Five kinds of phony foods to steer clear of

Posted by
March 27, 2012

The odd couple - HFCS and green tea

In our quest to pack more nutrition into our day, it’s easy to fall prey to processed foods and drinks making amazing claims to nutritional super-power. But despite the advertising hype, don’t think for one minute that what used to be considered junk food has suddenly been transformed into some remarkably healthy innovation simply by the addition of synthetic vitamins or minerals.

Since we know shopping these days isn’t always easy, especially if you’re short of time and have forgotten your reading glasses, here are five types of products to avoid next time you’re in the store to help keep those ersatz but enticing items out of your shopping cart:

1. Strictly ‘out to lunch’
My “lunchbox hoax” award for counterfeit commodities for kids goes to – Kraft and its Lunchables brand! These “lunch combinations” products have been on the market for some times now, with a few tweaks here and there (such as fruit being added to some of the selections). But even though the advertising copy refers to them as “lunchtime ideas you can really feel good about,” all of the Lunchables I looked at contained monosodium glutamate, the addition of which to a  packaged “lunch” designed for kids I find utterly astounding, given the sheer numbers of consumers trying to avoid it. And to top it off, the Capri Sun juice packs that are included  in some contain high fructose corn syrup. (Don’t they think anyone reads these ingredient labels?)

The contents of those colorful little boxes are still No. 1 when it comes to bad food selections for kids. Or adults, for that matter.

2. The way the cookie claims crumble
While there are plenty of packaged snack foods making phony nutrition claims, my all-time favorite for misleading labeling is “WhoNu?” cookies.  Eating these cookies, according to the copy on the package, is on a nutritional par with consuming oatmeal, milk, blueberries and spinach.  Well, it isn’t – and no amount of  pumping up them up with synthetic vitamins and minerals can turn them into the equivalent of real food.

3. It’s only make-believe
Another example of a  product with no nutritional value but a great facade is the synthetic sweetener Splenda, which uses the antioxidant banner and an enticing picture of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries  to create an impression of being both natural and good for you. (In fact, no artificial sweetener can make this claim, and all are controversial.) For a sweetener that really packs a nutritious punch, my advice would be to try unsulphured molasses, which not only delivers a naturally sweet taste, but contains natural potassium, calcium and iron.

4. Bursting their bubbles
Soda has never been, nor will it ever be, a nutritious product. Despite that fact, sodas touting quasi-health claims are out there trying their best to make you think that drinking them may offer some kind of health benefits.

Exhibit A; Canada Dry Ginger Ale with added green tea. Advertised to be “enhanced with 200 mg of anitoxidants from green tea & vitamin C,” this product also contains high fructose corn syrup and two preservatives.  If you don’t have the time to brew some green tea yourself, there are numerous brands of real green tea all “bottled up”and ready to drink (including some that also contain real sugar or honey instead of HFCS).

Exhibit B; Diet Coke Plus. Despite its claim of providing “great taste + benefits,” it mostly offers anti-benefits in the form of two artificial sweeteners, aspartame and acesulfame potassium. Coca Cola was warned by the FDA in 2008 that the agency policy “…states that the FDA does not consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as carbonated beverages.” The reply from Coke: “This does not involve any health or safety issues, and we believe the label on Diet Coke Plus complies with FDA’s policies and regulations.”

No matter how effervescent the claims made on such fizz, they all start to fizzle when you bother reading the ingredient labels.

5. Watered-down ‘lemons’
Sure, pouring lemon juice out of a bottle might seem a lot easier than having to slice and squeeze a real lemon.  But as if to prove that easier isn’t always better, the National Consumers League (NCL) filed a formal complaint this month with the Food and Drug Administration over four brands of “100 percent lemon juice” that only contain small amounts of the real thing.

NCL found that the brands Natural Lemon, Lira, Lemon Time and Pampa, while all labeled as 100 percent lemon juice were so diluted with water, the actual lemon part only ranged from 35 to 10 percent. NCL asked the FDA to take action and stop sales of the water-downed products.

The take-away? It’s best to be wary of all “natural” and “nutritious” claims use to dress up processed food products. More often than not, there’s something they’re hiding under all that labeling hype – and you can usually find it by going straight to the list of ingredients.