As with computer operating systems or software programs, it is imperative to consistently update your Big Food BS detector. Below, I decode three of the latest misleading declarations making the rounds.
1) “All food is processed”:
This is the food industry’s first line of defense — especially by the Registered Dietitians and other health professionals it employs — whenever a Pop-Tart or an atrocious Bowl Appétit meal are rightfully described as “highly processed”. The ‘takeaway’ message: we process foods in our kitchens all the time, so why the outcry over ‘processed foods’?
The attempt to compare homemade hummus or whole grain bread to Lucky Charms is painfully misguided at best. Blending chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt in a food processor has nothing in common with the Big Food concoctions that manage to squeeze trans fats, artificial dyes, artificial flavoring, petroleum-derived preservatives, GMO corn byproducts, and omega-6 oils that aren’t even available in supermarkets (i.e.: cottonseed oil) into a single serving of “food”.
Of course, when it’s convenient to them, the food industry likes to point out how minimally processed their products are, as is the case with Frito-Lay, which claims that “all Frito-Lay chips start with real, simple ingredients (corn or potatoes) and are minimally processed”. Does this seem ‘minimally processed’ to you? Or this? How about this?
2) “Our product only contributes a small amount of added sugar to kids’ diets.”
Behold the cereal and milk industries’ latest ‘healthwashing’ tactic — and one that particularly irritates me. It goes something like this: “Ready-to-eat cereals, including sweetened cereals, account for a relatively small amount of a child’s sugar intake — less than 5 percent on average”. The dairy industry, meanwhile, states that “flavored milk contributes only 3% of the total added sugars in children’s diets.”
This is supposed to make us think sugary cereals and flavored milk are not of nutritional concern. Far from it. The reason for these low percentages isn’t because these products are low in added sugar, but because children consume exorbitant amounts of sugar on a daily basis. Children ages 4 to 8 consume, on average, 21 teaspoons of added sugar a day — a far cry from the recommended limit of 3 teaspoons. In other words, one cup of chocolate milk contains a day’s worth of added sugar for children.
It goes without saying that cereals with 10 grams of sugar per serving (i.e.: Count Chocula, Golden Grahams, Reese’s Puffs, Marshmallow Pebbles) are not healthful. Even worse, they offer very little from a nourishment standpoint. As I explained earlier this year, most children’s cereals are the nutritional equivalent of Twizzlers + a multivitamin + corn dust.
3) “We no longer fry in oil with trans fat”
Fast food chains love this one because it comes with — what else? — a free health halo. Take Burger King, which states the following in their Corporate Responsibility Report:
“In July 2007, [we] identified two cooking oils with zero trans-fat that passed our rigorous operational, supply and consumer criteria; allowing us to start providing all of our restaurants in the U.S. and Canada with zero trans-fat oils. All U.S. and Canada BURGER KING® restaurants have the new cooking oils in place.”
Sounds great, right? Notice, though, that this only applies to their cooking oil (sidenote: while artificial trans fats are a cardiovascular abomination, in many cases the replacement oils consist of omega 6-loaded varieties like corn or soybean, which are far from heart-healthy). A look at the company’s ingredient lists reveals eleven items — including their Southwest potatoes, English muffins, Tendergrill chicken filet, chocolate fudge topping, and garlic parmesan croutons — that contain partially hydrogenated oils. Ironically, the Tendergrill chicken filet (their version of a ‘grilled chicken breast’, with an ingredient list that ‘boasts’ five separate mentions of trans fats) is often showcased as one of their “healthier” offerings.
Consider your BS detector updated and ready for action!