Saturday, May 22, 2010

Creative Labeling

After Skyline to the Sea, amidst all of the Cosco food provided by PCTR which generally falls into the "hydrogenated fat + corn syrup" category which I prefer to not put into my body, especially when trying to repair the considerable damage from such a hard effort (a recipe is only as good as its ingredients, and my recipe for me is what I eat), I found something which for me saved the day: small protein-fortified balls by Clif called Shot Roks.

Obviously they were sponsor products, not part of the Cosco run. They were mostly sitting untouched: honestly, they looked fairly threatening. Little hard balls. But after I tentatively tried one, I had another, and another, then two more, then... good stuff at the end of a very depleting day, and the protein was just what I craved after the long run.

So what's in Shot Roks? Here's the listed ingredients:

ingredients
INGREDIENTS: Clif Protein BlendTM (Whey Protein Concentrate, Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate), Organic Evaporated Cane Juice Crystals, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice Syrup, Glycerine, Inulin Syrup (Chicory Root Extract), Organic Peanut Butter, Oat Flour, Natural Flavors, Organic Tapioca Maltodextrin, Salt, Organic Corn Starch, Confectioners Glaze, Soy Lecithin, Colored with Caramel Color and Beta Carotene, Carnauba Wax.

Now, the curious thing here is #1 in the list is "protein blend". Ingredients lists must be provided in the order from highest to lowest fraction by mass. So obviously there's more "protein blend" than anything else, right?

Well, not really. After "protein blend" is a series of carbohydrate sources: "Organic Evaporated Cane Juice Crystals" and "Organic Evaporated Cane Juice Syrup". Cane juice is cane juice, right? Then glycerine (or "glycerol"), an alcohol which is counted on ingredients lists (somewhat controversially) as a carbohydrate (controversial because it's metabolized differently than sugars, and in fact commonly causes gastrointestinal issues for many people). Then after that, inulin syrup, another sugar source.

Curious, isn't it, that the protein sources are all grouped together in a "blend", but there's no "carbohydrate blend".

The clue is in the nutritional information. The protein sources are essentially all protein, the carbohydrate sources essentially all carbohydrate. So the ratio of carbohydrates to protein listed there doesn't lie: 38 grams of carbohydrate versus 20 grams of protein. So despite the labels, the protein sources clearly are not the most common component: it's more carbohydrate than protein.

But that's not fair, really. Included in the carbohydrate total are non-digestible fiber (3 grams) and 8 grams, including the glycerine, of "other carbohydrates". That leaves 27 grams of sugar.

So a fairer listing of the ingredients would be something like the following:

ingredients
INGREDIENTS: Clif Sugar BlendTM (Organic Evaporated Cane Juice Crystals, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice Syrup, Inulin Syrup (Chicory Root Extract), Organic Tapioca Maltodextrin, Confectioners Glaze), Clif Protein BlendTM (Whey Protein Concentrate, Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate), Glycerine, Organic Peanut Butter, Oat Flour, Natural Flavors, Salt, Organic Corn Starch, Soy Lecithin, Colored with Caramel Color and Beta Carotene, Carnauba Wax.

The sugars are front and center, followed by the proteins, followed by the alcohols, followed by the "real food" (peanuts and oats) and glue (ingredients included for their mechanical properties, like wax and color).

So after a trail marathon, there's probably nothing wrong with a nice dose of sugar, as long as it's from a less refined source such as evaporated cane juice (as opposed to bleached white sugar, or high-fructose corn syrup). Just don't get the idea these are primarily protein, despite the deceptive ingredients list.

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