Fake Health Food

You Can’t Trust Anyone

I generally think people have a responsibility to be conscientious consumers, and that part of being an adult is not being swayed too much by advertising.  But when it comes to nutrition, I feel like most people aren’t really equipped to make good decisions, because there simply aren’t enough authorities purveying accurate information!

The USDA certainly isn’t; Harvard’s school of nutrition recently slammed them (politely) for letting their close ties to the dairy lobby influence their MyPlate recommendations.  And you can’t exactly trust the food companies themselves; they have a little bit of a conflict of interest.  The internet isn’t really better–for every real food site, there are 3 for ridiculous things like the cookie diet or those stupid detoxes with lemon juice, cayenne, and maple syrup.

I work in marketing and I get it.  I usually get jazzed by effective advertising and annoyed by ads that are ineffective or poorly personalized to me.  But food advertising riles me up sometimes, because most people–even smart, rational adults who would never do this with other categories of consumer goods–are easily swayed by health claims in the absence of good information from trusted authorities.

Just Because It Says “Healthy” Doesn’t Mean It Is

Take, for example, this monstrosity I saw the other day:

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Kellogg’s Plus!  Antioxidants!  10% more Vitamin E and Zinc than regular granola bars!  And Omega-3s too!  Wow!  These must be very healthy!  I see all the time that antioxidants and Omega-3s are great for me!  And more Vitamin E and Zinc also sounds like more nutrition!  Plus, it says “plus!”–so it’s like regular granola bars plus extra health!

Except when you read the label, this product turns out to be complete garbage:

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You can see for yourself the number of unpronounceable ingredients.  But if that’s not enough for you…

It has eight kinds of sugar!  Sugar AND corn syrup AND fructose AND oligofructose AND cane syrup AND glycerin AND dextrose AND glycerol.

It has hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are definitely going to kill you.

Then you see that the only source of Omega-3s is flaxseed.  Whoops, flaxseeds only contribute ALA, which is not actually an Omega-3 at all.  ALA is a precursor that is converted into Omega-3s during digestion, but really inefficiently.  So the actual amount of Omega-3s you’d get from consuming this product is much less than the giant burst on the front of the package would lead you to believe.

It looks like the Vitamin E and antioxidant claims are derived from the inclusion of the mixed tocopherols.  Mixed tocopherols are fine (they’re just Vitamin E)–but the irony is that they didn’t add them for health; they added them because Vitamin E is a natural preservative and they needed to keep the rice crisp!  So two of the health claims boil down to, “includes preservatives!”

What’s the Point of This Product Anyway?

The other thing I can’t quite wrap my head around is why anyone thought we needed a substitute for the “chocolatey trail mix” that already exists.

Here’s a tip: trail mix was already perfect before we added the sorbitan monostearate.  It takes 5 seconds to make and already contains the antioxidant vitamin E (almonds are our third-best source of dietary vitamin E).  And you know what?  If you feel like flax seeds are gonna help, you can go ahead and throw some of them in too.

Bonus Recipe: Trail Mix

Nuts: Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, etc.

Dried fruits: Raisins, dried cranberries (unsweetened or sweetened with fruit juice) chopped dates and/or plums, unsweetened coconut flakes, dried bananas or pineapple (make them yourself in a dehydrator or buy them unsweetened)

Dark chocolate chips

Mix together and eat.

Wow–who knew you could achieve trail mix in the comfort of your own home without even buying polysorbate 60?

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