Health Food … or Health Fraud?
Use this guide to learn the science behind food-industry health claims.
You see, your supermarket’s shelves are packed with overhyped health claims. And while many of these claims may be factual, they may also be giving you the wrong impression about just how healthful a product really is. That’s because marketers highlight what they want you to notice. “Even if a food is fat free, it could be loaded with sugar,” says study author Clare Hasler, Ph.D. “Or a product that’s ‘made with whole grains’ may also contain a high amount of refined flour.” Your best strategy: Use this guide to learn the science behind the sales pitch. Call it the Eat This, Not That crib sheet for helping you to beat Big Food at its own game—and eat healthier for life.
The product: Franken Berry
The claim: “With Whole Grain”
What you should know: If it’s really “100% whole grain,” it’ll say so on the package. Even in a “whole grain” product, some of the flour can come from refined grains—and probably does. Check the ingredient list: Any flour that doesn’t start with the word “whole” isn’t. And remember, ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount used by weight. Another example: Reese’s Puffs touts “with whole grain” on the label. Of course, the label doesn’t boast that a three-quarter cup serving of the cereal also contains 3 teaspoons of sugar.
Bonus tip: For even more examples of how you’re being tricked by the food industry, check out 30 “healthy” foods that aren’t.
The product: Kellogg’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pop-Tarts
The claim: “Good source of 7 vitamins and minerals”
What you should know: Federal regulations require that enriched flour—the first ingredient in this product and the same stuff white bread is made from—contain five of the seven vitamins and minerals the package so proudly touts. That’s right: Load a product with refined flour, and you can distract consumers from the fact that it’s not made with whole grains by simply bragging that it contains all kinds of vitamins and minerals.
The product: Cheetos Puffs
The claim: “0 Grams Trans Fat”
What you should know: To claim “0 grams of trans fat” a product must contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving—so it’s not necessarily trans fat free. The dead giveaway? The words “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient list. Granted, half a gram is a tiny amount, but don’t assume the product is healthy even it doesn’t contain any trans fat. After all, it could still be packed with an overload of sugar, fat, sodium or additives. Remember, marketers are masters of misdirection.
Bonus tip: If you dare, find out the truth about your food—it could be the most important health story you read this year.
The product: Welch’s 100% Grape Juice
- “No sugar added—ever!”
- “Helps support a healthy heart, mind & immune system.”
What you should know: While an 8-ounce serving of this beverage is loaded with healthful antioxidants, it also contains more sugar than a 12-ounce soda. That’s something to keep in mind, since research shows that high-sugar drinks don’t seem to reduce your hunger compared to solid food. As a result, the calories they provide can become excess calories if you’re not careful.
The product: Twizzlers Strawberry Twists
The claim: “As always: a low-fat candy.”
What you should know: Of course Twizzlers are low in fat—more than 90 percent of their calories come from sugar and processed carbs. What’s more, you’ll find “fat free” claims on the labels of such sugar-packed products as Swedish Fish, Mike and Ike, and Good & Plenty. It seems that food manufacturers think you’re stupid. In fact, their marketing strategies rely on that belief. For instance, the makers of the aforementioned candies may be hoping you’ll equate “fat free” with “healthy” or “nonfattening,” so you’ll forget about all the sugar their products contain.
Bonus tip: Losing weight isn’t the only secret to looking younger; find more in this excerpt from Your Best Body at 40-Plus.
The product: Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple & Brown Sugar
The claim: An American Heart Association logo displayed on the product’s box, with fine print below the logo that reads that the food meets the AHA’s “food criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol.”
What you should know: It contains more sugar than a bowl of Froot Loops. Fact is, it could contain a pound of sugar and still meet the AHA’s qualifications. But guess what? Froot Loops meets the AHA’s criteria, too, only no logo is displayed. That’s because companies must pay to be an American Heart Association–certified food. That’s why the AHA checkmark might appear on one product but not on another, even when both meet the guidelines.
The product: Nabisco Honey Teddy Grahams
The claim: “A good source of: calcium, iron, zinc”
What you should know: For a food to be considered a good source of a specific vitamin or mineral, a serving must contain 10 percent of the recommended daily value for that nutrient. In this case, you’d have to eat 10 servings of Teddy Grahams—more than the entire box—to hit the amount of calcium you need for the day. Now think about it: Is that really a good source?
The product: SnackWell’s Devil’s Food Cookie Cakes
The claim: “Sensible snacking: fat-free, no cholesterol, low sodium”
What you should know: The first four ingredients are sugar, enriched flour, high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup. Is that really sensible snacking? Of course not. Follow these seven snack-smart strategies instead.
The product: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
The claim: There’s a “Diabetes Friendly” logo on the box’s side panel.
What you need to know: Australian researchers have shown that corn flakes raise blood glucose faster and to a greater extent than straight table sugar. (High blood glucose is the primary indicator of diabetes.) Below the logo, the cereal maker does provide a link to its Web site, where general nutrition recommendations are provided for people with diabetes. But these recommendations are authored by Kellogg’s nutritionists—and simply “based on” the guidelines of the American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association.
The product: Kellogg’s Smart Start Strong Heart Toasted Oat
The claim: That its content of whole grain oats, antioxidants and potassium, along with the fact that it’s low in sodium, can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
What you need to know: Yes, this cereal has plenty of healthful ingredients. However, one serving contains more sugar—17 grams—than a serving of Froot Loops (12 grams). Hey, Froot Loops is an easy target! So before you think you’ve found the ultimate cereal—”It’s healthy and it tastes like candy!”—consider all the nutrition facts, not just the ones they tout on the front of the box.
Bonus tip: See the full list of the 24 Best and Worst Cereals here.
- Posted by: Peter Smith
- on June 10, 2009 at 9:00 am
There’s a bumper crop of new documentaries examining America’s food system. Here’s a sampler.
The slurping of ramen in Tampopo makes me want to run out to the noodle bar. Mario’s Italian food in Mostly Martha turns even humble, dried pasta into something sensuous and ripe with meaning. From Pulp Fiction’s “Royale with Cheese” dialogue to the butter scene in Last Tango in Paris, food has often played a supporting role in movies. Just think about the Reese’s Pieces in E.T., the pie-eating contest in Stand By Me, Lelaina’s snack food subsistence in Reality Bites, or the opening fish preparation scene in Eat Drink Man Woman.
This summer, however, food is taking the lead in a cornucopia of documentaries hitting the big screen, the festival circuit, and the DVD aisle. They tend to offer something considerably less sweet than the familiar food-infused cinematic concoctions. The filmmakers show us again and again just how disgusting eating has become. This crop seems to follow the tradition of narrative exposés like Fast Food Nation and Humane Society’s downer cow video. Here’s a look at what’s coming up.
Director Robert Kenner manages to depict what’s wrong with the food system in 93 minutes with the help of authors Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser. Kenner explores the consequences of the industrial food system with infographics and devastating personal stories, including those of a mother who lost her 2-year-old son because of an E. coli-contaminated hamburger and a Mexican-American family that opts for fast food because it seems cheaper than fresh vegetables.
The film also hints at the brighter side of the food system, from organic yogurt pioneer Gary Hirshberg’s attempts to go big by getting his products into Wal-Mart to proclamations about good food from Joel Salatin, the celebrated farmer from Polyface Farm in Virginia. The scenes from Salatin’s chicken slaughtering yard, an investigation into workers’ rights, and a companion book gives this film something for everyone—from neophytes to food policy wonks.
Watch the trailer. (In select cities June 12).
Severine von Tscharner Fleming’s upcoming documentary focuses on farmers under 40. While that might not sound like a big deal, considering that the average age of farmers in the United States is 57, her twenty- and thirty-something farmers represent a new face of farming that is both whimsical and sensible. She’s also launched a blog, a magic goat emblem (!), and a guide for beginning farmers—all hoping to inspire a new crop of youthful agrarians. With so many food documentaries focused on gurus like Pollan and company, expect this film to examine the demographic who will actually cultivate farming’s future.
Watch the trailer. (November 2009).
Ana Sofia Joanes’s documentary also features sustainable food gurus Joel Salatin and Micheal Pollan, but tries to put a more positive spin on the reforms the food system needs. Based on a Salatin clip (in which he compares chemical agriculture to a drug trip) alone, the film may prove to be funnier and less heavy-handed than the others. Also expect appearances from Will Allen, the founder of the urban agriculture organization Growing Power, and other sustainable agriculture heavyweights talking about those baby steps we can take towards greener pastures. Think less scaremongering and more idealism.
Watch the trailer. (On the film festival circuit.)
Film producer Bryan Young, who lost 40 pounds making the documentary, reframes obesity as a societal problem exacerbated by poorly managed food policy. The film depicts a 12-year old girl getting a liposuction and attempts to explain the hardwiring that compels humans to seek out fatty, high-energy foods. The film includes interviews with the consumer advocate Ralph Nader and the food psychology expert Brian Wansink. Expect a narrow and deep look at the psychological and evolutionary side of America’s epidemic of expanding gutlines.
Watch the trailer. (Theatrical version now on DVD.)
Chris Taylor’s film frames problems with agribusiness as a way to introduce the many heroes of California “countercuisine” such as chefs Alice Waters and Suzanne Goin and writers Michael Pollan and Russ Parsons. While its glorification of the movement might feel like hagiography to some, Grist’s Tom Philpott offers some incisive commentary in what could be a companion for Julie Guthman’s academic, but comprehensive, Agrarian Dreams.
Watch the trailer. (On the festival circuit.)
Billed as the first major documentary about overfishing, reporter Charles Clover, author of a book of the same name that’s been called the “maritime equivalent of Silent Spring,” follows politicians, a tuna farmer-turned-whistleblower, and restaurateurs. Expect a British reporter aggressively exploring the darker side of seafood.
Watch the trailer. (Opening in limited venues on June 19).
These documentaries are part of a growing awareness about food—and watching them might just inspire a home-cooked meal, a community garden, or a call to Congress. Still, food cinema that celebrating the act of eating tends to show up more often in foreign titles. In Gastronomica’s long list of food films, even the movies made in Hollywood have a tendency to focus on ethnic foods: the Italian food in Big Night, for example. Maybe this is the collective point these documentaries make: In America, we’ve got some work to do before we can celebrate the sensuous, regionally distinctive side of nation’s cuisine on the big screen.
By Mike Hughlett, TRIBUNE REPORTER — Chicago Tribune, June 11, 2009 Thursday Tabloid Edition
Calorie-count disclosures would be required on menus at chain restaurants under federal legislation that has the backing of the restaurant industry and nutrition labeling watchdogs.
The Senate backers of two competing bills on menu labeling announced bipartisan, compromise legislation Wednesday that would require chains with 20 or more locations to disclose calories of food items on their menu boards or menus.
The legislation also would require such chains to give customers additional written nutritional information — including amounts of fat and cholesterol — immediately upon request. And it would create a national standard that would supersede the growing number of local and state calorie-disclosure mandates aimed at curbing obesity.
“The national policy would be quite strong — as strong or stronger than all the others” on a state and local level, said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the labeling advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“This legislation would replace varying state and local ordinances with a national standard that empowers consumers to make choices that are best for themselves and their families,” National Restaurant Association Chief Executive Dawn Sweeney said in written statement.
Restaurant chains have long fought calorie-count mandates, saying they already give ample nutrition and calorie information. With the spread of local calorie-count mandates, the industry had been pushing for a national standard through a bill known as the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act, or LEAN. That bill would have required chains to have nutrition and calorie information in plain sight prior to the point of sale — but not directly on menus or menu boards.
Competing legislation advocated such disclosures on menus. That bill, known as the Menu Education and Labeling Act, or MEAL, also would have required menus to contain information such as trans-fat and sodium levels.
In the compromise, MEAL advocates dropped the latter requirement, settling for information on customer request. They also dropped language that would allow stronger local labeling laws to supersede national regulation — anathema to the restaurant industry, which doesn’t want a patchwork of rules.
On Wednesday, the Senate sponsor of MEAL, Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and the Senate sponsors of LEAN, Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), unveiled the compromise.
The calorie count mandate also would apply vending machines “owned by individuals operating 20 or more vending machines,” according to a news release from the legislation’s sponsors. It’s not clear if such a rule is supported by the vending machine industry.
Mike Donohue, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, said in an interview that “we’re optimistic this will be passed in the Senate as well as the House and become law,” although the sponsors say the measure would be part of the contentious legislation designed to reform the nation’s health-care system.
For the rest of the original article click here –
The way you’re handling the sodium issue is likely a mistake. By Blair Chancey
Not all members of the media are out to bully their sources into saying something sensational that they don’t really mean. When the voice on the other end of the phone doesn’t know the answer to a question, it’s often just as awkward for the journalist as it is for the interviewee. But when Bill Bangs, senior research fellow at Campbell’s Soup Co., found himself at a loss for words during a February interview with QSR, it wasn’t awkwardness but clarity that dominated the moment.
After a long sigh and an even longer pause, he finally said, “If I was starting today, knowing how far behind I was, I wouldn’t know where to start to be honest.” Essentially, he was tapping out, but his answer was crucial to a multiple-month-long investigation into the sodium content in quick-service menu items.
He’d been asked where a restaurant should start if it was interested in lowering its sodium content. His advice is important. He’s been at Campbell’s for 23 years and was part of the team that developed the company’s healthy soups line back in the 1980s—where the Campbell’s sodium-conscious program got its start. Today he is an integral part of the company’s industry-leading low-sodium initiative. He has seen the iconic soup company build its low-sodium program over the last three decades and would know better than anyone else how a brand could begin a similar line of menu innovations. The only problem was he didn’t. What he did know was that it was too late. It is increasingly clear that the brands that don’t take their menus’ high sodium counts seriously are going to be stung by consumer and, perhaps worse, government demands in the near future. When the top-10 quick-serves in the nation were queried as to why sodium content was so high in their menu items, excuses rather than thoughtful and honest responses were offered. PR speak, the stringing together of phrases like “culinary guardrails,” “corporate social responsibility,” and “holistic strategy” until verbs are optional and translation is mandatory, abounded. It is apparent that the industry needs a better game plan. To prepare the industry, QSR is playing devil’s advocate, challenging the most common arguments used to put off facing the sodium problem. It’s only a matter of time before the consumer media does the same. It’s up to you to be ready.
Not all members of the media are out to bully their sources into saying something sensational that they don’t really mean. When the voice on the other end of the phone doesn’t know the answer to a question, it’s often just as awkward for the journalist as it is for the interviewee. But when Bill Bangs, senior research fellow at Campbell’s Soup Co., found himself at a loss for words during a February interview with QSR, it wasn’t awkwardness but clarity that dominated the moment. After a long sigh and an even longer pause, he finally said, “If I was starting today, knowing how far behind I was, I wouldn’t know where to start to be honest.” Essentially, he was tapping out, but his answer was crucial to a multiple-month-long investigation into the sodium content in quick-service menu items.