Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Truly misleading (and sometimes comical) claims about food

In honor of April Fools Day, I'd like to write about how manufacturers like to tout the so-called nutrition advantages in certain products. Manufacturers aren't lying, they are just trying to make their product more appealing. After all, they want you to buy it, so they try to persuade you that you are getting something good. I admit that some people will use it to justify their decisions, even though they know better. On the other hand, these statements often mislead and cause confusion.

So let's get started with the comical:

Gone are the days when health claims were used to get kids to eat their veggies and when eating was for the pleasure of eating. Take this example of pork skins being sold at the North Carolina State Fair:

Now, I'm not faulting these guys for selling pork skins, but no one I know ever ate it because they thought it would be good for them.

And then there's the vitamin and mineral enriched soft drinks. I really appreciate the industry's ulterior motive of restoring America's health by adding some vitamins and calcium to the very drinks that often displace these nutrients from our diets.

Then, there's Snicker's Charged, a Snickers "energy" bar, loaded with caffeine, B vitamins (known to help in energy metabolism) and taurine (an unproven energy stimulant). It's a nice change from drinking Red Bull and the like, if you're dependent on that stuff. I didn't think much of it until I was in the line at the grocery store one morning when the person behind me grabbed one of these bars and started eating it. She then tells her adult daughter that it has vitamins in it, as if she was seeking validation. Does she really need validation? I wonder if she would have picked up a regular Snickers if the Charged wasn't there. Who knows? Maybe she was just surprised.

Now to the confusing stuff:

Ocean Spray CranGrape Juice Drinks. This one (and most likely the other varieties) goes to my hall of shame. Recently, an email list colleague (and a very wise and experienced food allegry & intolerance dietitian) shared how she mistakenly picked up a bottle of the thing instead of 100% juice when she was in a hurry. Later on, she not only saw that she got fruit drink with 15% juice, she noticed the label also claimed the product had no artificial flavorings or preservatives.
A closer look at the ingredients shows that it contains Red 40 and Blue 1 (colors). The manufacturer was telling the truth, the drink does not have any artificial flavorings or preservatives, but they won't tell you it contains artificial colors. After all, that's what ingredient lists are for, so the consumer can see for themselves what is (or isn't) in a product. So, by all means overstate how great your product is, but keep the rest to the fine print. And why did they add the color? To make a lower quality product look more like the better quality one.

And the last on my list today (my kids are getting hungry) is the whole grains claim. Ever since the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that half of our grain consumption should come from whole grain, the industry has eagerly complied by adding all sorts of whole grain versions to their foods. It's a reincarnation of the "wheat bread vs 100% whole wheat bread" claim, where they add a little bit of whole grain and now can say that it is a "sensible" choice. This also goes to the hall of shame, but there are so many products out there that I can't even name them all.

Check out some other examples in my misleading claims category. Feel free to add your own.


  1. Thanks Renata! That was fun!

    Love you ;)

  2. So sad, but a dietitan's trip to the local supermarket's middle aisles is full of things like these. I laugh, but really sometimes I feel like crying thinking as I look around me, that most, if not all, people around me don't have a nutrition degree or any sort of eductaion to help them see what I see...Thanks for your posts ;-)