Health Food ... or Health Fraud?

Use this guide to learn the science behind food-industry health claims.

By David Zinczenko, Men's Health

Heart Disease, Chronic Disease and Diet

Here is another wonderful article of information you need to know to take the best care possible of your heart healthy diet. I did not write a single word of the article, David Zinczenko, of Men's Health did. Thank you David. In The Simplified Handbook for Living With Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases we pointed out how food manufacturers change their labeling, serving size and hyperbole to fit the latest diet information.

As this article clearly points out, in many cases, the claims are downright fraudulent. When the manufacturers are called to task for their misdeeds, they settle out of court, pay up whatever they think will quiet the whistle blowers, make some few changes to either their packaging or their advertising claims and go merrily on their way. Being the generally lazy uneducated and uncaring jerks we are, we continue to buy into the lying bull****.

To keep from falling into the traps, as consumers, we must learn to read and understand the labels. For example, we are all fooled by the term serving size. Just what does serving size really mean? In point of fact a serving size is some fictional amount the manufacturer has dreamed up to make the product comply with some nutritional or calorie guideline. For instance, have you ever eaten either a quarter or half cup of anything? A quarter cup of anything is two ounces. In peanut terms this is roughly two handfuls. I don't know anyone who has ever eaten only two handfuls of peanuts.

Wait, a minute, I take that back. Airlines used to give you a small bag of peanuts, for free, with a drink of anything. But then, the cost of half an ounce of peanuts became greater than the cost of half an ounce of pretzels. Then no pretzels became cheaper than any pretzels. The airlines were just looking out for our expanding waist and butt sizes.

The other trick has to do with how many of a thing constitutes a serving size. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" was a slogan the apple industry dreamed up in the 1950s. There was no medical study to determine if the claim is true. Nobody calls the claim into either account or question. An apple a day is one serving, or is it? If you chow down on a humongous red delicious apple (and isn't that a treat?) is that the same as wolfing down a small granny smith apple? Not a chance. "Calories is calories", as my cousin the fat doctor always told me. However, apple calories are better for you than ice cream calories.

Chips, that great American snack food that come in an infinite number of flavors and ingredients, always have printed on their label the recommended number of chips that constitute a serving size. As an example, my favorite corn chips, the basic necessity for salsa, have a recommended serving size of nine chips. Is that nine whole chips or whatever the approximate number of broken chips might work out to be? How many whole chips actually survive to stay whole chips? Nine chips?

Come on, here, who is fooling whom? As Lays' potato chips used to claim, "You can't stop at one". Or, for that matter, you can’t stop at one or two-dozen. Interestingly enough, Frito Lay uses different size chips for different size bags. The individual serving bag uses only smaller chips made from smaller potatoes. Frito Lay has a separate production line facility for small chips for small bags. The big bag line gets all the big spuds.

Anyway, here is the article wherein I have made germane comments in this type face (I left the links in so you can read more if you wish – remember I am only a reporter):

Beware of packaging propaganda: Food-industry health claims can be misleading, say researchers at the University of California, Davis. Case in point: Recently, Dannon settled a false advertising lawsuit—that will pay out up to $35 million—for claims made on the labels of Activia and DanActive yogurts. The suit alleged, among other things, that the company charged a premium for products that haven't been shown to provide additional health benefits for already healthy people, as claimed. Dannon denies any wrongdoing, but agreed to make several changes to their packaging. (Of course they denied any wrongdoing. The jails are full of people that never did any wrongdoing. – WS)

You see, your supermarket's shelves are packed with over hyped 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 (Not to worry, this is a food heavily advertised on programming aimed at children. As any parent can attest, there is nothing better than starting the kids out for the day with a breakfast loaded with sugar. WS)

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 (Say, isn't this another quality product from Frito Lay? WS)

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

The claims:

  • "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.

(About a trillion years ago, maybe less, it only seems that long ago to me, at any rate while I was still a small boy, there was a mini scandal about the amount of sugar being used in cereal. I say a mini scandal because there was no legislation passed to correct the situation. Eisenhower's Congress passed food-labeling legislation and was content with the certain knowledge that consumers would actually read the label. Well, we consumers fooled them. Anyway, my mom, being conscientious, started to give me a cereal called "Ranger Joe". The cereals' claim to fame: "No processed sugar". Great. However, the cereal was in fact a sweetened sugar. The manufacturer was indeed alarmed with the amount of sugar in his kids' cereal and developed a sweetened cereal with out the bad for you ingredients.

How did he make the cereal sweet you may ask? Good question. He used grape sugar. Yep, grape sugar. The exact same stuff vintners are counting on to make grape juice wine. As it turns out, grape sugar is very sweet. It is sweeter and has more calories than either cane or beet sugar and it will rot your teeth just as fast. Welch’s Grape Juice does not need to add sugar. WS)

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.

(I have to admit I am now very skeptical with anything that bears the American Heart Association endorsement. But that is a story for another time. WS)

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.

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.

(Well, duh. The product is made with Number Two Yellow Corn, which is planted on about a zillion acres of Corn Belt farms. It is the exact same corn used to feed cattle, pigs and chickens. WS)

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.

The Simplified Handbook for
Living with Heart Disease
and Other Chronic Diseases

This comprehensive, doctor reviewed and approved book explains heart disease from a patientís perspective. Without complicated medical mumbo-jumbo, this blunt and hilarious book is a total lifesaver.