Every now and then I crave a Kellogg’s Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart. You can debate the matter and say the fruit Tarts are better – Strawberry, Cherry, and Blueberry – and I’ll give you those, but I stand by my boring-looking Brown Sugar Cinnamon. Maybe that’s because I consumed hundreds of them as a kid, piping hot from the toaster.
Somehow Pop Tarts eluded the otherwise healthy content of my mom’s pantry. You’d walk in to dozens of those little red boxes of raisins, a pretty good assortment of nuts (which were more meant for recipes than snacking), and the occasional graham cracker. The fruit and veggie drawers in the frig were loaded and there was always a gallon of milk on hand. Yet there they were, in foil-wrapped packages of two: Kellogg’s Pop Tarts. I wish I could see the ingredients list from the 1970’s versions versus those of today’s Tarts. Surely the former leaned more towards “real food” and less towards chemicals, or my mom would’ve never gone for them.
Pop Tarts now come in twenty-seven varieties, which by any standard is ridiculous. Who wouldn’t be happy with the four I already mentioned? (Okay, let’s add Frosted Chocolate Fudge and call it good). Do we really need options like “Wildlicious Wild! Cherry”, or “Confetti Cupcake”? Apparently so, because that’s where our demand for choices has taken us. The new approach to snacks: invent one, sell enough to get them into everyday conversation, then evolve to twenty-seven varieties. Have you seen your options with Oreo’s these days? I rest my case.
The other day I traveled down the cereal aisle of our grocery store for the first time in a long time (we have house guests). I was shocked to discover the “healthy cereal” section is just as big as the space reserved for regular cereals. Even more interesting, the overhead signs on the aisle first announce “Cereals”, followed by “Granola” a little further down, followed by “Diet and Fitness” a little further than that. The entire aisle feels like the same kind of food, only you start with boxes, morph to bags, and end up with little bars. I’d love to know the combined total grams of protein in the products in the “Diet and Fitness” section. Gotta be ten thousand or more.
Fun facts: Americans now choose from over 400 brands of “healthy” bars, in 4,000 varieties. At $6 billion in 2012, the healthy bar market was only 17% as big as that of savory snacks ($34 billion) but growing in a hurry. American children consume almost 500 calories a day in snacks. The routine starts when we’re young.
Snack bars seem to be almost-entirely carbs or almost-entirely protein. I won’t comment on the first variety because I don’t eat them (I’ve moved on from Pop Tarts), and I don’t even see the carb variety because our store puts them over in the cookie aisle. But protein bars are a challenging enough decision. For starters, are protein bars a “snack” or a “meal”? Many are advertised as “meal-replacements”. Others look small enough to be snacks. Even the ever-present “Nutrition Facts” label doesn’t really lend a hand, except to confirm you’re taking in more calories and sugar than you’d hoped.
I belong to Lifetime Fitness here In Colorado, a gym which stresses “healthy lifestyle” in everything they offer, whether personal training sessions, workout classes, spa treatments, or a cafeteria full of healthy choices. The mantra I hear like a broken record: “carb-up” at least an hour before the workout; “protein-up” within 45 minutes after. I’m sure some would dispute that approach, but regardless, it suggests a “snack” before AND after a workout. And as I stand in “Diet and Fitness”, I ask myself, “Is that snack half of a “meal-replacement” bar? Two or three of the “fun-size”? Scrap the whole aisle and go with fruit and cheese instead?”
For my money, snack bars before and/or after a workout neither benefit the short run nor ease the long run. It’s kind of like my daily multi-vitamins: no clue whether they help me either (but I still take them). This much I know: I need to have a somewhat full stomach before I work out. On that note, maybe I’ll just skip the “Diet and Fitness” aisle from now on and go back to Pop Tarts.
Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Our Misplaced Mania for ‘Healthy’ Snacks”.