Tucked into the freezer of your local health food store is a brand of products called Tofutti, a range of soy-based dairy-free alternative foods. Best known for their ice cream substitute, Tofutti aims for the health-conscious niche of grocery consumers: the vegan, vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, kosher and food allergy sensitive segments of the population – all of which are growing.
Like we have seen with the gluten-free food fad, just because a certain product follows strict dietary guidelines does not mean that it is healthy. But often consumers equate restricted diets with health, and therefore products like organic cheese, dairy-based ice cream and gluten-free pizza are automatically considered as a healthier choice than their conventional counterparts.
With products like “Better Than Ricotta,” a soy-based non-dairy cheese, and “Tofutti Cuties,” vegan ‘ice cream’ sandwiches, Tofutti offers a large selection of dairy-free products, including frozen desserts (ice cream, novelties), frozen foods (blintzes, ravioli, pizza) and cheeses (slices, cream cheese, ricotta, sour cream). These products are much appreciated by those who can’t eat dairy but still want to enjoy dairy-like products. Tofutti is a welcome addition to the freezer for those with restricted diets – but are Tofutti products as healthy as the company claims? Or is it fake, like granola or flavored yogurts - a product masquerading as a health food that is really not that good for you? You be the judge.
Tofutti products are made with soy protein and are touted as a “healthful alternative”– claiming that diets rich in soy have been shown to reduce the risk and symptoms of osteoporosis, menopause and certain cancers. Many people, especially vegetarians, love the taste of Tofutti treats – but calling it a “healthful alternative” is not quite true when you compare ingredients.
Nevermind the millions of people for whom too much soy causes a bellyache. What other ingredients are in Tofutti?
For the Tofutti Milk-Free Premium Frozen Dessert in vanilla, the ingredients include: water, sugar, corn oil, corn syrup solids, soy protein, tofu, cocoa butter, vanilla and other natural flavors, guar, locust bean, and cellulose gums, carrageenan, salt, veg mono and diglycerides, caramel flavor and annatto color. In a half-cup serving of this vegan product, you’ll find 210 calories, 13 grams of total fat, 130 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein. Compared to conventional vanilla ice cream, Tofutti delivers more calories, more fat, more sodium and less protein.
You will also notice that following the first ingredient of water, the next three items in Tofutti are suspect: sugar, corn oil, and corn syrup solids. While we expect a dessert item to feature sugar as a main ingredient, enjoying a nice sundae of corn oil and corn syrup solids isn’t an appetizing prospect – even with a cherry on top. While the negative implications of an overabundance of corn in the Western diet is the subject of another article, it is easy to see that Tofutti – while a delicious treat for many – is most certainly not a health food that deserves regular rotation in your diet.
Take Tofutti off the “health food” shelf in your mind, and instead save these soy treats for special occasions, just like you would an ice cream sundae.
Image: mass distraction