Packed Food Health Claims

The reading I have been doing on the value of real food has heightened my awareness of the dubious health claims on processed food packages. Terms like “heart healthy,” “good source of whole grain,” “may reduce the risk of heart disease” are intended to grab your attention and make you feel good about tossing the package into your shopping cart. But a closer look at the ingredients tells a different story.

The following is an excerpt from the June 2008 Nutrition Action Newsletter by Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.,

“For many years it was the pill pushers who proclaimed supplements’ glories. But in recent years, small food companies began to put their toes in the ‘functional foods’ waters. Major corporations, not wanting to miss out on a wave of sales, have now dived in.

In the past, the FDA has expressed concern about the frivolous fortification of foods. It reasoned that haphazardly adding cheap nutrients or other substances to a food might make it attractive, but that the nutrients might not be needed…and that excessive amounts might even be harmful.

Clearly, these foods, which are sometimes sold at a premium price, deceive and bilk consumers by dangling the promise of unproven health benefits. For example:

  • Kellogg adds vitamin A, calcium, zinc, and half a dozen other vitamins and minerals to Nutri-Grain cereal bars, which consist largely of white flour and sugar.
  • Hershey adds calcium, zinc, biotin, and pantothenic acid to its artificially sweetened Sugar Free Syrup with Calcium.
  • Odwalla adds vitamin C or B vitamins to its Cherry Orange Passion and Cran Lime Raspberry fruit drinks, which are mostly sugar and water.
  • Kraft adds a few vitamins and other ingredients to its Crystal Light on the Go drink mixes and gives them names like ‘Focus,’ ‘Metabolism +,’ ‘Hydration,’ ‘Immunity,’ and ‘Energy.’
  • Frito-Lay adds a touch of calcium and magnesium to make its salty Baked Cheetos look good.

…Supermarkets are bulging with products that are fortified primarily to beguile you while the manufacturer picks your pocket.

Trial lawyers and state attorneys general have brought a handful of cases against some of the most egregious cheaters. But what’s needed is to beef up laws and the powers of enforcement agencies to protect the public from unscrupulous marketers. That’s the real fortification.”

To put all of this into perspective I decided to compare my breakfast of oatmeal with a fresh peach to “Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal with Real Peaches.”

Honey Bunches of Oats Ingredients (without milk added): Corn, whole grain wheat, sugar, whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, vegetable oil (canola or sunflower oil), peaches, rice flour, wheat flour, rice, malted barley flour, corn syrup, whey (from milk – adds a trivial amount of saturated fat and cholesterol), salt, honey, high fructose corn syrup, malted corn and barley syrup, peach juice concentrate, caramel color, natural flavor, annatto extract (color), BHT added to packaging material to preserve product freshness. Vitamins and Minerals added: reduced iron, niacinamide, Vitamin B6, Vitamin A Palmitate, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), thiamin mononitrate (Vitamin B1), zinc oxide, (source of zinc), folic acid, Vitamin b12, Vitamin D.

Calories 120/Calories from fat 15, Trans Fat 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat .5g, Sodium 135mg, Potassium 60mg, Total Carbohydrate 26g, Dietary Fiber 2g, Sugars 8g, Other Carbohydrate 16g, Protein 2g, Vitamin A 15%, Vitamin C 0%, Calcium 0%, Iron 45%, Vitamin D 10%, Thiamin 25%, Riboflavin 25%, Niacin 25%, Vitamin B6 25%, Folic Acid 25%, Vitamin B12 25%, Phosphorus 4%, Magnesium 4%, Zinc 2%, Copper 2%

Cost: $3.05 for a 13-ounce box ($0.23 per ounce)


Bob’s Red Mill Organic Old Fashioned Rolled Oats Ingredients (without milk added): Organic Whole Grain Oats

Calories 190/Calories from fat 30, Saturated Fat .5g, Trans Fat 0g, Sodium 0mg, Total Carbohydrate 32g, Dietary Fiber 5g, Sugars 1g, Protein 7g, Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 0%, Calcium 2%, Iron 15%

Fresh Peach: Calories 40, Fat 0, Sodium 0mg, Carbohydrate 11g, Fiber 2g, Sugars 9g, Protein 2g, Vitamin A 10%, Vitamin C 10%

Cost: $4.89 for 32-ounce bag of oatmeal ($0.15 per ounce), $0.68 for 1 fresh local peach ($0.12 per ounce)

The list of vitamins in the Honey Bunches of Oats may seem impressive but keep in mind they are added to the product and do not occur naturally from the ingredients. I called Post to ask if these vitamins were food-based or synthetic. I was told that all of the vitamins except Vitamin D are “chemical” and the Vitamin D “is derived from animals” (I chose not to inquire as to the species or body part that is used). Chemical vitamins are synthesized fractions of a vitamin complex. Our bodies cannot utilize synthetic fractions and research indicates that synthetic vitamins may actually cause nutritional deficiencies.

One last note on the “LIGHTLY SWEETENED CEREAL with 3 KINDS of FLAKES & CRUNCHY OAT CLUSTERS BAKED with a TOUCH OF HONEY” (words are capitalized as shown on the Honey Bunches of Oats box). Did you notice the number of sweeteners listed? If adding sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, malted corn and barley syrup and high fructose corn syrup constitutes lightly sweetened, is it any wonder why Americans are facing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes?

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