Swayed by the sight of yogurt raisins and the word ‘probiotic,’ I grabbed a bag of probiotic trail mix on my way to the Walgreen’s checkout yesterday. I know that fortified versions of high-sugar or fat foods like chocolate, trail mix, snack bars are a silly, nutritiously ineffective way to get vitamins, minerals, fish oil or probiotic bacteria. But even though I write about this kind of stuff all the time on here, I found myself thinking the probiotic trail mix couldn’t be that bad, and might even have a small health benefit.
The word ‘probiotic’ is something of a health buzzword right now. I just wrote yesterday about how probiotics in yogurt could help your body block fat absorption. I’m not implying the health benefits of probiotics are overhyped — I don’t at all think that; but because probiotics are getting more attention these days while still being semi-understood, it’s the kind of label that makes people feel they’re getting a healthy product even if they’re not sure why.
I definitely fell victim to packaging propaganda with this one. The brand behind the probiotic trail mix, good & delish, is produced by Walgreen Co., and while it includes some of your typical packaged goods it’s also makes many seemingly healthier snacks, things you don’t expect to see in a drugstore. The packaging is bright and minimalist clean. Under “Probiotic Fruit & Nut” in big letters, the bag says “Supports Digestive Health,” then lists ingredients: Probiotic yogurt raisins, date pieces, almonds, dried cranberries, papaya, pineapple, walnuts. Sounds pretty good, right?
Wrong. I am pretty fanatical about checking full ingredient lists, but my arms were full and I didn’t, otherwise I would have put the trail mix right back down. The back of the back proclaims HEALTHIER BENEFITS in big orange letters, advertising 0g trans fat, no cholesterol, low sodium and ‘more active cultures than yogurt.’ And it isn’t bad on fat — 7 grams total, 3 grams saturated — or sodium (15 mg). But here is the (small-print) full ingredient list:
Probiotic yogurt raisins [yogurt coating (sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, whey powder (milk) colored with titanium dioxide, yogurt powder (cultured) whey, non-fat milk powder, soy lecithin (an emulsifier, salt, vanilla, raisins, corn syrup, modified starch (tapioca), confectioner's glaze, probiotic added [Bacillus Coagulans GBI-30 6086)], date pieces (rice flour) almonds, dried cranberries (sugar, sunflower oil), papaya (cane sugar, citric acid, calcium chloride), pineapple (cane sugar, citric acid, walnuts.
So as you can see, a lot of sugar and sugary substances (corn syrup, confectioner’s glaze). One serving of the trail mix (about 1/3 cup) has 28 grams carbohydrates, 22 of which are sugars and only 2 of which are dietary fiber. This morning, Briana and I tasted it, stood around talking about the bad ingredients for at least five minutes, then one more handful. It is really tasty, because it’s basically candy.
The probiotic contained is not insubstantial — 400 million CFU/serving of Bacillus coagulans, or GanedenBC30, a probiotic strain created by Ganeden Biotech to withstand the low pH of stomach acid. Some clinical trials only give half that dose of B. coagulans daily to patients. But eating these probiotic raisins daily would also be providing you with a daily dose of corn syrup, sugar, titanium dioxide (a possible carcinogen) and fractionated palm kernel oil (palm oil that is heated then cooled and has a higher percentage of saturated fat than regular palm or palm kernel oil).
As for the claim about delivering more active cultures than yogurt: The fine print notes that in a lab study conducted by Ganeden Biotech using a “simulated gastric environment,” GanedenBC30 was able to “deliver more than 10 times the live cells than common probiotic cultures” (more info here).
Probiotic trail mix summary: Not totally terrible to eat occasionally and, yes, may actually provide you with a decent does of probiotics. But there are much healthier ways to get probiotics, and you wouldn’t want to eat this stuff every day, or even very often.