Walk Talk Nutrition: Whole Foods lunch

The junk food gauntlet on the way to check out

The junk food gauntlet on the way to check out

The Walk Talk Nutrition RDs visit Whole Foods to check out the prepared food choices, of which there are plenty.   Most of them look delicious and healthy. Plant foods are abundant, whether you choose from the deli/take-out prepared foods, or the salad bar.

At the moment, there are no calorie counts to accompany those items — not at point of sale and not on the company website.  Strangely some nutrition databases include nutrition information for Whole Foods items.  Where do they get the information if Whole Foods doesn’t post it?

Whole Foods boasts about the so-called Health Starts Here® program, based on their “Four Pillars of Healthy Eating”:

  1. The ingredients are whole foods, ingredients in their purest, unprocessed forms.
  2. They’re plant-strong™: The fiber, protein and phytonutrients in Health Starts Here meals come from the healthiest source – plants.
  3. They only contain healthy fats: You won’t find any extracted oils or processed fats in Health Starts Here meals. The only fats in them come from the healthiest sources: nuts, seeds and avocados. (NOTE TO WHOLE FOODS: all oils are processed or extracted in some way, or they wouldn’t be oils. What exactly is your point?)
  4. They’re nutrient dense: Health Starts Here meals are made with whole plant foods with high ANDI (that’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) scores.

Both Donna and Kathy question the usefulness of this ANDI system, made up by some doctor who claims to be a nutrition expert.  It seems to be nutrients per weight, but which nutrients?  Why are radishes scored higher than edamame or chia seeds or apricots?  There seems to be a strange obsession with phytonutrients as opposed to known nutrients.  By the way, all so-called phytonutrients are not necessarily proven to be beneficial.  Neither of us ever plans to use this ANDI score system to choose foods, or to recommend it to clients.

Foods that meet the Health Starts Here® standards are supposed to be labeled as such, but we only found one item in the deli case with that label: a quinoa salad.  Not the lovely kale salad or bean salads or the other quinoa salad??  Why?  The rationale we were given: this particular quinoa salad didn’t contain any salt or oil, and therefore that made it nutritionally superior to kale, which had oil.

ironical signs near the Whole Foods salad bar

ironical signs near the Whole Foods salad bar

We completely agree on a major problem with Whole Foods shopping: the sneaky marketing of high calorie junk food at the point of purchase of healthier items. Case in point: the cookie/cupcake/pastry gauntlet you have to navigate on your way to pay for your virtuous salad or quinoa casserole.

Note the giant banner for gooey S’Mores next to the salad bar.  But they’re probably organic, so that makes them OK.  Or maybe they’re Paleo S’Mores.

Another problem: cost. Our modest lunch cost $20, and we didn’t even purchase drinks or cookies.

Wf lunch

$20 lunch, the little containers are 1/3 full

Major annoyance: Whole Foods trademarked “plant-strong™ ” along with Health Starts Here® .  They should spend more time actually creating a worthwhile way for customers to make informed calorie choices and less time worrying about protecting their names.  Maybe they should trade mark “Cookie Gauntlet” — it’s their specialty!

Our bottom line:

Beware the Cookie Gauntlet when checking out.  Whole Foods is not on your side when it comes to avoiding temptation.  Health Starts where?

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