We’re all about moderation, but it’s hard not to be surprised by the ingredients in some packaged foods we rely on to help make feeding our kids easier. Some are so simple that you’d just assume there’s nothing but pure whole foods in the package — but that’s not always the case.
We’ve found five surprising foods that contain sneaky artificial ingredients that we think you should know about. These are foods that many families — even ones who opt for all-natural and organic foods — buy for the convenience that we families desperately need. And they are also foods that are available without artificial ingredients.
So, yes, you can keep buying these — just know what to look for.
Oatmeal is a fantastic way to start your family’s day. Packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, this whole grain gives a boost of sustained energy that doesn’t cause a crash — that is, as long as you keep from piling on sugary toppings and refrain from buying the flavored kind, many of which also contain artificial ingredients.
I know that apple and cinnamon makes the oatmeal go down, but when you buy it pre-flavored, you may also be serving up artificial colors (looking at you caramel coloring) and flavors.
If you’re buying anything other than pure steel cut or rolled oats, be sure to check the ingredients list. Don’t worry: It won’t take a lot of extra time since you should be seeing nothing more than a handful of familiar ingredients. And be sure to check out our tips on how to make plain instant oatmeal as nutritious as the slow cooked kind.
In most cases, dried fruit is nothing more than fruit…that’s been dried. Sometimes, though, you’ll also find sulfur dioxide, a preservative that helps keep dried fruit supple, easy to eat, and well, honestly, kid-friendly. Sulfur dioxide is also found in other things, including red wine (you’ve heard of sulfites, right?), and is considered safe. That said, it might be helpful to know that it is found in dried fruit in concentrations that are on — and, in some cases, over — the line of what’s legally allowed in other countries.
Some dried fruit snacks are also made with added sugar — high fructose corn syrup is not an artificial ingredient, per se, but one that you may want to know about — and even artificial colors.
Just like with oatmeal, check your labels. You should see only fruit and maybe sulfur dioxide if you don’t mind that.
Is there any more simple and wholesome a food than bread? Definitely not when made as intended, with flour, water, salt, and yeast. Sadly, though, most breads at the supermarket contain many, many more ingredients, and not all so simple. After all, how could a simple loaf last on a shelf and stay so soft for so long?
Don’t get too freaked out by the long ingredients list on your sliced bread, though, without taking a slightly closer look. Many breads are fortified with vitamins and minerals, which are listed on ingredient labels by scientific names that read like chemicals.
You should be on the lookout for preservatives (there are too many to name, but here’s a list of common ingredients to avoid used in bread manufacturing), artificial colors including caramel color and even F.D.& C. #5 and #6, and lots of added sugars. Some loaves may be made with brown sugar syrup, high fructose corn syrup, molasses and/or honey in combination. Though not artificial, you may want to check how many grams of sugar are in each slice before making a bread choice.
If you haven’t tried whipping up a super simple vinaigrette — our tutorial on how to make homemade vinaigrette without a recipe yields a salad dressing in five minutes with only five ingredients — I can imagine thinking that bottled dressing is a neccessary convenience. Maybe even a necessity if you’re struggling to get your family to eat more veggies. The thing is, far too many dressings are made with fillers, starches, and artificial colors.
Not to mention, the flavor of most bottled dressings doesn’t stand a chance against even the simplest homemade vinaigrette.
Be on the lookout with all store-bought dressings, but ones that are red, orange, and strangely, white, tend to be the most likely to have artificial food dyes.
Like bread, yogurt can be very simple business, made with nothing more than milk and active cultures. But would the yogurt aisle in your supermarket be quite so expansive if only wholesome, plain yogurt was sold?
And also like bread, the number of possible artificial ingredients, fillers, sweeteners, and food dyes are too many to list here.
The first thing you can look for on your yogurt label is simple: artificial colors and artificial flavors. Often, spotting the fake stuff is that simple. Without these, yogurt can be labeled all natural on the front of package (which, by the way, is regulated differently — and less vigorously — than the nutrition label and back of package claims). That said, natural yogurts can contain plenty of stabilizers, modified food starches, gelatins, and flavor enhancers that derive from natural sources — though that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily want them.
If you’re looking for a simple yogurt, look for a simple list of ingredients. Yogurt does not need a single one of those ingredients to be tasty, or even flavored, as you’ll find when you discover a brand without them. They do exist. In fact, some even on our list of favorite yogurts.