Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
SPOTLIGHT: A can of soup isn’t as innocent as it might seem.
BIG PICTURE: According to the low-fat dietary advice we’ve all received, tinned tomato soup is positively virtuous. The nutritional labeling on the three brands stocked by my local grocer reveal that even if I consume an entire can on a blustery winter’s day, my fat intake will be less than 4 grams. Hardly worth mentioning.
But if I’m diabetic, or if I’m trying to lose weight by limiting my carbohydrate intake to 50 net grams per day (carbs minus fiber), the picture shifts dramatically. A tin of Aylmer’s tomato soup has 36 net carbs. A tin of Campbell’s has 45. The local store brand has 50.
Yikes. That’s how quickly a food can be booted off the ‘insanely healthy’ list onto the ‘eat-sparingly’ list. The Campbell’s label tells us there are “4 tomatoes in every can.” This is probably a good time to recall that tomatoes are technically a fruit – and that fruit is high in sugar.
An article on a slick-looking website says that tomato soup is good for diabetics due to the fact that it contains chromium, a trace mineral. But the benefits of chromium for diabetics is hotly debated. What is well known is that carbs are guaranteed to spike the blood sugar of every diabetic on the planet. Somehow that gets overlooked.
Until a few years ago, tins of Campbell’s tomato soup here in Canada displayed a Health Check logo from the Heart & Stroke Foundation. When deciding which brand and flavour of tinned soup to purchase, consumers were advised that the contents of some tins were especially healthy. But that logo was purchased by Campbell’s. In the food industry, it’s called licensing. A 2013 news story about a different product reported that its manufacturer had paid $19,500 in licensing fees that year.
Campbell’s runs a kids-orientated website that gives parents all the traditional advice. Healthy equals low-fat. Healthy is “a bowl of fresh fruit on your kitchen table.” Healthy snacks include Goldfish crackers and V8 vegetable cocktail – both manufactured by the Campbell’s food company and both high in carbs.
That website says a school lunch comprised of tomato soup, a sandwich, and fruit is healthy. But only until you start doing the math. If a child consumes half a tin of tomato soup (22 net carbs), a sandwich made with two slices of bread (40), and a banana (25) the carb load for that meal alone totals 87 grams.
One in three Canadian kids are overweight or obese. For those children, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup – which contains only half the carbs – is actually a better idea.
TOP TAKEAWAY: ‘Healthy’ is being defined in radically different ways, by different interest groups. Health logos on food packaging should therefore be treated with skepticism.
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