Reading the nutrition label, by now, should be as natural for you as hitting the brakes at a “STOP” sign.
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Generally you should look both ways — or rather at the ingredients, calories, fat, and carb contents — before moving full-speed ahead. But what the label doesn't spell out for you as simple as S-T-O-P is that there's more to it than meets the eye, and sometimes even the simplest-sounding ingredients can be super complicated.
That's why we asked top experts to break down the good, the bad, and the just plain scary stuff we’re feeding our bodies, plus how it may impact our health. This week in the hot seat we have…
THE SUSPECT: Starbucks Blended Caramel Frappuccino
THE DETECTIVES: Mira and Jayson Calton, Ph.D., a husband-and-wife team whose latest book “Rich Food, Poor Food,” is the sequel to their bestselling book “Naked Calories.”
NUTRITION LABEL: (20-ounce cup, or Venti) 510 calories, 17g fat, 84g carbs, 81g sugar, 6g protein
LISTED INGREDIENTS: Frappuccino base, caramel sauce, caramel syrup, ice, whipped cream.
Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino Ingredients Under the Spotlight
- FRAPPUCCINO BASE: This special concoction contains sugar, water, natural and artificial flavor, potassium sorbate, citric acid (don't be fooled—this citrus flavor is made almost exclusively from genetically modified corn), caramel color (more on this below), and xantham gum (a thickening agent). Caffeine's in there too (about 130mg).
The good news: Coffee is the number-one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet. It has 300 percent more disease-fighting antioxidants than black tea and 3,333 percent more than an apple! Despite all these health perks, coffee may still be the heaviest chemically-treated food commodity in the world. Buying organic coffee reduces the use of harmful synthetic fertilizers and aids in keeping our water supply clean, but unfortunately this frappe is not made with the organic stuff. For some reason, Starbucks stopped offering organic as an option.
- CARAMEL SAUCE: If you've ever made caramel from scratch, you know that it's comprised of only three ingredients: heavy whipping cream, butter, and sugar. But that's too expensive to mass produce. It's a lot cheaper to make a sweeter, gooier sauce with corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, butter, cream, water, nonfat dry milk, natural flavor, mono- and di-glycerides, potassium sorbate, soy lecithin, and sodium bicarbonate.
The key item to be wary of here, besides high-fructose corn syrup (one of the leading causes of America's obesity epidemic), is the food additives called mono- and di-glycerides, which are labeled emulsifiers but are really trans-fatty acids (usually labeled under lipids, aka, fats) in disguise. This semantics loophole allows food that contains these acids — associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes — to be marketed as having “0% trans fat.” Super sneaky!
CARAMEL SYRUP: Surprise, surprise, here's more sugar — plus water, natural and artificial flavor, potassium sorbate, citric acid (more corn!), and caramel color. Now this coloring thing isn't just your typical dye. The browning agent contains 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, two contaminants also found in beer and, the worst offender of all, cola. This criminal coloring agent has been linked to lung, liver, and thyroid cancer.
WHIPPED CREAM: Looks white, right? There's actually caramel coloring in there, as well as heavy whipping cream and vanilla syrup, which itself is made up of sugar, water, natural flavors, potassium sorbate and citric acid (Can you say, corn-fest?). To top it off, this dollop of whipped cream is responsible for more than 25% of the total calories in this drink.
- SUGAR: Sweet doesn't even begin to describe this drink. With 81 grams of sugar, drinking one Starbuck's Venti Blended Caramel Frappuccino will give you the same amount of sugar as if you had eaten: one full size Kit Kat bar (22g), one full-size bag of Peanut M&M's (25g), one full-size box of Milk Duds (27g), AND four Everlasting Gobstoppers (7g)! When is the last time you ate all of that candy in one sitting?
Because refined sugar doesn't have any minerals of its own, when the body tries to process it, it actually robs the essential micronutrients already in your body in order to be digested. Also, sugar competes with vitamin C for receptor site entry into your cells, which means that it blocks the pathway for the C to boost your immune system. It also inhibits the absorption of calcium and magnesium, as well as promotes addiction, which is why you most likely feel unsatisfied after you've slurped the last sip.
THE VERDICT: Guilty
THE SENTENCE: For a better afternoon pick-me-up, consider ordering a regular cup of coffee with cream or milk (skim, whole, almond or coconut milk, etc.) The staying power of the protein and the richness of the fat will help curb your cravings afterward, which will make you less susceptible to those delicious-looking cakes (extra calories!) by the register.