If you're a regular at the "Bullseye Boutique," here's some good news: Target is pledging to remove artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, and colors—plus artificial trans fats and high fructose corn syrup—from all of their Target-owned brand kids' foods by the end of 2018. About 75 percent of the store-brand kids' foods are already free of these ingredients.
The Target-owned brands such as Simply Balanced and Market Pantry include items like macaroni and cheese, gummy fruit snacks, yogurt squeezers, granola bars, and animal crackers. The move is part of Target's Corporate Social Responsibility commitments, which also include increasing organic food offerings and creating more sustainable packaging for their Target-branded products.
Other grocers have similar pledges. In 2015, ALDI removed certified synthetic colors, partially hydrogenated oils, and added MSG from their ALDI-exclusive brands, which make up 90 percent of the store. (Note: I'm a member of the ALDI Advistory Council, but I wasn't compensated for this post.) And Whole Foods has a long list of ingredients you won't find in their store, such as hydrogenated fats, artificial sweeteners, and even bleached flour.
Several big restaurant chains are also ditching faux ingredients. Panera removed all artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, and colors from their menu last year, and Noodles & Company did the same for their core menu items. Major food companies are making the switch as well: Kraft swapped out Yellow 5 and 6 for natural colors in their macaroni and cheese, and General Mills committed to eliminating artificial colors and flavors from their cereals.
It makes sense that companies are going this route: "Clean labels"—foods and beverages with shorter, simpler ingredient lists—are one of the hottest consumer trends right now.
As a dietitian, I applaud companies that remove artificial ingredients from their foods. It's great for parents to have choices—and some kids are even sensitive to ingredients like synthetic food dyes. But it's also smart to remember that the "clean label" can give foods undeserved health haloes. "Clean label" foods aren't automatically healthy foods. Gummy fruit snacks are still more like candy than fruit, and animal crackers are still more like cookies than crackers—no matter how "clean" the label is.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.