Since the last section of Clean Eating Boot Camp is about knowing what to buy (and, really, what not to buy)… I think this is another big topic.

I’m always getting people asking “Well, what if it says [this] on the box? What if it says [that] on the box? Doesn’t that make a difference?”

I’m here to state… for the record… no. It doesn’t. I can even prove it.

The best part of this? "Spoon inside!" As if to say, "You can even eat me in the checkout lane!"

Case #1:

Indie ice cream pioneer Ben & Jerry’s will be dropping the phrase “All Natural” from some of its ice cream and frozen yogurt cartons, it announced today.

The flavors containing alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil particularly irked the folks over at the Center for the Science in the Public Interest, who had asked the company to stop using “all natural” claims last month in a letter to parent company Unilever.

That leads us to wonder, if Ben & Jerry’s — Insert catchphrase “Peace, Love and Ice Cream” here — isn’t natural, then what is?

Apparently, the USDA allows meat and poultry to be labeled “natural” if they don’t include artificial colors or ingredients, and are not more than “minimally processed.” But the rest of the food supply’s definition of natural is up for grabs.

The FDA doesn’t define the word “natural,” so it’s used by a variety of food manufacturers in an effort to imply their products are somehow better for us. We’ve seen it on everything from potato chips to cereal boxes.

“The Food and Drug Administration could do consumers and food manufacturers a great service by actually defining when the word ‘natural’ can and cannot be used to characterize a given ingredient,” says CSPI’s Michael Jacobson.


Case #2:

Federal regulators filed complaints on Monday against the makers of Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Juice, saying that there was no science to support claims that the products treat or prevent diseases like prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

The Federal Trade Commission said that Pom Wonderful, its parent company the Roll International Corporation, its creators and an executive violated federal law by making false and deceptive claims about disease prevention and treatment.

The agency’s complaint named the president of Pom Wonderful, Matthew Tupper, and the company founders Stewart and Lynda Resnick, a billionaire California couple whose holdings include the florist retailer Teleflora, Fiji Water and companies that produce Wonderful Pistachios and Cuties clementines.

PomWonderful is seen as starting the Pomegranate craze that has spread to everything from tea to smoothies, hitting ice cream, martinis and salad dressings on the way. The company’s health claims are a hallmark of its advertising.

Regulators said the ads were misleading in saying the research shows the juice or related Pomegranate supplements prevent or treat certain diseases.

“Any consumer who sees Pom Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled,” said David Vladeck, director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. He said companies using scientific research in their advertising must have research that supports the claims. [source]

But wait! There’s more!

Now here’s something you wouldn’t expect. Coca-Cola is being sued by a non-profit public interest group, on the grounds that the company’s vitaminwater products make unwarranted health claims. No surprise there. But how do you think the company is defending itself?

In a staggering feat of twisted logic, lawyers for Coca-Cola are defending the lawsuit by asserting that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.”

Does this mean that you’d have to be an unreasonable person to think that a product named “vitaminwater,” a product that has been heavily and aggressively marketed as a healthy beverage, actually had health benefits?

Or does it mean that it’s okay for a corporation to lie about its products, as long as they can then turn around and claim that no one actually believes their lies?

In fact, the product is basically sugar-water, to which about a penny’s worth of synthetic vitamins have been added. And the amount of sugar is not trivial. A bottle of vitaminwater contains 33 grams of sugar, making it more akin to a soft drink than to a healthy beverage.

Is any harm being done by this marketing ploy? After all, some might say consumers are at least getting some vitamins, and there isn’t as much sugar in vitaminwater as there is in regular Coke. [source]

So… let’s get this right:

(1) Ben & Jerry’s waits until they’re harassed by a consumer watchdog group before they admit that the “all natural” sticker on their label is a little misleading.

(2) Coca-Cola, makers of VitaminWater – a product with, arguably, a misleading title and particularly misleading marketing – defends itself against a lawsuit by proclaiming that you’d have to be unreasonable to believe “vitaminwater” is a healthy drink.

(3) The makers of Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Juice just all-out decide to pull health claims out of the sky… presumably since they couldn’t present the FTC with any proof for what they’ve claimed.

Why do we think we should trust health claims on food labels, again? Why do we think it’s best to buy things because of claims people make regarding what the product can do for us… especially when it’s in their best interest to tell us whatever it takes to make us buy? Why, again, is it smart to leave ourselves open to being taken advantage of?

It’s just like buying a pair of shoes because the sales person hounded you about “how amazing they make your legs look” and how “all the men will be drawn to you.” C’mon – the only difference is the fact that the salesman isn’t a person – it’s a little sticker on a box that says “Now with fiber!” [and leaves you wondering why it didn’t have fiber in the first place.] The only reason we don’t go home with buyer’s remorse about the food is because we often don’t know just how we were swindled.

The interesting thing about the pomegranate product is that while pomegranate may very well aid in fighting cancers or providing a little boost to the gentlemen – much like many other foods out there – it has to prove them… to an organization… and their findings have to fit their standards. And, well, we all know how reliable and honest and foreward-thinking the FDA is.

The reality is… you can’t trust any of this stuff. Nothing is guaranteed. Except, well… the fruits and vegetables (with occasional meat) we’ve been eating for forever. If you insist on buying something in a package, don’t let yourself get suckered in by a health claim. As you can see, they aren’t worth much.