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    Archive for the ‘health claims’ Category

    Quiz: Labels, Claims, and More!

    testA few months back, I posted ten questions testing my readers’ label-scouring skills. I was very happy to receive great feedback on it… and decided it was time for another pop quiz, class!

    The answers are provided at the bottom of this post.  So, grab a sheet of paper and your favorite pen, and get to it.  Good luck!

    Continue Reading »

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    Surprise! Another Half-Truthful Health Claim

    unclebens_jpgMany thanks to Small Bites’ Twitter follower @koshtoo, who shared this photograph with me, as she believed I “would find interesting.”  I certainly did!

    In case you are unable to see the photograph, it shows a box of Uncle Ben’s Original converted white rice.  The lower right-hand corner of the box features a “Supports a Healthy Heart” statement and logo.

    Underneath the logo, we see:

    Enriched with Vitamins and Minerals

    Naturally Fat-Free

    Oh, dear.

    Sure.  A refined grain like white rice does not add a single gram of fat to our diets, but that does not make it heart-healthy.

    In fact, refined, fiberless carbohydrates like white rice raise triglyceride levels.

    High triglycerides — they are a type of fat in the blood, in case you weren’t sure — are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  NOT heart-healthy!

    Vitamin and mineral enrichment, meanwhile, is kind of a nutritional red flag.  After all, enrichment means that most of the nutrients originally found in that food were added back in after the food underwent significant processing.

    Brown rice has those exact same nutrients.  Since brown rice is not processed to the same degree as white rice, they all stay in their place, without the need to enrich.

    What upsets me most about this health claim is that it reinforces the myth that “low fat = heart healthy.”

    Remember: some of the best foods we can eat for heart-health — such as salmon, sardines, avocados, nuts, and seeds — are rich in healthy fats.

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    In The News: Drugs for Breakfast?

    cheeriosThank you to reader Kristina Hartman for sending me a link to Consumerist.com’s coverage of the latest Food & Drug Administration/Cheerios debacle.

    In short, the FDA fired off a letter to General Mills (maker of Cheerios) notifying them that:

    “Based on claims made on your product’s label [regarding clinical proof that Cheerios lowers cholesterol], we have determined that your Cheerios® Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease.”

    In order to keep that health claim on their box, General Mills must submit a new drug application on behalf of their oat-based cereal.

    I’m torn.

    On the one hand, I personally would love ALL health claims taken off product packaging.  It’s gotten to the point where ridiculous stunts like boasting about the health benefits of a sprinkle of Omega-3 dust on a cracker are common practice.

    However, why is the idea of food as medicine so foreign?  This separation between “nutrition” and “medicine” (so prevalent in Western society) has led many doctors to foolishly reject the idea that nutrition therapy is effective.

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    In The News: Are You Calorie Blind?

    This New York Times article — centered around a French marketing expert and American attitudes towards food and nutrition — makes the following case: health claims like “trans fat free” and “low fat” create a “health halo,” providing consumers with a false sense of security, and ultimately making them more susceptible to overeating.

    When random Americans in a nutritionally conscious Brooklyn neighborhood were asked to estimate the number of calories in an Applebee’s meal, they overshot by an average of 100 calories.

    Good news so far.

    However, when that meal included two crackers labeled “trans fat free,” those additional 100 calories went seemingly unnoticed!

    Furthermore, the total caloric count of that meal received lower estimates than that of the cracker-less photograph.

    Meanwhile, “[foreign tourists in Times Square] correctly estimated that the meal with crackers had more calories than the meal without crackers.”

    Sounds simple (more food = more calories), but this French professor of marketing contends that health halos can blind us from seeing the larger picture.

    The theory is that foreigners, most of whom stem from countries where nutrition and weight loss mainly concerns calories (rather than specific nutrients), are not deceived by what Marion Nestle calls “calorie distractors.”

    What is a calorie distractor, you ask?

    Any kind of claim that makes you forget the total caloric impact of what you are eating (i.e.: tortilla chips containing a mere sprinkle of flaxseed and soy protein, or Gummi candies with as much ALA Omega-3 as four walnuts.)

    The article also mentions a most fascinating experiment conducted by this French researcher and Brian Wansink last year.

    “After giving people a chance to order either a Big Mac or a 12-inch Italian sandwich from Subway, the people ordering the subway sandwich [which has more caloric than a Big Mac] were more likely to add a large nondiet soda and cookies to the order, end[ing] up with meals averaging 56 percent more calories than the meals ordered from McDonald’s.”

    This article cements a lot of the concepts commonly discussed in this blog. Let’s recap:

    1. Forget about “good” and “bad” foods. Instead, focus on the big picture. A donut and coffee breakfast is not worth fretting about if it only happens once a week.

    2. Above all, think calories. Whole wheat pasta covered in 500-calorie Alfredo sauce is not a healthier choice than that same amount of “white” pasta accompanied by 100 calories of marinara sauce.

    3. Don’t be fooled by claims of “a day’s worth of vitamins” or “x milligrams of Omega 3” on boxes of high-calorie, sugar and sodium laden junk foods. You might as well down a Centrum pill in between bites of a King Size Snickers bar.

    Remember — the less processed your diet, the less you have to worry about scavenging the supermarket aisles for sugar-free, vitamin fortified, and low sugar Frankenfoods.

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