One!”

What’s really in these boxed, healthy brownies and bars?

These types of ads and products are everywhere with Fiber One being one of many brands trying to convince you brownies, bars, and cookies are health food. But if you take a closer look at what’s really in these products and don’t get lost in their story, you can come to only one possible conclusion. These products are filled with highly processed ingredients!

Here are the ingredient labels from two popular brownie bar products. How many of the ingredients can you commonly find in your kitchen and aren’t highly processed? Not many!

Boxed brownie bars are deceptively marketed as healthy, but in reality are filled with highly processed ingredients.

And despite the fiber and low-calorie claims these products make, what’s the plain truth about these brownies? They’re little sugar bombs! Both Fiber One and Special K Brownies are made with 30% or more sugar by weight and clock in at about 25% of an adult woman’s recommended daily intake of sugar per little, tiny brownie bar. 1

Processed food companies' packaged brownie bars contain over 30% sugar by weight and are about 25% of an adult women's recommended daily sugar intake. Are these healthy brownies? No way!

So what’s the harm in boxed brownies masquerading as health food?

Why do these kind of scams get me so worked up? After all, I used to be a processed food marketer. However, back then what I couldn’t see (or didn’t want to) were the people who suffer as a result.

Yes, I know—it’s very easy to say, “what’s the big deal? It’s just a brownie?” But the fact is there are thousands of processed food products that are following a similar playbook and giving people “permission” to indulge using misleading claims. Over time this type of messaging has given millions of people a false sense of what healthy eating really looks like.

Furthermore, unlike made-from-scratch desserts which take time to prepare, these highly processed treats are über convenient. And given their long shelf-life, you can stock up on them. The end result creates a grab ‘n go mentality where consumers constantly have supposedly “healthy” treats within arm’s reach. And that’s why these boxed brownies, bars, and cookies are so dangerous and such a money maker for processed food manufacturers. These kind of products hit the food marketing trifecta by delivering convenience, taste, AND “health” benefits.

The Devil's Triangle of Processed food is where real people get lost, confused, and deceived about making healthy choices.

But what’s scores the marketing trifecta for food companies, is the Devil’s Triangle for consumers—a place where real people get lost, confused, and deceived about making healthy choices!

The Devil's Triangle of food—a place where people get lost, confused, & deceived about healthy choices! Click to Tweet

Does that mean brownies and all treats are off limits?

I don’t believe brownies and all treats are off limits. But it’s really important to recognize when a treat is a treat, and that’s why these leanwashed processed food products are so infuriating! And while I’m not opposed to a very occasional processed food indulgence, in general, a treat for me has these qualities:

  1. Is made with real ingredients. Yep, REAL ingredients that are unprocessed AND you recognize.
  2. Requires some effort. Why effort? Indulgent food has become far too convenient and easy. So many of our problems with food are the result of the proliferation of convenient, processed junk, filled with empty calories. In contrast, making a pan of real brownies involves some effort. I’m not going to do it every day, every week, or even every month for that matter. Effort is good when it comes to treats.
  3. Isn’t something I indulge in regularly. We live in a treat-infested, celebration-crazy world. I don’t want to get on my soapbox, but growing up I celebrated my birthday once a year—not at school, with my church group, at my soccer game, and then at home. Also, I didn’t get treats or goodies every day (or even every week for that matter). And while holidays may have involved some candy, it was nothing like the onslaught we see these days. Finally, going to a fast food restaurant happened a handful of times a year—it simply wasn’t a daily or weekly occurrence like it is in many households today. Boy, have things changed—for the worse!

So what’s the answer?

I think the answer is pretty simple…but as with many things in life, it can be hard to put into action:

  1. Ditch these processed food goodies that pretend to be healthy since nothing could be further from the truth!
  2. Start saying “no” to our treat-infested world. Yep, this one is really challenging. Finding the right spot between enjoying life and indulging too much can be pretty elusive. What’s tricky is that spot doesn’t necessarily look exactly the same for all of us. But, one thing I’m sure of—having an increased awareness of the issue and making conscious decisions when to indulge is a big step on your road to progress.
  3. Encourage others to do the same. Personally I don’t like to get all preachy about food. That said, with the right tone, approach, and intentions, I think we can all help each other out. Two easy ways to get the conversation started are: (1) sharing this post with someone you care about or (2) saying something like “I was surprised to learn how many processed ingredients and sugar there are in those high fiber brownie snacks.”

What do you think about these kind of treats?

Speak up and let us hear what you think of these highly processed brownie, bar, and cookie treats! Do you buy them? Do you think they’re fine once it a while? Or do you think they’re just on more way food companies are trying to get you hooked on junk food?

As always, share your comments below! We love to hear from you! 🙂

Notes:

  1. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are: Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons). Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons).

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2 thoughts on “Healthy Brownies: Fact or Food Company Fiction?

  1. Dear Bruce
    All of the companies products you’ve listed above and more are in a profit greedy flavor war at the expense of the consumer’s health and pocket book.
    MSG, a known toxin to the nervous system and brain cells, causing apoptosis to brain cells and nerve cells throughout the body, is contained in the products you have listed above. Apoptosis is the trembling or shaking to death of brain and nervous system cells.
    Even though the research has been done to show that msg causes apoptosis, the FDA allows food processors to put this neurotoxin in protein bars and snack foods, and most of the processed foods I’ve found in the grocery store.
    The FDA has also allowed the food processors to camouflage msg with 27 deceptive and misleading names, like “natural flavors”. Google msg and you will see the other misleading names that the FDA has allowed.
    How many people have had to go to the hospital emergency room with arrhythmias, palpitations, heart attacks and severe migraine-like headaches?
    And how about the GMO’s, etc. The list of alien chemicals goes on and on.

    • Thanks for your comment, Charles. I agree, there’s a lot of greed going on, all at the expense of consumers.

      On your point about MSG, based on my 15+ years of experience in the world of food, I’m guessing that glutamates are not part of the “natural flavors” for these dessert bars. That said, natural flavors aren’t necessarily that natural and can be a witches brew of sorts for big food companies and the flavorists that work for them.

      Finally, while I totally agree MSG is not good for us, and some people are very sensitive to it, all the research I’ve done and all my conversations with other insiders debunk the scary myths about MSG. Truth be told, MSG is an artificial flavoring, and it’s simply just as bad as the other artificial flavorings. It’s a cheap additive that makes processed foods taste better, but in my opinion it and processed foods in general should be avoided as much as possible. That said, much of the exotoxin stuff is a myth perpetrated by a doctor or two who like to make money of books and scamming/scaring folks.

      I’m planning a complete blog post about MSG in the next month or so. In it I’ll share all my thoughts and insider details on MSG. And of course, if I ever get some true, authenticated inside information that validates any of these MSG myths, I’ll be the first to share it. I promise!