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Pseudo Healthy Item Series: Kraft Mayo with Olive Oil

This series will reveal items sold on grocery store shelves that are sold as healthy alternatives but in reality they are not better at all. Why should we do this? The grocery store is a maze of dizzying ad campaigns pretending to be informative. So much of what we see on packages are cleverly worded buzz words that the company in question is using against you. It is important to always read the ingredients behind the creative labels to see whether it is healthy or not. All items in this series will be investigated by simply reading the ingredients listed, considering their difference from the “orginal” product, and then deducing from our knowledge of nutrition as to whether this item is actually healthy.

Natural Doesn't Mean Anything In A Grocery Store

The classic example of manipulative word play by food companies is the use of the word 'natural'. Slapping this word on their product does one thing immediately; it implies that nature is good, so if the ingredients are all natural, this food must be good. Anyone who has studied nutrition knows that health as it relates to diet is about balance, about quality, and about whole foods. As a general rule, one shouldn't eat unnatural, or artificial foods, but this does not mean that since everything in this package comes from food (i.e. 'natural') it is healthy food you.

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What does 'natural' really mean?

The USDA states that any product that calls itself all natural…wait. The USDA doesn't have a definition for this word.1). Although they expect the product not to be 'misleading', and it should not have additives or chemically created items in the food.

Unsurprisingly, the USDA only allows the term 'natural' to be used on food labels; that is, the clever packaging. But the term is so nebulous. What is natural, really? Aren't we as humans apart of nature? If so, then aren't our creations also natural? The food label is different from the ingredients list, and the USDA rightly bans the use of 'natural' on the ingredient list. Well, bans the use With one massive, ridiculous exception…companies are allowed to say 'natural flavoring' without defining what that flavoring actually is.

The natural brand aligns itself with the organic philosophy, but it is not organic. Organic food means that it was grown or raised in a manner without the use of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones. Further, it generally implies (although it is not always the case) a commitment to holistic, sustainable food cultivating methods beyond the abstinence of chemical usage. Natural does not mean any of these things. Companies can label their food 'natural' even if non natural things like pesticides have been dumped on their food products during harvest. The allure to align itself to organic isn't just for purity sake, either. The cost of organic is sometimes 10-30% more than its conventional counterparts. The label of 'natural' to a food can boost the list price 5-10%, slightly more than non natural food and less than organic, providing a pseudo choice between the two.

Kraft Mayo Is Misleading You

What is Kraft Mayo? According to the food label, it is Mayo with Olive Oil. For those who don't know, mayonaise is typically a highly whipped mixture (an emulsion) of eggs and oil. Since industrial seed oils are mass produced to the extreme (and to the detriment of the planet), the oils typically found in cheap mayonaise like the kind kraft makes are cottonseed, canola, or soy oil. Indeed, industrial seed oils are not high quality oils at all. Canola oil has to be processed for it to even be edible. So the implication on the food label is that Kraft has used olive oil as their oil to create the mayonaise emulsion. Is this true?

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The label is revealing. The first ingredient is water and the second ingredient is olive oil. So far, so good. The third and fourth ingredients are canola oil and soybean oil, demonstrating that Kraft is still cutting corners by using a significant amount of cheap industrial oils alongside the olive oil. Ingredient labels do not show the quantity, however they are required to list the ingredients in order of concentration. Thus, these entries at the third and fourth position of the label could comprise a large amount of the total food used. One can even see scenarios where the combination of canola and soybean oil would outweigh the amount of olive oil. For instance, they might use 8 ounces of olive oil, then 7 ounces of canola, and 6.8 ounces of soybean oil. Combined, you have 7 ounces of 'healthy' olive oil and 13.8 ounces of industrial, low quality oil.

Next, one notices the inclusion of maltodextrin and modified food starch in the list of the food ingredients. What does this mean? A rather omninous note is left about these two food ingredients by Kraft themselves, saying “ingredient not normally found in mayonaise”. Is there any concern about this being there?

Those following a mostly whole food diet don't want to see these sort of additions. Maltodextrin is usually made by boiling down corn or potatoes2). Non organic corn is almost always sourced from corn that is genetically modified. Most people interested in eating healthy avoid genetically modified foods, sometimes for health reasons and sometimes for philsophical/environmental reasons. Modified food starch is a similar story. Starch is taken (from potatoes, from corn, from wheat) and modified in some way to adapt to a specific purpose. Usually it is for thickening a food or helping it stay stable on the shelf longer. It is synonomous with processed food and contains the same likelihood of GMOs being present.

What is going on here? You only need eggs and oil to make mayo. It appears Kraft has inserted these unnecessary items as a way to thicken their mayo without adding the calories found in eggs. Eggs shows up as the 9th ingredient, the last ingredient listed left of the words “contains less than 2% of”, which means that eggs probably comprises a very small percentage of this food.

Others spurious items on the ingredients label include enzyme modified egg yolk, phosphoric acid (the same chemical in sodas), and a few preservatives usually found in kraft type product; calcium dissodium EDTA and potassium sorbate. These items do not lend themselves to a healthy mayonaise.

The Low Fat Mistake

Your body needs both saturated fat and unsaturated fat. This is a scientific certainty. Those who favor the studies from the 70s involving saturated fat and a possible link to heart disease believe this saturated fat intake should be low, but nonethless they believe saturated fat should be in the iet. There are those in the nutritional fields, like Chris Kresser, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Daniel Vitalis, and others who believe that these studies were flawed. They don't take into account the health of the animals from where the saturated fat comes from, for instance. People wouldn't think that eating an unhealthy vegetable, one that was slightly rotting and clearly not well, would be good for you. Would it be that different for animal products? If the cow is born from an overweight, stressed, and miserable mother, and the cow must eat grains at a ridiculous rate for its whole life, something it is poorly adapted to, couldn't we expect that eating this animal may be different then eating a healthy cow that grazed on grass? These aforementioned health guru's believe that saturated fat can make up a significant amount of your fat totals.

This divide is not resolved with perfectly reasonable, intelligent individuals falling into both camps. One thing that is agreed upon is that quality does matter. Using quality vegetable oils is better than low quality ones. Using quality animal fats is better than low quality ones. Thus, we do not need to chose a side necessarily in this discussion to say that the oils kraft uses are not high quality oils and thus this food is not a healthy choice.

There is a difference between high quality olive oil and low quality olive oil. In fact, there is an olive oil scam going around the world. People are bottling a mixture of oils and selling it as olive oil 3). While we would advocate not eating soybean oil or canola oil altogether, there is a difference between high quality canola/soybean oil and low quality oils. We can deduce quite confidently that if kraft was using high quality oils, they would describe this quality in detail on their product. It only makes sense because it would separate them from the rest of the pack. Higher quality oil is going to be more expensive and they need you to buy their product, so they will extoll this virtue to make you buy their product. However, Kraft mayo does not make this claim whatsoever. It's perfectly reasonable to believe they are using run of the mill oils in their mayo, and even though they added olive oil to the mix, it does not make this a healthy alternative.

Highly advertised on the product is the fact that it half the calories than regular mayonaise. How is this possible? Let's look at mayonaise ingredients and their caloric levels once more.

In regular mayonaise, the main ingredients are some kind of vegetable oil, eggs, and vinegar 4). Hellman's is one brand who tries to flaunt their mayonaise simplicity, but the reality is that mayonaise really is that simple.

Also worth noting is the fact that regular, old school mayonaise has no carbohydrates in it whatsoever. Think about this. Does oil have carbohydrates? No. Do eggs (or any animal product) have carbs in them? No. This nutritional assessment makes sense.

When we look at Kraft's olive oil mayonaise, the secret is proven in the details. This version of mayonaise has played around with the ingredients so that modified corn starch take up a decent amount of material used to create the food. Modified food starch is a carbohydrate that has no fat. When one compares carbohydrates to fat, one gram of carbs 2.25 times less calories than one gram of fat. So Kraft realized they could use something like modified corn starch to thicken their mayonaise over the traditional egg/oil emulsion.

Olive oil and soybean oil have exactly the same calories. Since everyone associates olive oil with good health, surely the substitution of olive oil into the mayonaise makes it half the fat! Wrong. Olive oil, soybean oil, and canola oil have the same amount of fat per tablespoon; 14 grams. It doesn't change between the vegetable oils. Instead, they have slyly inserted a cheap carbohydrate (which contains much less calories) and put in less oil and eggs to get the desired lower calorie prize. It's not healhier, it's a better business model.

Where did Kraft get the idea? If you can believe it, they managed to create a fat free mayonaise. Talk about a orwellian phrase if there ever was one! To make mayonaise is to make an oil emulsion. You require oil to make mayonaise, and therefore you require fat. In their fat free mayonaise, they use sugar and modified corn starch as their main stabilizers. Soybean oil and eggs make a guest appearance on the ingredients list, just enough to help create the mayonaise but not enough for any fat to register up to 1 gram (and thus they can say its fat free).

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Don't buy the hype. Olive oil with mayonaise can be made, and if you make it without any cheating ingredients, it will have the same amount of calories as other oil/egg emulsion mayonaises have. Kraft has substituted the traditional emulsion for a minor emulsion w/ help from food starch. Counting calories has a basic truth in weight loss, but if you count calories to the point of choosing to put questionable foods into your body (like modified food starch), you are still going to have health problems.

What Is The Healthy Choice In Regards To Mayonaise?

The truth is Mayonaise is a high calorie food. If you are buying your mayonaise from the grocery store, try to buy a mayonaise that uses high quality ingredients. Hellman's recently started a new development with their products by offering mayonaise created with cage free eggs in an attempt to appeal to those who want high quality eggs to be used in creating their mayonaise. This is a non starter, however, as cage free means virtually nothing in big Agriculture. Cage free can still mean 100,000s of bird in one chicken building.

Since it is a high calorie food, and unless you are making your own, it is also a processed food, so in general you should eat it sparingly. If you have a sandwich once or twice a week with mayonaise, go ahead and use the real stuff. At the very least, put the least amount on your sandwich bread that you need.

Alternatively, you can use other substances to fill in for your mayonaise on multiple occasions. Mustard has virtually no calories. Go ahead and slather the mustard on if you need the moistness or wetness of mayonaise.

All in all, substituting what makes mayonaise real for modified food starch is not the way to go.

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