In light of the recent tragedies that have predominated the news of late, I decided to take a rare, fairly lengthy sitcom break last night. Unfortunately, the humor of my favorite comedies (Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond) did not offset my aggravation over the annoying and all-too-frequent commercial breaks. What really struck me was how many of them were about “food.” I use this word in quotes because whether or not any of the products touted were, in fact, food, is questionable. What they really are is highly processed, sugar-, fat-, salt-, chemical laden by-products of the American food industry, which cares more about selling products and making money then about the welfare of our population and the increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in all age groups.

Among the commercials that really struck me was the one for Little Debbie, which claimed that they were making people happy by attaching boxes of Little Debbie cakes, cupcakes, etc. to trees so they were ripe for the picking by young families. I’m not denying that a sweet treat once in a while is an undeniable pleasure of childhood, but considering the latest grim statistic that this generation of children is the first in history that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents, can’t we find better ways to make our kids happy? (For healthier, yummy treats, check out the recipes for Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins and Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Drops on my website.)

Next was the commercial for Jif Peanut Butter, no stranger to choosy mothers. How many of us Moms would continue to choose Jif if we read the ingredients label closely?

Ingredients: roasted peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt, and molasses

So basically, we have the peanuts, added sugar, a saturated oil, salt, and then more sugar. Personally, this mom chooses to serve her kids store-bought or homemade freshly ground peanuts, with nothing else added, because after all, we typically serve it to the kids with jelly anyway, right??? Why are all of the added oil and sugar and salt necessary? Because it makes the product taste better; therefore it makes us eat more and get fatter, ultimately making the J.M. Smucker Company richer!

I saved the best for last, as the commercial I saw before I had to turn off the TV was the one for Post Cereal, which had the gall to talk about the health benefits of eating whole foods, then introduced their version of this in their whole grain cereal. Cold cereals in a box are not whole foods, even if they are made from whole grains! They are highly processed and usually contain added sugar, salt, artificial flavors and/or colors, and preservatives. To get the true benefits of whole grains, a healthier choice is to eat oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, etc….these are unprocessed, whole foods that will provide fiber and nutrients without added salt, sugar, chemicals, and fat. You can serve them as a breakfast porridge mixed with fruit, seeds, nuts, and/or nut butters for a filling, nutritious breakfast or snack.

It’s not surprising to me that these commercials aired when they did, as I’m certain they were targeted to the exhausted parents who had just put the kids to bed and were prime candidates to be spoon-fed helpful tips about what to buy at the next trip to the grocery store to keep the kids happy and healthy. We need to educate ourselves to make the healthiest choices for our families. It’s sometimes easier, and sadly, even cheaper, to buy these old familiar processed foods in the packaging that conjures up images of our own happy childhoods, but we have to look around us at the epidemic of kids diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, as well as the growing number of obese kids around us. Pushing the mute button during the commercial breaks and making the conscious effort to carefully read ingredients labels when grocery shopping are two great ways to start ensuring a healthier, more nutritious diet for our families.