10 Fake Foods You're Probably Eating

As we race against the clock in our overscheduled, fast-paced world, convenience often trumps common sense. Although we know that processed foods probably aren't the best choice for our health, we assume they're a necessary evil—and if the marketing hype is true, they're the next best thing to clean, whole foods…right?
 
What if you found out some of the convenience cuisines you're eating aren't the foods they claim to be? From manufactured ingredients to artificial colors and flavors, these culprits are all show and little sustenance.
 
1. Processed Cheese
 
If you look closely at the packages of processed cheese slices, you'll see they don't actually call themselves "cheese," opting for safer (and scarier) titles like "singles" and "cheese products." That's because the ratio of artificial ingredients has far exceeded any trace of real cheese that may remain. To comply with FDA regulations, processed cheese with less than 51 percent cheese is not allowed to call itself "cheese."
 
To reap maximum health benefits, reach for natural cheese instead of the processed, plastic-like singles.
 
2. Imitation Crab Meat
 
If you've ever wondered why store-bought crab cakes and crab dips are so inexpensive, here's a hint: Their “crab” content is virtually nonexistent. According to Berkeley Wellness, most imitation crabmeat starts with Alaska Pollock (far cheaper than crab), which is minced into a paste and blended with sugar, salt, starch and other fillers. It's then cut into shapes and dyed orange to resemble actual crab meat. To further decrease its appeal, imitation crab meat is also high in sodium, MSG and artificial flavorings.
 
For example, the label on Crab Classics Imitation Crab Meat states that it contains two percent or less of actual crab meat. The primary ingredients are Alaska Pollock, starches, sugars and sorbitol.
 
3. Phony Popcorn Butter

There's nothing quite like the smell and flavor of movie-theater popcorn butter…maybe because it doesn't exist in nature. That liquid "butter" is actually just hydrogenated soybean oil with artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.

The flavoring comes from a chemical called diacetyl (DA), which OSHA and NIOSH have linked to lung disease. As if that wasn't bad enough, a study in Chemical Research in Toxicology found that DA was linked to higher incidences of Alzheimer's disease. Granted, this risk is much higher among those who work in the facilities that manufacture products with DA, but it still makes you think twice about dousing your popcorn in bogus butter. Instead, consider flavoring it with one of these healthier toppings.

4. Simulated Maple Syrup

Real maple syrup consists of only maple sap, and it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. The more common mass-produced syrup sold at grocery stores is made of primarily corn syrup, along with a hefty helping of artificial additives.
 
That doesn't stop most people from enjoying all that simulated sweetness: According to a Google consumer survey panel, 70 percent of respondents chose the fake version over pure maple syrup. Some of that preference could be cost-driven—the real stuff, which is extremely labor-intensive to harvest and prepare, costs between $40 to $60 per gallon, five to seven times more than the corn syrup varieties.
 
5. Bogus Bacon Bits

They may be a quick and convenient way to add smoky flavor to baked potatoes, casseroles and other dishes, but a more accurate name would be no-bacon bits. They're actually made from a slew of synthetic ingredients, from caramel coloring to artificial flavorings. In fact, bacon bits actually qualify as a vegan food, because they contain no animal products.
 
McCormick Bac'n Pieces Bacon Flavored Bits include such non-appetizing ingredients as caramel color, red dye, maltodextrin, lactic acid and multiple flavor "enhancers." If you must have bacon, check out these healthier ways to enjoy the real thing.
 
6. Mock Mashed Potatoes
 
The closest these instant spuds come to the genuine article is dehydrated potato flakes, which are beefed up with artificial flavorings, preservatives, emulsifiers and trans fats. Some of the unsettling ingredients in a box of Idahoan Original Mashed Potatoes include emulsifiers and a whole slew of preservatives most people can't pronounce.
 
It won't take much more time to prepare our Basic Homemade Mashed Potatoes, made with nothing but real ingredients.
 
7. "Red" Velvet Cake

It may look gorgeous, but red velvet cake doesn't come by its deep red hue honestly; the color has no connection with the flavor.

Most red velvet recipes call for liquid food coloring. Those who are sensitive to artificial colorings—or are trying to limit their sugar intake—would do best to avoid this sweet scarlet treat.
 

8. Chocolate Chip Flavored Cookies 

The tip-off here is the word "flavored." To qualify as authentic chocolate, the FDA requires that a food must be made from cacao beans. When you see chocolate chip flavored cookies or a chocolate flavored candy bar, they are likely sweetened with fatty vegetable oils or cocoa.

Satisfy your cookie craving with a healthy twist. Our Whole Wheat Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies are made with whole wheat flour, oatmeal and real chocolate chips.     
           
9.  Imitation Iced Tea

Authentic tea is made from tea, water and maybe some sugar or sweetener.

Then there are the near-imposters like Lipton Brisk Green Iced Tea with Peach, artificial flavorings, artificial colors and three types of acids (citric, phosphoric and ascorbic). Green tea is far down on the list, and there are no peaches to be found.
 
To reap the benefits of green tea, hold out for the real thing.
 


10. Counterfeit Chicken Nuggets

In a paper published by the American Journal of Medicine, two different types of fast food nuggets were analyzed to determine their true content. In both cases, chicken meat was not the primary ingredient—in fact, it made up just 50 percent or less of the nugget. The rest consisted of fat, blood vessels, nerves, cartilage and bone. And, of course, there are liberal helpings of preservatives and sweeteners.
 
To get just the chicken without the unwanted additives, make your own healthy version.
 
Have you eaten any of these phony foods? What other imposters would you add to the list?
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Member Comments

I'm pretty sure all of things announce that they're fake in the name. You know, being called "IMITATION crab meat" and "SIMULATED bacon bits". And I'm also sure the chicken nugget info is just scare tactics. Sometimes they use "cutlets" but that implies dark meat is uses as well.

There are plenty of good reasons to avoid processed foods. Use those instead of engaging in scare tatics, or it just weakens your argument. Report
Thank you for posting Report
It's easy to call some food you don't like "fake". Report
On occasion, maybe every 2 or 3 years I'll use chocolate chips, but the other stuff, no. I was 22 the first time I had instant potatoes, I was shocked people ate that stuff. Report
vessels, nerves and cartilage .. Oh My!

I do not eat ANY of these..but I used to before I came to this site! Report
I'm by no means a perfect eater but I don't eat any of these 10 I'm glad to say! Am blessed with healthy grocery stores nearby, and I watch for sales. (Can't afford Whole Paycheck LOL) I can testify this article is accurate. I recently wanted mashed potatoes the easy way, picked up a box, read the ingredients and put that box right back down! Report
I do eat some of these things. Cost is somewhat a factor but taste is also. I make my own syrup as a simple sugar and mapliene extract which is getting very difficult to find.
Good article. Report
WOW - this was an eye opener! Thank you for this very informative article. Report
This was one of the best Sparkeople articles. I donít eat most of these foods but we get imitation crab meat when we have sushi out. I knew it was made with pollock but I had no idea that it was made that way! Report
Oh, no, red velvet cake!! Report
THANKS Report
I will never eat or even allow my family or friends to eat chicken nuggets again! So disgusting! Report
Thanks for the information. Report
I am pleased to say that the only one of those I occasionally eat is the fake crab sticks, but NONE of the others. Proper food for me, thank you! Report
i think i just threw up in my mouth on that last one ... Report


 

About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.
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