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Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites

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Saturday, April 03, 2004

 
Weekend Food Section, Part I: The Opposite of Dining


I live in Manhattan’s Chelsea, a neighborhood that, I believe, is now officially recognized as a muscle manufacturing zone. We’re known for large men, with small dogs, who head out in tank tops the moment the temperature nudges towards sixty. You get the picture.

So it’s no surprise then, that deli-owners – eager to capitalize on the local fitness culture – stock their candy counters with convenient little bundles of food technology marketed under healthy-sounding names such as Balance Bars. In the scheme of things, this is probably not a bad idea. Perhaps they are better for you than a Snickers Bar or a tube of Pringles. But I’m not convinced that they’re a buck-and-a-half better for you than a banana.

On the company’s website, you’ll learn that among the “key benefits” of their products is something called “40-30-30 nutrition: 40% of calories from carbohydrates, 30% of calories from protein, and 30% of calories from dietary fat.” Essentially their argument boils down to this: since a healthy diet delivers “40-30-30 nutrition,” and Balance Bars deliver “40-30-30” nutrition, Balance Bars are healthy.

We’ll ignore for the moment the fact that this claim is a classic non sequitur, and look instead at the claim they don’t make. Nowhere, as far as I could tell, do they make the claim that the stuff that goes into their products constitutes a particularly healthy or wise way to achieve that magical mix. In fact, you won’t learn anything at all about what’s in Balance Bars from their website. For that, you’ll have to read the labels. Feel free to skim here – but this is what their Chocolate Mint Cookie-flavored Balance Gold Crunch Bar™ is made of. Apparently, we’ve come a long way from snakes and snails and puppy dog tails:

Protein blend (Soy protein isolate, why protein isolate, casein, milk protein concentrate), corn syrup, soy nuggets (soy protein isolate, rice flour, barley malt, salt), sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, high fructose corn syrup, glycerin, high maltose corn syrup, grape juice concentrate, rice dextrin, chocolate, contains less than 2% of natural flavor, cocoa, cocoa processed with alkalai, nonfat milk, calcium caseinate, ground almonds, chocolate cookies (enriched wheat flour [flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], sugar, safflower oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn flour, chocolate, salt, dextrose, sodium bicarbonate), soy lecithin, maltitol, water, salt, canola oil, monoglycerides, soybean oil, fractionated vegetable oil (palm and palm kernel oils) beta carotene, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), calcium phosphate, ferric orthophosphate (Iron), vitamin E acetate, phytonadione (Vitamin K), thiamin mononitrate (Vitamin B-1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B-2), Niacinamide (Vitamin B-6), folic acid, Vitamin B-12, biotin, calcium pantothenate, potassium iodide, zinc oxide, copper gluconate, manganese sulfate, chromium chloride, sodium molybdate.

Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? (Actually, in all fairness, it tastes like reasonable facsimile of a similarly-flavored Girl Scout cookie.)

Now, I wouldn’t rule these things out altogether. They do have their uses. I carry them on flights, figuring that they represent an improvement over the tiny package with six miniature pretzels. And I would consider taking them along on bike trips, if I took bike trips. They are portable, and practically indestructible. In other words, the opposite of dining.

I think I’ll stick with that banana. On balance.

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