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    3 (More) Examples of Food Industry Deception

    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!



    1. Renata said on October 24th, 2011

      Andy, what cereal would you recommend for young children (preschool age)? I’ve tried oatmeal in various ways and failed way too many times, they just won’t eat it.

    2. fredt said on October 24th, 2011

      Those trans-fats in cooking oils are at the time of shipment. As the oil sits in the deep fryer, oxidation glycination occurs. By the time the oil is discarded, when it becomes discolored, it may contain 25% trans-fats and oxidized fats. Both equally bad. Best to just avoid all deep fried foods and all omega 6 oils, period.

    3. Andy Bellatti said on October 24th, 2011

      Hi Renata,

      Look for an organic cereal free of artificial dyes and flavors, and with no more than 4 grams of sugar per serving. You also want to avoid partially hydrogenated oils, BHT, BHA, and TBHQ.

      If you find one that has, say, 8 grams per serving, then offer half of the recommended serving size.

    4. Maggie said on October 24th, 2011

      I wouldn’t criticize or criminalize ALL Registered Dietitians about this issue. There are MANY Registered Dietitians that strongly oppose these practices of the Food Industry and work tirelessly to change these horrible practices and inform people of the truths behind these deceptions and false beliefs.

    5. Renata said on October 24th, 2011

      Thank you!

    6. Andy Bellatti said on October 24th, 2011


      I didn’t make any blanket statements about Registered Dietitians, but rather pointed out that the “all foods are processed!” meme is often spouted by RDs who are employed by Big Food.

    7. Andy Bellatti said on October 24th, 2011


      I don’t understand how your comment relates to what I wrote. My point is that Burger King and other fast food chains like to talk about no longer using cooking oils that contain trans fats, yet many of their *non-fried*, shipped-in products contain partially hydrogenated oils. Many people are under the assumption that the only worry regarding fast food trans fats has to do with their fries, so as long as a trans fat-free cooking oil is used, that worry is abated.

    8. Lauren Slayton said on October 24th, 2011

      I seriously wonder how these people sleep at night. I picture these meetings ‘let’s find a way to make this crap sound appealing, how should we word this?” Crazy.

    9. Andy Bellatti said on October 24th, 2011

      The “flavored milk” argument is particularly ridiculous. The fact that children drink more soda than chocolate milk doesn’t mean the sugar in chocolate milk isn’t an issue. It would be like someone arguing that trans fats only make up 1.5% (made up number) of our total fat consumption, “so what’s the big deal?”.

      While I can’t say I am surprised that the food industry wants to push the “you process foods in your kitchen!” angle, I am especially mortified when I hear a Registered Dietitian offer that line.

    10. Suzy said on October 25th, 2011

      @fredt – trans fats are not created from frying oil and letting it sit around. Oxidation, yes but not trans fats.

    11. Monisha said on October 25th, 2011

      For the commenter above, my kids LOVE oatmeal, and they have particularly liked the recipe for baked oatmeal that went up on the fooducate blog a week or so ago. My son says ‘it tastes like cobbler’. It’s not vegan – and it does contain some added sugar (1/4 cup of maple syrup per 8-serving recipe). I’m not sure how Andy would view it, (i’d be interested to hear) but from my standpoint – it contains whole foods, minimially processed by me, and is eaten by even the oatmeal-haters in the family with gusto. So it seems, from my not-so-expert vantage point, to work for both nutrition and enjoyment.

    12. Sarah Sturgill said on October 31st, 2011


      I’m also an RD and I’ve been listening to the arguments for and against flavored milk (especially their use in schools). I haven’t particularly chosen a ‘side’ as I can see the validity of both view points. Organic non fat milk is what I would always recommend as ideal, but what would you say to the compromise that schools have made in regard to offering low fat or fat free flavored milk? Unfortunately, too many parents in America are unconcerned/ignorant of the importance of proper nutrition for young bodies. I’m tempted to think this may be a necessary evil since studies have shown offering flavored milk in schools boosts their intake of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Just curious to know your reaction.

    13. Laura said on November 11th, 2011

      re: Oatmeal for kids (sorry this is late – I’m spending my “work day” reading old posts…)
      For breakfast, I make what I call “oatmeal pudding.” It really does taste like pudding! I’m 25, but I think kids would like it, too. First, I prepare a serving of hot oatbran cereal, then I puree it in the food processor with 2 tblsp flax seed meal, 1/4 cup walnuts, 1/4 raisins, about 1 1/2 tsp coconut oil, and 1/4 cup soymilk.

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