September 29, 2011

Nutrition trickery

In the last 36 hours, I’ve worked out HARD. Tuesday night, I went for that 4.8 mile hill run. Wednesday morning, I did an intense 45 minutes of heavy strength training. I posted yesterday about how exhausted and hungry I was after all that… so much that I wanted to crawl under my desk and take a nap. But I pushed on, and actually managed to get done with work early – 6pm! This is pretty much unheard of for me when I’m on the road, and I finally faced what other people always ask me about my job: what to do at night when you don’t know anyone in town.

But oddly enough, I had a ton of extra energy, so I decided to go for a run. After all, yesterday I wrote about listening to your body and eating when it’s hungry, so why not working out when your body is telling you it extra energy to burn? I was at first a little worried that I was overdoing it, having already covered about 5 miles and a ton of weightlifting in the previous 24 hours, but I decided to just go with it and take it easy. I ended up covering 3.1 miles (2 outside, 1.1 on the treadmill) before calling it a night and flopping into bed. Lights out at 9:30pm – my body needed its recovery sleep!

This morning, I decided to finally venture over to Great Harvest, the bakery owned/run by Kath at Kath Eats Real Food. I always enjoy the mouthwatering food pictures on her blog, and since she’s a registered dietician, she’s very concerned with the health and nutrients of what she eats. I’ve been wanting to check out her bakery for a while, and have seen many posts about “scuffins.” Named for a cross between a scone and a muffin, they are supposed to be full of all kinds of healthy and good for you ingredients, and I was very excited to give them a try. Having gotten more comfortable with running around Charlottesville, I decided that today was the day!

I did a quick 1/2 mile loop around my hotel to tack on some mileage and kill time (Great Harvest doesn’t open until 7am), and then headed down the road toward the bakery. It was pretty foggy out and still not entirely bright (I cannot WAIT for daylight savings to make morning running easier!), so I was glad that there was a sidewalk all along the way and that I didn’t have to run in the road. Before I knew it, I had arrived, and climbed the short hill to go into the bakery.

The woman behind the counter looked a bit surprised by my sweaty and disheveled appearance (apparently people in Charlottesville don’t combine running with treats, as all of us 16 Handles lovers do), but welcomed me warmly. I explained that it was my first time at Great Harvest, but that I was interested in the scuffins I had heard about. She was already in the process of cutting up samples, and offered me a generous bite. OMG, delicious! I promptly ordered “one of THOSE, please!” (whole wheat cinnamon chip scuffin), paid for it, and then drank a cup of water as I browsed the rest of the store. There were lots of yummy-looking jars of nut butter (butter toffee flavor? Awesome!) and some granola mixes. But it was getting late, and I had to get on with my morning, so with my bag o’ scuffin in hand, I headed back to finish the last mile of my run and get ready to chow down. Is there anything better than the last mile of a run when you’re carrying a tasty treat in hand?!

When I got back to my hotel, I hopped into the shower as fast as possible – while I was eager to eat, I figured that way I could sit and enjoy my scuffin afterward as my hair was drying. To go along with my scuffin, I mixed my usual mug of protein coffee (regular coffee + skim milk + scoop of flavorless whey protein powder), and then settled in with the scone. I couldn’t believe how big it was (about the size of my hand if I spread all the fingers wide)! This would be a totally amazing breakfast if it was healthy.

But the more I ate of the scuffin, the more I doubted its healthy claims. Granted, I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but this was incredibly sweet – I suppose it was enjoyably so, but that combined with the bits of cream cheese swirl made me baffled as to how this could possibly be healthy. It tasted like a dessert pastry! Even though I knew it was made of whole grain flour, I couldn’t believe that it had enough redeeming qualities (other than the deliciously dessert-like taste) to make up for the tons of sugar (honey? agave?) I knew must be in there.

I had already tried looking up the nutrition stats on the Great Harvest Charlottesville website with no success – they were only posted for the breads, but not the muffins or scuffins. But since Kath is a nutritionist, I figured she’d be happy to tell me what was in the scuffin and allay my fears. I dashed off an email telling her how much I enjoyed the scuffin and couldn’t wait to come back to Great Harvest, and also requested nutrition stats. I kept it positive, emphasizing that it was so good I couldn’t believe it was healthy (true story).

By the time I got to work though, I was even more concerned than before. While I didn’t quite feel sick to my stomach, I definitely felt incredibly full – like I had eaten a huge piece of cheesecake instead of a healthy scone. When I make scones at home, they tend to have around 150 calories or so, but this was at least 3 times the size of my little scones, so I figured it had to be at least 500 calories. Maybe even 600? I didn’t know. Getting impatient, I started Googling around the web to see if I could find any nutrition details about this supposedly healthy scuffin.

And then I hit paydirt. While the Great Harvest Charlottesville website doesn’t include nutrition stats for anything except bread, I found stats on the franchise owner’s page for the pastries. They referred to the items as scones instead of scuffins, but the flavors all lined up, so I think they are the same thing. And what I found?

Holy wow. The scuffin I ate, first of all, was not made with the fresh ground 100% whole wheat flour that Great Harvest puts signs all over their store touting… but enriched white flour. Aka, the same nutritionally worthless crap that Wonderbread is made from. Furthermore, while Great Harvest purports to be all healthy, they commit the misleading marketing sin of making a serving size half a scone. Now, I know this was a pretty massive scone, but I still would never have thought of it as two servings. From a portion perspective, yes, it’s big enough to feed two people, but from an aesthetic perspective, it wouldn’t occur to me to split it in two. It’s like a cupcake – when I go to Magnolia’s or Crumbs and get a big cupcake, I try to split it with a friend to be calorie conscious. But in doing so, I would expect that to mean I’m eating half a serving, because ordinarily you would expect one cupcake for one person. I’d be upset if they tried to tell me that a serving was an arbitrary half a cupcake – that’s just a company trying to fudge the numbers and not allow you to see that what you’re eating is really terrible for you. So once I doubled the nutrition stats to account for the fact that I apparently pigged out on two servings, I found that I had eaten 700 calories, 32g fat, 46g sugar (that’s 1/4 cup!), and basically no fiber (2g). And this is healthy… how?

It’s not the end of the world. All that fat and sugar really filled me up, to the point where it’s lunchtime and I’m still not the slightest bit hungry. And I did run 2 miles to get there, so that puts me pretty close to the amount I’d have eaten in a normal breakfast if I hadn’t worked out. I’ll eventually have a light lunch of steamed veggies and chicken breast, to start the detox process, and everything will be fine; it just goes to show that I ought to trust my eyes and taste buds instead of accepting something as healthy just because of a manufacturer’s claim.

But really? If health-conscious me could be tricked by this, what about all the people who aren’t so nutrition-savvy? Who see a company like Great Harvest and all its talk about whole grains and health, and think that the things they make are good for you? That worries me. Companies today are so quick to jump on the bandwagon of making health claims, since it’s in vogue for people to watch what they eat, and we lap those health claims right up. It’s only when you educate yourself to really delve into the numbers (and when those numbers are readily available) that you can test those claims and see if they’re true or false. It kills me that companies distort those numbers and try to prevent you from seeing what’s going on – because they know that we wouldn’t eat something like that as often if we knew that it was a treat and a “sometimes food” instead of a healthy breakfast.

Lesson learned.


18 thoughts on “Nutrition trickery”

  1. Not yet, but it’s only been a few hours since I emailed her and I know her schedule keeps her super busy!

    I am still hoping that I am somehow wrong and that a Great Harvest “scone” is different than a Great Harvest Charlottesville “scuffin” of the same flavor, but my guess is that’s unlikely…

  2. I would love to know what Kerf’s response is if she does get back to you! From my experience on her site, if you say anything that is even the slightest bit critical (basically anything that isn’t OMG oatmeal looks great!), it gets deleted or she acuses you of being rude or snarky. The scuffin sounds tasty, but I agree…it is so annoying to say that a serving is 1/2. I’ve actually seen muffins (not at Great Harvest) where a serving size is 1/3. Who divides a muffin by 3?

  3. This is why I think they should put calorie counts on menus (like they do in NYC). So many times, I’m thinking I’m making a healthy choice only to find out that I’m not. Veggie burgers come to mind immediately. I found out that Ruby Tuesday’s have like 700 calories or something crazy.

  4. Ugh that is totally annoying. I’d be interested to hear what Kath says if/when she gets back to you. It’s one thing for a regular ole’ bakery to serve 700 calorie scones but one that is masquerading as “healthy” definitely annoying. I agree that ALL restaurants should put calorie counts on their menu’s. I noticed that was common in Seattle the last time I was there and I thought it was great, it really made me think about what I was eating.

  5. This post is honestly concerning to me. I understand the annoyance of a menu item being more calories than you expected, but the obsession over ONE item when you are an active person isn’t healthy. One scone won’t kill you, and it won’t make you fat. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re getting full, and don’t obsess when you splurge occasionally.

    I don’t say this be snarky, so please don’t take it that way. I just see so many healthy living bloggers going to extremes & this rant about burning 200 calories while running, starting the “detox process” at lunch, etc. worries me.

  6. I’m sorry, but you were being ignorant in believing that a huge, scone with cream cheese swirls would be in the realm of a “healthy” choice all of the time. I don’t think Kath or any other Great Harvest bakery ever claimed to be low-fat, low-calorie, diet, or the like. And the food labeling laws are tricky, not necessarily the companies. Companies can say made with 100% whole wheat flour as long as they put it in the product with the enriched stuff. The reality is that, as a dietitian (and as a future dietitian myself…finishing up my internship!), Kath recognizes that moderation is key. You don’t see her eating a scuffin every morning for breakfast and touting it as health food. She recognizes it as what it is; a treat to be enjoyed on occasion. I love the oatmeal cookies at Great Harvest, but I’m not mad because they are made with oats (a healthy ingredient), yet loaded with calories. I have no idea how many calories, nor do I care because I enjoy them about once a year, so no big deal. A healthy diet is great, but if you are going to enjoy a treat, enjoy it. No need to get all bent out of shape!

  7. A Great Harvest Oatmeal cookie once a year, not all cookies! I’m not any kind of high horse, sheesh, no need to get hostile! Simply pointing out that it’s the consumer’s responsibility to do their homework!

  8. The scones, cookies and other baked treats at GH are huge! I’m not surprised they list the nutrition info as 2 or more servings per item. No one wants to see 1000cals for a cookie. It does make label reading even more complicated and it’s no wonder so many people are overwhelmed by it.

  9. Looks like this is turning out to be a controversial post! I also hate when places turn a seemingly one piece item into two servings. It happens a lot with the little bags of chips – especially “healthier” ones like pita chips which I love but don’t have much because I don’t feel like spending 300 calories on them. So annoying!

    Random question…do you know of any other spinning studios in the city besides Flywheel or Soul Cycle? When it costs $30+ per class I may as well join NYSC for $60/month lol!

  10. I would be interested if KERF replies to your email. I wouldn’t bet on it, as she isn’t the most friendly or open to much questioning of her brand.

    I rarely have access to a GH, so when I go I don’t really care about the nutritional stats. I am not surprised your mentioned “scuffin” is more than one serving, their sweet items tend to be pretty large.

  11. Oh that is annoying. I think its ridiculous when a serving size is half of the thing. Also I am curious about this Great Harvest you went to. We have one in Ann Arbor and while I have always loved their stuff I in no way thought it was healthy! It just tastes good to me! A few of the breads are whole wheat I guess but nothing that different than a regular bakery…maybe the atmosphere is a little rustic? Does the franchise you visited claim to be something different? Weird. Would love to know if you hear back!

  12. Oh please. Cry me a river. So you ate something that had sugar and white flour in it? But because you bought it at the Church of KERF you thought it would be healthy? You do know that she owns a franchise of a chain, not her own independent little bakery?

    You enjoy them steamed veggies and plain chicken!

  13. Never responded to all these the first time around, but now that I’m in the habit of responding to comments, a fresh comment reminded me to do so.

    The word “detox” was totally meant to be tongue-in-cheek. If I remember correctly, I think I did avoid overly sugary/fatty foods for the rest of the day, but that was more because I felt kind of gross and the thought of that stuff made me sick. Trust me, I have no problems eating tons of junk food from time to time! It’s scary that some bloggers go so overboard that people might think I was actually going on a detox from one dumb muffin – not my style.

    I never did hear back from Kath on this one, which was disappointing. I agree that it’s up to the consumer to watch out for themselves, but I did feel cheated that she advertises Great Harvest products as being healthy/whole grain/etc, when they seem to be anything but. Treats are yummy (I love my Panera), but I still think it’s not cool to market your products as something that they’re not.

    PS – As I reread the post… protein coffee? Good lord, perhaps there was a little bit of eating disorder in me; that’s way overboard 🙂

    1. Also, you can tell I don’t remember this all that clearly because I forgot I did post a follow up post here. Hopefully that clears up more of the confusion!

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