Home Clean Eating Boot Camp Rule: If It Makes A Health Claim… It’s Probably Lying

Rule: If It Makes A Health Claim… It’s Probably Lying

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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.

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Sadiqua September 28, 2010 - 9:08 AM

Wow…that Vitaminwater part really got me…i had no clue there was that much sugar in it! And yes, as an educated average consumer, I did assume that the “vitamin” segment of the name meant it was better than most! I guess the best syep is to compare labels and do extra homework to see what we are really getting!

Erika September 28, 2010 - 10:53 AM

Girl, yeah.. they’re trying to getcha. Gotta be waaaay more pro-active than we thought. 🙂

Nicole September 28, 2010 - 11:08 AM

OMG this one has me fired up. I am now becoming afraid to put things in my basket outside of fruits and veggies. Geez! Unbelievable the things that they fool us consumers with.

I am still tripping about the water too! Who knew all the “ingredients” included in bottled water. HMPH!

Erika September 28, 2010 - 1:02 PM

Girl, that ain’t water… that’s kool-aid. LOL!

Trina September 28, 2010 - 11:39 AM

We really do have to be careful because when it comes down to it the companies are trying to make a profit. That is what has finally opened my eyes to eating even healthier than I have. They want you to believe that the “old fashioned way” which is cooking everything, including veggies and fruits in your lifestyle, moderate to no processed foods is time-consuming, expensive, and you just aren’t good enough for it. The DON’T CARE about us, they CARE about our wallets. And that just makes me mad enough to kick them in the face, but I’ll show them..I just won’t buy it.

Erika September 28, 2010 - 1:02 PM

In other words, “I’m as mad as heck, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” LOL!

BrooklynShoeBabe September 28, 2010 - 12:50 PM

Wow! That pomengrate thing is a mess because I was really believing it. I was buying it for my husband to help him lower his cholesterol.

Erika September 28, 2010 - 1:07 PM

Now, make no mistake about it – lots of vegetables can aid with things like cholesterol (although, if I’m not mistaken, limiting intake of animal by-products can assist, too – since cholesterol comes from animal and animal by-products), but the best way to experience those benefits is to get the product as close to unprocessed as possible. Try getting hubby a real pomegranate… maybe grab out the little gems (I’m at a loss for what to call it right now while I’m writing) and use them in a salad?

Shae B. September 28, 2010 - 1:00 PM

I was a member of a Weight Loss club that promoted FIBER, FIBER, FIBER… with more Fiber in things, you can eat more…. I thought I was doing good buying all those products with extra fiber in it. It wasn’t until recently, when I put all that aside and decided to go to a nutritionist. I learned what added Fiber was… a man made substance, that hasn’t been proven to do jack for your body… And here I was, thinking I was being a healthy eater… Now I am on a path of eating cleaner, more fruits and veggies and less processed stuff. Thanks for your insights…..

Rita September 28, 2010 - 3:12 PM

Let me just say again…

Erika, thank you thank you THANK YOU…

you taught me how to read labels and now, no I’m not fooled by “all natural”, “fat free”, “less fat”, “all new fiber added” claims…
ex: today I was grocery shopping and decided to treat myself to ice cream since its officially then end of summer and was horrified at all the chemicals addded to the ice cream selections…until I stumbled upon a new thing by Haagen-Dasz called Five and it only contains five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, coffee (coffee can be substituded for strawberry, chocolate, vanilla bean, etc.) this is the one processed item that I can live with since it is a rare treat but boy oh boy, if you compare it to all the other ingredients listed in other ice creams, its a doggone shame!

I knew Vitamin Water was kool aid..heck as soon as I tried it, I felt like I was a kid in the country again but the pomegrante, now thats just wrong, that makes me mad

Danielle September 28, 2010 - 8:36 PM

This is why the only things I tend to buy in packages are whole grain brown rice, whole grain bread and trusted cereal. I would ask who these companies think they’re fooling, but the unfortunate answer is a lot of people. I don’t buy packaged “health” food. It is all one big scam. Such a shame that the government supports these con artists, with their phony ads and misleading claims on boxes. Don’t call your “new and improved” cereal bar healthy if all you did was throw in some fake fiber, yet double the sugar content. But the power really all lies with the consumer. As long as consumers remain uneducated, greedy companies will keep getting away with their ways. We need to demand REAL food. No exceptions.

Curlstar September 29, 2010 - 12:23 PM

@ Rita, Just as good is a container of Breyers (check out the label on their vanilla), and it’s much cheaper than Haagen-Dazs. Same 5 ingredients for many years. I MIGHT eat ice cream once a year – trust me, I have a very good reason – and when I do, I only get Breyers (and a box of lactaid) since I can understand the ingredients. You can always add your own fruit to vanilla to jazz it up! 🙂

@ Erika, Vitamin Water is actually dye-free kool-aid, so it’s healthy… NOT! LOL 🙂

Samantha Sophia February 18, 2011 - 10:51 AM

Well darn! So, do we just do research before we go to the grocery store? What about acai is that really a “superfruit”.

Thanks for the post.

Nannette Wade February 18, 2011 - 11:09 AM

I don’t trust any of the restaurants and/or food companies and am protesting by no longer contributing to their billions. I love being a raw food vegan and shopping at the farmer’s market. My mirror and knees are loving the weight loss. Lately I cheated a few times and didn’t enjoy the food like I did before. Went right back on track the next day. My taste buds have changed and my body is loving the nutrients minus the chemicals. Prior to making the change I didn’t think it was possible, but miracles never cease.

Shante September 11, 2011 - 10:15 PM

Call me crazy but I would rather take my chances with the Pom juice than to trust the FDA that it doesn’t do what they claim. I feel like some of those people would rather you take a million pills because they are expensive as all get out and make the pharmacy companies a ton of money.

You have something like Noni Juice and people are crying saying it is a scam and it doesn’t help with anything that people say it does. Now years later you have Doctor Oz saying that yea it actually does do some of the things people were saying it did and there is good research showing that it just might help to fight cancer.

I am a firm believer that nature has a way of balancing things out if you trust her. So yea who knows what other fruit is lying around on some island somewhere that will be a cure for something else. You best believe I’ll be eating it before I need the FDA to tell me what it does. I’m not trying to take some pill that five years after it has been out is “suddenly” very bad and killing people.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 11, 2011 - 10:58 PM

Lots of people called noni juice a scam because it was a MLM- not necessarily because of it’s health benefits. Same way people do acai berry. And with all three, the question should still be asked: do I need the processing of the intermediary, who more than likely slapped a health claim on a product so they could ratchet up the cost, or can I buy the fruit myself and do with it what I please?

Sure, I’d trust mother nature over the FDA, but I’d also take a fruit straight from mother nature before I took it from an intermediary, too.

lynaya June 26, 2012 - 11:48 AM

This explains why that bubble gum flavored apple (in another post) is labeled all natural. I was going to go buy a so called healthy drink-Naked smoothie. After reading this I’ll stick to my water.

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