Does the World Need Pop-Tarts? [Inside the Label]

For over 40 years, Pop-Tarts have been a part of American breakfast tradition. A thin pastry surrounding a sweetened jelly, wrapped in space age foil to preserve freshness. No need to refrigerate. Ready to eat or quickly heated in a toaster. A marvel of food ingenuity.

America has handsomely rewarded Kellogg’s, the manufacturer, for its ingenuity (even though Kellogg’s got the idea from Quaker). By 2006, Kellogg’s was selling over $400 Million worth of Pop-Tart products a year. To this day, Pop-Tarts account for 80% of the “toaster-pastry” segment.

Great, right?

Well, we beg to differ. We believe that Pop-Tarts are an unfortunate tradition that needs to be stopped. Immediately.

Here’s why…

What you need to know:

Let’s begin with the Pop-Tarts packaging. It  is deceiving at best – the image of fresh real blueberries surrounding a pastry rich in blueberry filling does not match the reality of less than 2% blueberry content in the product. And to add to the disgrace there’s a large font “made with real fruit” on the front panel.
A look at the nutrition label does not add joy to our life.
A single pastry is 200 calories, 150 of which are from carbohydrates. The 17 grams of sugar are equivalent to over 4 teaspoons worth. A pop tart is one third sugar by weight. There is less than 1 gram of fiber, and despite the labeling saying Trans Fat are 0, there is a certain amount present due to the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

A serving size is defined as one pastry, but since they are packed 2 per foil, people can just as easily double the amount of calories.

The ingredient list is as long as the backup on highway 101 on Monday morning:

Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Soybean And Palm Oil (With Tbhq For Freshness), Sugar, Cracker Meal, Contains Two Percent Or Less Of Wheat Starch, Salt, Dried Blueberries, Dried Grapes, Dried Apples, Cornstarch, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Corn Cereal, Citric Acid, Gelatin, Modified Wheat Starch, Soy Lecithin, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And/Or Cottonseed Oil?, Modified Corn Starch, Xanthan Gum, Caramel Color, Red #40, Vitamin A Palmitate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Color Added, Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Blue #2, Blue #1, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Turmeric Color, Folic Acid.

Here’s a brief explanation of what’s inside – (note all the variations of sugar in here)

Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour…) – All flour is enriched in the US, by law. Don’t be fooled by “Wheat Flour” either, as most flour is from Wheat. If the ingredient list does not state “100% whole wheat flour”, you are missing out on the fiber your body needs.
Corn Syrup – a syrup made from cornstarch. Used as a sweetener due to its high glucose content. Prevents crystallization and can help increase shelf life in baked goods.
High Fructose Corn Syrup – corn syrup where some of the glucose has been converted to fructose.
Dextrose – a term for glucose. glucose and fructose together make sucrose, which is commonly known as table sugar.
Soybean And Palm Oil – Canola oil would have been a healthier alternative because of its high unsaturated fat content.
TBHQ (E319) – tert-Butylhydroquinone – a preservative for oils. May be carcinogenic in high doses.
Sugar – well, the product is still not sweet enough is it?
Wheat Starch – A powdery substance obtained from wheat kernels. Used as a thickener for sauces, gravies, and puddings.
Dried Blueberries, Dried Grapes, Dried Apples – there’s less than 2% of each in the product. Yet on the product image you see much much more than 2% blueberry.
Cornstarch – a powdery substance used as a thickener.
Citric Acid – a natural preservative that is used in beverages to add an acidic, sour taste. Although it is naturally found in citrus fruit (oranges, lemons), industry has a found a cheaper way to manufacture it. This is through a fermentation process in which a mold called Aspergillus Niger is used to ferment a carbohydrate such as molasses. sounds grosser than it really is.
Gelatin  (E441) – a translucent, colorless, brittle, nearly tasteless solid substance, derived from the collagen inside animals’ skin and bones. It is commonly used as a gelling agent.
Modified Wheat Starch – same as the wheat starch above but modified not to loose its thickening properties when heated.
Soy Lecithin (E322) – an oily substance derived from soybeans. Used as an emulsifier and to keep the dough from sticking
Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And/Or Cottonseed Oil – this is the source of trans-fat, folks.
Modified Corn Starch – a common additive used as a thickener. Corn starches are modified so they won’t lose their thickening properties when heated.
Xanthan Gum (E415) – a common emulsifier and thickener made from reaction between glucose and Xanthomonas campestris bacteria.
Caramel Color (E150) – a natural food coloring.
Red #40 (Allura Red / E129) – an artificial food coloring that is being phased out in Europe due to concerns about it causing child hyperactivity.
Tricalcium Phosphate (E341) – used as a raising agent.
Color Added – on top of the artificial colors stated by name we get this mystery color.
Niacinamide – This is vitamin B3.
Natural And Artificial Flavors – with all the crap in this product, no wonder it needs to be enhanced by some proprietary and secret formulas.
Blue #2 – artificial color
Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue FCF / E133) – a synthetic dye derived from coal tar! Was previously banned in Europe but now is allowed. May cause hyperactivity in children.
Turmeric Color – a yellow/orange powder from the turmeric spice.

Conclusion: this product should not exist in Obese America 2009. The light fortification with various vitamins and minerals cannot compensate for the sugar overdose, lack of fiber, and overwhelming use of additives, preservatives, and artificial food coloring.

Pop-tarts are no-starts. They are a terrible product to start your kids’ day.

What to do at the supermarket:

Stay away from Pop-tarts. In the time it takes to heat them, you can spread peanut butter on a slice of whole wheat bread and top it with sliced bananas and a teaspoonful of honey.

Help us test our new food comparison tool:

  • Daria

    The other annoying thing about pop-tarts is even if you did only want to eat one, since they come packaged with two in the foil, once you open the package the remaining pop-tart that you didn’t eat will become hard by the next day.
    They now have pop-tarts fortified with “more fiber”, I believe it is the Fiber One brand. But a look at the packaging and you find they still include lots of sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

    I love this blog by the way, I look forward to learning more about what’s really in food, even though it makes me angry at the state of our food industy.

  • Christel

    Thank you for the breakdown Fooducate! Semi-not-surprised with your conclusion. TBHQ (E319) is such a little mystery to me: no odor, no flavour, and not fully tested. I’ve heard it can cause damage to DNA.

  • Jake

    I think you missed the point of pop tarts. Their point isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) nutrition. It should be a pastry-type food that you eat in moderation to fulfill that sweet tooth. I won’t argue their nutritional value as there is nothing to argue about, you’re 100% right on that it’s not healthy and that there are better alternatives, but when you go on to say that nobody should purchase them, that they are an “unfortunate tradition that needs to be stopped. Immediately”. That’s where I think you went awry. It’s not about it being healthy, its about people enjoying it, if they choose to be fat, then that’s their decision, but you shouldn’t remove it from them. Saying that they can eat a slice of whole wheat bread is hardly a solution and is more or less a cop-out. For many, whole wheat would hardly be a substitute for a pastry. Perhaps you should focus more on that it’s actually a pastry and hardly a good choice for breakfast, but don’t say that it should be removed from everyone’s life in its entirety, that’s what our government does and look how popular that’s gotten them! Just kidding. What America needs is self control and personal accountability, not someone to come in and tell you what you can or cannot eat.

    • staff

      Jake, thanks for your thoughtful comment. a quick rebuttal:
      1. If it’s a snack put it in the snack aisle and call it that. But when it becomes an acceptable replacement to a real breakfast, that’s a cop out.
      2. And while we have a right to choose our food, we also have a right not to be lied to and tricked by food companies plastering blueberries all over a box that contains less than 2% fruit.
      3. Lastly, if you want a pastry, why in the world would it be an artificial tasting Pop-Tart? Did you know that in all other countries, consumers rejected Pop Tarts and they failed commercially.

  • SRA

    1. Should we also do the same with: donuts… deep-fried dough often frosted with sugar, chocolate, etc. — Pancakes… often topped with high fructose corn syrup (aka Aunt Jemima’s, etc.) There are lots of healthy, and lots of not-so-healthy options for every meal of the day. Should every not-so-health option go to the snacks aisle?
    2. For me, images serve more as flavor cues than ingredients. Blueberry chewing gum? Put blueberries on the pack so I can find it, I know there’s likely not real blueberries in there. Key Lime Pie yogurt… put a slice of key lime pie on there so I know what flavor I’m getting, I know there probably isn’t crushed up pie in there and real key limes.
    3. Your last point supports Jake’s message with you determining that no reasonable person would choose a Pop-Tart over some other pastry. Some people want to go to a bakery in France for a pastry. Some people just want a Pop-Tart. Shouldn’t be the message of a single source to declare “unfortunate tradition that needs to be stopped immediately”. Present the facts, state your opinion, let readers come to their own conclusion. But don’t present your opinion as part of the facts.

    I agree with Jake, I don’t like the government and special interest groups trying to make our food choices for us. It’s a real slippery slope.

    • staff

      Hi SRA,
      thank you for your thoughtful comments. Let us agree to disagree.
      1. Unfortunately many products in modern supermarkets are nothing more than snacks. Bad snacks. So lets not kids ourselves into thinking they are a breakfast or a lunch. We’re all for tasty treats, but man, make them real food, with real ingredients. Give us Haagen Dazs ice cream, homemade butter cookies, freshly baked brownies from the local bakery. These are not health foods, but dang they sure taste good. That’s real food.
      2. Perhaps a single blueberry or two , or a blue color on the package could convey the message that these Pop-Tarts are blueberry flavored. But bombarding the front of package with a bucket full of blueberries and boldly stating “made with real fruit” when there’s less than 2% is crossing the line, don’t you think?
      3. Lastly, it is unfortunate that with all the great things going for it, America’s food culture is in need of repair. Call this blog elitist, but Pop-tarts are not something any food critic would recommend, irregardless of their nutritional content. That’s not what America should eat. Not some industrial chemical laden product that unless you’ve been indoctrinated as a child into eating you wouldn’t let into your house.
      4. The role of the regulator is not to tell us what to eat, but to make sure manufacturers don’t con consumers. If Pop-Tarts would be presented in their true light, less people would choose them.

  • SRA

    Thanks for the thoughts. You’re right, some level of agreeing to disagree here…
    1. I’m with you, give me ice cream made with only 5 ingredients (Haagen Dazs), or homemade baked goods, or goods from a local bakery. But I say that because I can afford it. I can afford the premium ice cream, I can afford to go to the local bakery. The fact is, packaged goods are relatively inexpensive, have a long shelf-life, and look/taste pretty good (especially for the price). Fact is, it takes some “fake” ingredients to deliver shelf life, flavor, and appearance for a low cost. Not everyone can afford all-natural, premium-priced products.
    2. Touche. I agree to disagree on this one. I think we underestimate people to think they’re that easily misled.
    3. And yes, this blog is a bit elitist, but that’s okay. I wouldn’t expect a food critic to recommend most packaged foods. My struggle is that you provide some very valuable information here to open people’s eyes up to what they’re eating. But when you mix the valuable information with your very strong opinions, you begin to cloud what is fact and what is your opinion. Maybe crossing the line a bit, similar to those flavor cues. In my opinion, a bit too much opinion, not clearly distinguished from the facts.
    4. Finally, the argument could be made that if anything was presented in the “true” light, less people would choose them. Put on the front of that Haagen Dazs ice cream that it has 250 calories in a 1/2 cup (more than half from fat), 1/4 of the fat you need in a total day, 1/2 the Sat. Fat you need in a day, 1/3 the cholesterol… I’d be less likely to choose that, too. “True” light isn’t black and white, and when regulators try to make them black and white, they’re making decisions for us… which to me, is still a slippery slope.

    Thanks for the good discussion.

  • ~*~ Jennifer ~*~

    I totally agree about unhealthy foods being the most affordable and attractive options to consumers. Is it really necessary to pack so much extra “junk” into these? Are chemical substitutes more cost-effective than natural ingredients? It would appear that chemists profit more from the sale of PopTarts than farmers.

    [ One minor critique -- "irregardless" is improper English; a double negative. ]

    Keep up the good fight for food education. This is a great resource.

  • ruth Jennifer

    I love this blog by the way, I look forward to learning more about
    what’s really in food, even though it makes me angry at the state of our
    food industy.

    how to claim back ppi

  • poptartfreak

    forget that! it’s amazing to eat! have you absolutely lost your mind? these are delicious!

  • Writing to Kellogg now

    I believe that even as of 2009, some of the information in this post was outdated. I wrote to Kellogg in 2003 asking them to create a version of pop tarts without hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils. It appears that in October 2005, they reformulated them to remove their transfats.

    Worth reading:

    and the current ingredients:

  • Mike

    I am By And Large Vegan And Vegetarian. Upon reading the label of ingredients, I somehow overlooked the gelatin ingredient. I was really excited to try this brand name product before I discovered that animal parts may have been used in its making. I am disturbed by the use of animal parts for testing, consumption, and decoration. Therefor, I am not sure that Pop Tarts are in fact necessary. And I am sure That I Can Live Without Them. In the food business I am careful what I eat and serve. However, the label I read reads : Contains Soy And Wheat. This might lead a health conscious consumer like myself into the purchase of the product Pop Tart. While not entirely deceiving, it is misleading for the not so careful reader. However the product tastes, the ingredients should match up to equal parts health and anti-animal destruction. I will live with this knowledge. I will not live with a house full of Pop Tarts. Until they do away this gelatin and gum. A vegan pop tart? A tale of two tarts! Maybe someday.


  • ariel

    Some cracker meals may contain nuts. How is a consumer to know if the one they use may contains nuts or not?