I Compared U.S. and U.K. Versions of Popular Food Items and Now I Feel Dirty

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Aug. 8 2020, Updated 1:02 p.m. ET

uk vs us foods cover
Source: Amazon | Sainsbury's | Mustafa Gatollari

I'm a junk food baby (sung to the tune of Lana Del Rey's "Brooklyn Baby"). I'm not saying I'm proud of this fact, but if you were to put a delicious avocado toast with eggs meal in front of me and a microwavable burrito that'll be cooked all unevenly with varying temperature points that range from arctic cold to magma hot, I'll instinctively reach for the burrito. There's something about pre-packaged foods that bring me so much joy.

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Maybe it has something to do with convenience, or the fact that growing up these foods were too expensive for my family to enjoy (peasant soup and filling our own water from upstate New York water sources in old, glass wine jugs was my upbringing), but I'm a sucker for any kind of prepared food.

And while there have been major strides in the last few years from food distributors that have seen an uptick in healthier prepared food options, the fact remains that a lot of these items are still bad.

And I don't mean "bad" in that they don't provide some instant flavor gratification (I find them delicious), but they're not necessarily the best things for you to put into your body. They're usually loaded with preservatives and a litany of ingredients that are almost impossible to pronounce.

But this isn't the case everywhere.


twix us uk
Source: Heb | Sainsbury's | Mustafa Gatollari

After looking at the differences in "junk food" labels, I noticed some startling variations in the USA labels with their U.K. counterparts.

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Heinz ketchup

heinz us uk
Source: Fresh Direct | Amazon | Mustafa Gatollari

This struck me as odd for many reasons, the first being that a lot of these brands were either founded in the United States or gained immense popularity here.

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Campbell's tomato soup

campbells us uk
Source: Target | Shopamerica | Mustafa Gatollari

A lot of these foods, like Campbell's tomato soup, are unapologetically "American" and are intertwined with our collective culture.

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Cool Ranch Doritos

doritos us uk
Source: Amazon | British Corner Shop | Mustafa Gatollari

So why is it that the U.K. and European versions of these foods have inarguably "better" ingredients? Why are they packing so fewer preservatives, dyes, and chemicals?

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Mountain Dew

mountain dew us uk
Source: Mountain Dew US | Mountain Dew UK | Mustafa Gatollari

That answer most probably lies in the food packaging and labeling protocols for each country. In the U.K., there are some pretty stringent rules when it comes to listing ingredients for food.

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Flamin' Hot Cheetos Puffs

flamin hot cheetos puffs us uk
Source: Cheetos | British Corner Shop | Mustafa Gatollari

The general U.K. regulations stipulate: "If your food or drink product has 2 or more ingredients (including any additives), you must list them all. Ingredients must be listed in order of weight, with the main ingredient first."

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Fruit Loops

fruit loops us uk
Source: Amazon | Mustafa Gatollari

These are pretty similar when compared to the U.S. ones as outlined by the FDA, however: "Listing ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight means that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last."

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Sunny D

sunny d us uk
Source: Sunny D | Tesco | Mustafa Gatollari

The U.S. and U.K. have some of the "highest food standards" in the world when it comes to safety, but why is it that U.S. food manufacturers are allowed to pack their food items with so many more ingredients than their cousins across the pond?

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Strawberry Activia yogurt

activia us uk
Source: Amazon | Dannon UK | Mustafa Gatollari

The Food Babe blog has delineated some stark contrasts between additional products as well, and chalks the differences up to "precautionary principles" in the EU and U.K. when it comes to food labeling and ingredient lists. And the site makes a pretty scary claim.

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Frosted Flakes

frosted flakes us uk
Source: Amazon | Sainsbury's | Mustafa Gatollari

The site writes: "Europe takes a 'precautionary principle' approach towards food additives that are potentially risky. They ban or add warning labels to these additives for their citizens. The U.S. takes the opposite approach. It does not remove additives from our food supply until they have been proven dangerous – which can take a very long time and a lot of red tape. This means Americans are literally the lab rats."

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So there you have it, we're the food "guinea pigs" when it comes to ingredients in foods. Personally, I'm interested in doing a taste test between these popular foods. Thanks to e-commerce, I'll be able to order the U.K. versions of these popular food items and see if I can taste a difference without freaking myself out upon reading the ingredients list. Would you be interested in checking that out? Let me know!

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