Pop tarts are a classic kid food. Who didn’t eat them for breakfast or as an after-school snack? Since you’ve probably eaten quite a few in your life, let’s take a deep dive into pop tarts; are pop tarts bad for you?
Let’s start with the fact that consuming highly processed foods is bad for your health. These ‘foods’ are not whole food but food substances that go through chemical processes to become ready-to-eat, packaged foods. There is a positive association between eating ultra-processed foods and cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in adults (1).
Processed foods contain excess sugar, chemicals, GMO products, food dyes, excitotoxins, and other undesirable ingredients. They are intentionally made to be ‘hyper-palatable’ so you will eat more and crave more. Excitotoxins are neurotoxic and are processed food additives, such as aspartame, MSG, and others. They are found in our food supply and can damage both the central nervous system and the brain (2).
When it comes to processed foods, it is wise to follow Michael Pollan’s advice: “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.” (3)
Let’s take a close look at the ingredients in pop tarts from the pop tarts website.
Pop Tart ingredients and why they might be bad for you
Pop tarts are made of: enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, vitamin B1 -thiamin mononitrate-, vitamin B2 -riboflavin- folic acid), corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, soybean, and palm oil (with tertiary butylhydroquinone -TBHQ- for freshness), bleached wheat flour, 2% or less of wheat starch, salt, dried strawberries, dried pears, dried apples, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), citric acid, modified wheat starch, caramel color, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, red 40, yellow 6 (4)
Enriched Wheat Flour
Wheat can be a problematic ingredient for many people. It contains gluten and therefore is not suitable for celiacs or people with gluten intolerance. It is typically enriched with synthetic vitamins like the B complex vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid). It is healthier to get your natural B (and other) vitamins from a whole foods diet, rather than relying on synthetic vitamins added to processed food. The body can easily process and utilize natural vitamins from whole foods, which is not always the case with synthetic additives.
You might be interested in reading “Is Cream of Wheat Good For You?”
Corn Syrup & High Fructose Corn Syrup
Excess fructose can lead to various health problems; insulin resistance, obesity, liver disorders, and diabetes. High fructose corn syrup can cause metabolic disorders of the liver, such as insulin resistance, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and type 2 diabetes (5).
Dextrose is a sugar made from corn, is similar to glucose, and is used in pop tarts. Sugar is highly palatable, which makes you crave it more. Excess sugar can lead to compulsive overeating, as the brain craves more regardless of true calorie needs. Excessive sugar has many negative health consequences. Sugar suppresses the immune system. It contributes to poor gut health by feeding the bad gut bacteria. Eating too much sugar leads to poor blood sugar regulation, negatively impacting mood, energy, and hormone levels. It can cause poor dental health. Too much sugar can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and metabolic syndrome (6).
Another ingredient of pop tarts is soybean oil, a highly-processed vegetable oil suspected of contributing to the obesity and diabetes increase seen today. In mice, soybean oil is capable of causing obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, and liver gene dysregulation (7). Soybean oil can also lead to gene expression dysregulation in the hypothalamus of the brain in mice. These gene changes are linked to neurological function, neuroinflammation, and neurological diseases (like autism, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, and depression) in mice (8).
You might be interested in “Is High Oleic Sunflower Oil Good Or Bad For You?”
During the manufacture of caramel color, 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) is formed. 4-MEI is a possible human carcinogen. California’s Proposition 65 law requires products containing high levels of 4-MEI that pose a cancer risk to have a label warning consumers (9).
Red 40 and Yellow 6
Food dyes have long been controversial because of safety concerns. They were initially made from coal tar and are now made from petroleum. Red 40 and Yellow 6 are contaminated with benzidine and other carcinogens (10).
In conclusion, Are Pop Tarts Bad for You?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. We would recommend staying away from op tarts or eat them in moderation and focus eating whole foods.