Reading the Labels

Organic apple-raspberry sauce was on sale through our co-op a few weeks ago, so I ordered some. This is something of an event at our house, as I do not remember the last time I bought apple-sauce. I’ve made it, but I do not buy it.

The HG made some delicious applesauce muffins. She said she’d learned the recipe while staying with friends a couple years ago, and that they had them weekly. She’d been meaning to make them for us, but since we never have applesauce on hand and she kept forgetting to buy it, she hadn’t been able to. She wondered why I don’t buy it.

I don’t buy it because I am frugal, and frugal to me does not just mean cheap. I read the applesauce labels at the grocery store and they have less nutritional value than bag of peanut M&Ms or a glass of Kool-Ade (which is something else I don’t buy. I don’t care how inexpensive it seems to be, if I buy a food item that I expect to fill the place of a fruit on our menu, I want it to have the nutritional oomph of a fruit, not less than a glass of sugar water with artifical coloring a shot of vitamin C added.

The applesauce at the grocery store seems inexpensive. But the only thing it has that resembles any nutritional value is 2 grams of fiber per serving. Otherwise, I am paying for empty calories when I’d rather be spending my money on nutritious food.

The organic applesauce does cost more and I won’t buy it again unless it’s on sale, but the same serving size contains those 2 grams of fiber, plus measurable amounts of potassium, iron, and a nice percentage of vitamin C.

If all I want is a treat, a dessert, and I don’t care about the nutritional value, this brand of storebought applesauce is the better buy, and I could buy it to fill the same place in the menu as any other confection. If I want something to take the place of fruit in our diet, I’ll serve real fruit, fresh or frozen, or the organics when it’s on sale.

Checking the labels and comparing ingredients and nutritional value is an important tool in your frugality arsenal. Reading applesauce labels is pretty easy. There are no mystery ingredients.

Reading the label to some things, however, requires some serious detection work. What do you eat that has an ingredient akin to food grade plaster of paris? There are 38 other ingredients in that food item.

So when you’re looking at a food you think of as expensive, check the nutritional value and think again. It’s not frugal to spend money on food with no nutritional value.

We do buy junk food, and we certainly eat it, too, but we know that’s what we’re getting when we get it. When we indulge in junk food (far too often), we are at least buying it on purpose. It’s one thing to do it on purpose. It’s another to think you’ve made a healthy choice for your family by serving applesauce only to learn that you might just as well have given them sugary gelatin.

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats

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  1. Sheila in Seattle
    Posted February 28, 2007 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that info. I didn’t realize that applesauce was wasted calories.

  2. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Sheila, I always get nervous when people actually take my advice.

    It may well be that brand of applesauce you buy is more nutritious than the brands I’ve looked at.

  3. Mama Squirrel
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    OK…can you help me read the label on the store-brand unsweetened applesauce we buy? It says that per 2/3 cup serving there are 0 fats, of course; 1 per cent sodium, 6 per cent carb (8 per cent fibre), 40 per cent Vitamin C. The per cents refer to the “percent Daily Value”, I think according to Canada’s current food guide. It also says 70 calories per 150 ml serving (about half a cup); that it’s “free from artificial colour of flavour”; and that the ingredients are apples and ascorbic acid.

    Oh look, I even found a slightly less confusing version of the label here: .

    What do you think?

  4. Meredith
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    We prefer real apples, but I’ve always considered unsweetened applesauce one of the few “good buy” convenience foods. My jar of store brand unsweetened sauce contains only water, apples, and ascorbic acid to prevent browning. For less than $1.50 a 48 oz jar, it’s a staple in my pantry.

    Of course, I usually use it as dessert, served chilled in sherbet glasses. Maybe that’s why I’m not too picky about it!

  5. lady laura
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    We prefer homemade applesauce, though mostly for textural reasons. (My son calls store-bought babyfood.) I had not ever really looked at the labels so I didn’t realize it could be so nutritionally poor.

    You have given me something to think about, as usual.

  6. JunkMale
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Yes, yes, thank you for posting this. People need these whistle blowers every now and then.

    We always try to buy things with the shortest list of ingredients, or at least ingredients that don’t involve items like polymethylhydroxy-bose-einstein-pantoprizol acetate.

    I just hope it won’t take the rest of my life to undo the damage done in my younger years when I couldn’t care less about labels. It’s a good thing I got a relatively early start.

  7. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Mama Squirrel, it’s really up to you- if you really like applesauce and think that’s a good source for your daily vitamin C, then for you it’s probably a good food buy.

    If you just want a dessert with no refined sugars but don’t care whether or not there’s any nutritional value (and I would be the last person to criticize others for having dessert)- then applesauce is probably a good buy for you. Me, I like my desserts to be desserts.:-)

    My main goal isn’t to destroy the applesauce industry and play Carrie Nation with everybody’s applesauce jars.=) It’s just that a lot of people do not read the labels, and a lot of applesauce brands really are just empty calories, and I think a lot of young mothers concerned about healthy eating would be surprised by that. I will be perfectly content if the only change anybody makes based on reading this post is to read some labels they hadn’t been reading before.

    I know I talk big, but really, I’m all about informed choices, less about imposing my own choices.

  8. Frances
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    My mother used to make it from scratch (and apples, of course) — this sounds much like the recipe:

    I prefer uncooked apples so haven’t tried to make it.

    I enjoy a dessert of apples chopped into bite-size pieces and mixed with some frozen raspberries and a few almonds.

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