Trendy food-makers, as you've undoubtedly noticed popping up in unprecedented numbers and diversity recently, have two goals: 1) relieve you of your hard-earned funds, and 2) make decent-tasting, more healthful foods. And, sadly, often in that order. But fret not, dear readers, for this handy little primer may help you save those dollars we so torturously toil for in the dark, dreary zinc mines deep below ground.

One quick way to (potentially) tell if a trendy food is trying to justify its inflated price tag is to check the quantity, variety, and relevance of the labels on its façade. If it's decorated like a five-star, war crime-acquitted general's lapel, you may be at risk.

Some of these don't much mean anything, either overall or in context. Like non-GMO? Literally, most modern fruits and vegetables were the product of GMOs, and have been since before any of those words existed. And gluten-free? Gluten is a protein that forms when flour is mixed with water, then kneaded. So, for pretty much every non-bread product, that label is on there for visual padding (you’re paying for it). 

Thomson200/Wiki Commons

About as relevant as a "dolphin-safe" claim on a can of SpaghettiOs.

But trendy food-makers also like to make you think their snack foods, especially chips and crackers, are less fattening than their run-of-the-mill, blue-collar competitors. But there's nothing inherently unhealthy about potatoes. Or potato chips if you limit yourself. Or even if you don't: devouring an entire bag of Lay's only yields about 1,300 calories. That's well below the daily recommended intake, meaning you could have a sensible dinner and end the day in a caloric deficit.  

Still, trendy food-makers are quick to pimp out their chips, crackers, and such, supposedly made from quinoa, beets, cauliflower, or other ostensibly healthier, less-fattening plants than the humble and vilified tuber known as the potato.

Like these and many other extravagant quinoa chips. But once you check the nutritional info, you'll see that the calories are nearly identical to regular potato chips. Additionally, the vitamin and mineral profile isn’t much better. And these aren't so egregious because they have quinoa as their first (and main) ingredient. Other alt-chips, like these supposed cauliflower ones, are mostly cassava, a potato-like tuber. Similarly, beet chips are just potato crackers in disguise, according to their number one ingredient: potato flour, which is only sneakily mentioned at the bottom of the box. Even the Trader Joe's version is a disguised corn chip with some beet powder added for color.

Not to mention the glut of gussied-up tortilla chips, with flashy labels and prominent boasts of "red quinoa" and "multigrain" and other buzzwords to conceal that you're eating a corn chip with a sprinkling of birdseed tossed into the industrial mixer.

And you've probably seen the ubiquitous "veggie chip" variants, which are marketed and labeled as if they wouldn't even share a train carriage with a bag of Ruffles. But check the ingredients, and they're basically (great human metaphor here as well) not too different than the Ruffles they unrightly and unjustly condescend upon.

We're not saying all fancy foods are trying to mislead and rip you off. But it's advisable to check the ingredients and make sure your beet chips, or whatever, really are made of beets or whatever, rather than some unassociated starch. Not that there's anything wrong with the various starches, but they're all about equally fattening. 

Famartin/Wiki Commons - CC/BY-SA/4.0

So don't expect to miraculously lose inches just by switching to veggie chips.

Culinary impresarios (especially the self-described ones) use the same tricks with sweets, including the sugar-free candies that have been available for a while but have undergone two major changes over the past decade. First, they're slightly less likely to give you diarrhea and uncontrollable, oily, rust-colored anal seepage. Second, they're primarily targeted toward keto dieters now rather than diabetics.

But swapping sugar with fat won't help you achieve the 12-pack abs from your Muay Thai-fighting, damsel-in-distress-saving daydreams. Because the overall calorie counts are mostly the same as traditionally sugared sweets. As per these peanut butter cups, or Slimfast's "fat bomb" version. These have more calories and a slightly bigger serving size, but that brings up another point: don't forget to check the grammage. Overall calories, when compared to the real PB cups are about the same per weight.

And it's about the same for all these reduced sugar candies, whether they be made by Russel Stover, Hershey’s (these people include breast milk-acid in their chocolate to save a few cents, do you think they care about your waistline?), Slimfast, Atkin's, or some other keto-fad-exploiting dietetic company.

Other trendy treats will assure you that they're "naturally sweetened" and that their cookies, bars, or balls eschew evil sugar for the inherent, wholesome sweetness provided by dates or coconut. Sounds great, except there's not much difference, especially since dates and coconuts are among the most calorific things you can stuff in your mouth. Hell, they're included on lists of food recommendations for people trying to gain weight.

Hold up, these foods are more nutritious than pure sugar. Well, yeah, a bit. But the people trying to get their nutritive content from sweets probably won't notice life-changing effects from an extra 5 micrograms of selenium or an additional whisper of magnesium—you probably absorb more minerals when your cat sneezes in your face.  

Plus, as with the chips, check out the ingredients. A food may boast, for example, "no sugar added," but oh look, the second ingredient is date powder. Or these date biscuits, in which the first ingredient is dates, aka mostly sugar. They even mention that dates are a prominent historical sugar alternative, which is no wonder since they basically are sugar. 

Lest you think we're cherry-picking, next time you go to Costco or Whole Foods or the fancy aisle at your local grocery (not to trash-talk these fine establishments), glance at all the luxury sweets or goodies that try to pass themselves off as healthier alternatives. Their sugar claims don't matter much if among the first few, possibly first, ingredients you see agave syrup, brown rice syrup, or some other trendier form of sugar. 

flo222/Pixabay

“We only tapped it from trees that were planted by bodybuilders.”

Plus, though many will hate reading this: sugar isn't evil. So the best way to chisel at those love handles is to track our total caloric intake and not worry so much about the source. Or to make a soul-pact with Lucifer; your choice.

Wait a minute, you need to go back to nutrition school, Cracked: not all carbs have the same biological effect, glycemic index! Sure, different carb sources traverse slightly different physio pathways before they end up as extra cushioning on our ass. But the glycemic index won't save us when we're hundreds of calories over maintenance. And the general populace typically buys these trendy goodies hoping to get slimmer, in which case the benefit may be minimal at best. 

Thumbnail: Famartin/Wiki Commons - CC/BY-SA/4.0

Get the Cracked Daily Newsletter!

We've got your morning reading covered.

Forgot Password?