Food companies and their marketers are really pissing me off. Everywhere I look, be it television, magazines, or the internet, a corporation is trying to convince me that they are providing me the best nutritional choice out there. It seems that all of a sudden these corporations want to become transparent. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is when they stretch the truth and insult our intelligence. The worst is when they target our children and make us feel like incompetent parents. Let’s take a look at this Ragú pasta sauce commercial.
First message: Feed our kids well by giving them veggies. Excellent! Ragu, claims to have 2 servings of veggies per 1/2 cup of sauce. Hence, the two tomatoes making their way into the children’s dinner plates (for those thinking tomatoes are a fruit, that’s true, but apparently when they are cooked they can be referred to as a vegetable). Botanically and scientifically speaking they a a fruit.
Second Message: The final image is a clear jar full of tomatoes which makes up their, “Healthy delicious sauce.” Clearly this is the best product to feed our kids well.
In thirty-seconds, Ragu manages to make health, nutrition, and product transparency claims. Let’s take a closer look and decided for ourselves. Nothing will tell you more about a product and it’s contents than the nutrition label and ingredients. Here is Ragú’s ingredients in their traditional sauce, as listed on their website. Remember, that according to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), ingredients are listed in descending order of weight (from most to least).
INGREDIENTS: TOMATO PUREE (WATER, TOMATO PASTE), SOYBEAN OIL, SALT, SUGAR, DEHYDRATED ONIONS, EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, SPICES, ROMANO CHEESE (PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES), NATURAL FLAVOR.
The first ingredient is tomato puree which is made from tomatoes. So far so good let’s keep reading. Note: if you want to know the difference between tomato purée and tomato paste, simply click here.
Next up is soybean oil. Notice that there is more soybean oil than olive oil, because soybean oil is cheaper than olive oil. How many of you cook with two oils at the same time?
Third is salt. Ragú has 480 mg of sodium in every serving. The American Heart Association recommends that all Americans reduce the amount of sodium in their diets to less than 1500 mg a day. You can read more sodium and risk associated with too much sodium here, here and here and decide for yourself. I think 480 mg per serving is too much salt for one meal.
After the salt we have sugar. Sugar? Who adds sugar to their pasta sauce? They add sugar before onions, olive oil and spices. If I want to give my kids more veggies, why would I give them sugar too? Fruits and vegetables have naturally occurring sugar so I don’t understand the need for added sugar.
Last but not least is cheese and natural flavor. Cheese, is one the reasons the average American diet contains too much saturated fat, according to Michael Moss. Remember my blurb about cheese back in November? That whole post was fueled by Michael’s work in his New York Times piece titled, While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales, where it basically states that our American consumption of cheese is beyond healthy.
As for the natural flavor, I left that explanation to Phil Lempert, food editor of the Today Show. What exactly is natural flavor? According to Phil, “both artificial and natural flavors are made by “flavorists” in a laboratory by blending either “natural” chemicals or “synthetic” chemicals to create flavorings.” You can read more about “natural flavor” here. The bottom is that “natural” might not be so natural, and even some organic foods might contain some of these natural flavors.
So there you have it folks. Is Ragú Traditional Pasta Sauce really that healthy? Let me know what you think and feel free to share what some of your favorite canned pasta sauces are and why. In the mean time, remember to look beyond the pretty packaging and loaded health claims by reading your labels.