Food Crime Friday: Body Armor Sports Drinks

Under the guise of “hydration”, beverage marketers have fooled many parents into believing that sports drinks are an essential part of children’s physical activity.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, considering these drinks didn’t even become popular until the last decade or so.

Let’s look at the latest example: Body Armour Sports Drink


I’m particularly disturbed by this one because the company is going out of its way to target kids and parents.  Give the company a quick Google search, and you’ll see dozens of parent bloggers who were sent free samples from Body Armor (possibly in addition to other compensation), and asked to give their “honest” opinion.  I only found one blogger who actually did.  And it wasn’t pretty.

The packaging and advertisements for Body Armor Sports Drinks boast about electrolytes, antioxidants, coconut water, natural flavors, and vitamins.  Do any of those ingredients really matter? Let’s look at the Nutrition Facts:


Like many other sports drinks, the nutrition information is only listed per half bottle.  If you do the math, however, one bottle of Body Armor contains a whopping 36 grams of sugar.  All of those healthy sounding ingredients are meaningless when you add 9 teaspoons of sugar!  The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar per day for a child age 4-8, or 5-8 teaspoons for pre-teens.  Either way, one bottle of Body Armor exceeds what the AHA believes a child should have in an entire day.

What sport drink companies like Body Armor are essentially telling us (and parents are buying into it without much dispute) is that if your child participates in sports, they should be swallowing 9 packets of sugar with every game or practice.  Could you imagine if I gave that kind of advice as a dietitian?

If you are worried about your children’s hydration while playing sports, plenty of water and a piece of fruit is all they need.


Food Crime Friday: Muscle Brownies

With a tagline like “Eat Brownies, Get Muscles!”, Muscle Brownies sound too good to be true. The packaging boasts about “20g of protein” and flavors include Triple Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Cookies and Cream.  Looking for the catch? There is one.  And it’s a doozy.


First, let’s talk about protein. High protein products have proven to entice consumers.  So, it’s no surprise that food manufacturers are adding it to everything form cereal to granola bars. But, most Americans consume well more than enough protein to meet their needs without even trying – in some instances close to twice the recommendations.  Athletes do need more protein than their sedentary counterparts, but there is still a limit to how much their bodies can use. We don’t store protein. We use it and, just like carbohydrates, what we don’t need, we convert to fat.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the nutrition information for Muscle Brownies.


At first glance, the Nutrition Facts don’t look too terrible for a snack: 170 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 12g of sugar (about 3 teaspoons).  However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that the serving size is only 1/2 of one brownie – a true test of willpower for the average consumer.  Even more interesting (and incredibly misleading), is that each serving only contains 10g of protein, so you would have to consume the whole brownie to get the 20g of protein that the company boasts about on the package.   Which also means that you’ll be taking in 340 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat and 6 teaspoons of sugar.  This brownie is starting to look more like a meal – and not a healthy one.

It also starts bearing resemblance to another well-known product:


Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownies also contain 4 grams of saturated fat, and 24g (6 teaspoons) of sugar, but actually have fewer calories (280 kcal) since they haven’t been loaded with protein powder.

If you’re an athlete looking for a high protein snack, there are plenty of healthy, whole food options that will do the trick, such as nuts, Greek yogurt, or a homemade smoothie.  Hyper-processed snacks like Muscle Brownies are just junk food with good marketing.


Food Crime Friday: Coca-Cola’s Fairlife Milk

Recently, Coca-Cola announced the launch of a new milk product, Fairlife, which the company claims will cost twice as much as regular milk, but provides several “nutritional benefits”.

It isn’t all that surprising to see Coca-Cola getting into the milk business.  Sales for both Coke and Diet Coke have been dropping, and consumers are increasingly becoming more health conscious. But is Fairlife really superior to regular milk, as the marketing suggests?

Let’s look at Coke’s 4 major health claims for their new product:

1. 50 percent more protein.  While this may sound appealing, most American’s already consume more than enough protein to meet their needs, especially those who consume animal products, like milk.

2. 30 percent more calcium. The average adult requires about 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and 1 cup of conventional milk contains approximately 300 mg.  Therefore, Fairlife milk is providing about 90 mg of additional calcium per cup.

3. 50 percent less sugar.  The company reduced the amount of naturally-occurring lactose in the milk.  While sugar has gained a bad reputation in recent years (as it should) dietary recommendations do not ask us to limit naturally-occurring sugars from fruit and dairy products.  The over-consumption of added sugars is what leads to poor health.  This is just a silly marketing ploy to make the milk sound more enticing.

4. Lactose Free.  While 50% of the lactose has been eliminated, that still leaves 6g of lactose per serving.  Which is why you will notice that lactase enzyme is added (similar to Lactaid milk), for those who are lactose intolerant to be able to digest it.

It should also be noted that the calorie count is exactly the same as regular milk – 80 calories per cup for skim, and 120 calories per cup for 2%.  Since protein has been increased and sugar has been decreased (both by the same amount), and both contain the same number of calories per gram, the calorie count doesn’t change.

Coca-Cola also makes a chocolate version of Fairlife, which they proudly boast as only having 12g of sugar as compared with 24g found in most conventional brands.

fairlife chocolate

Sounds great, right? Well, let’s remember that to get to this number, manufacturers reduced the amount of naturally-occurring sugar (the sugar health experts agree is not harmful) and replaced it with added sugar.  And because 12g of sugar couldn’t possibly taste as sweet as 24g, the company added two artificial sweeteners, sucralose and acesulfame potassium.  The packaging, of course, says nothing about these added sweeteners.  They are buried in the ingredients list, where many consumers will either not notice them, or not recognize them as sweeteners.

Is Fairlife worth the price, or just a hyped-up product from the marketing geniuses at Coca-Cola? I’d go with the latter.  The only real nutritional benefit is the added calcium, which at 90 mg per cup, you could easily obtain from a serving of chickpeas, acorn squash, or almonds – and you’d be gaining a lot of other nutritional benefits too.

Food Crime Friday: Unilever

You’ve probably seen the headlines. Hampton Creek, a small San-Francisco based food company, is being sued for their plant-based, eggless product, Just Mayo.   The food giant, Unilever (maker of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise), is claiming that using the word “mayo” when the product does not contain eggs is false advertising.  The Food and Drug Administration does have a “standard of identity” for mayonnaise which includes egg yolk in the description, however, there is no such definition for the word “mayo”.  In fact, Hampton Creek chose the word mayo for their product instead of mayonnaise for exactly this reason.


You would think that a company like Unilever, in making such bold claims, would have a perfect portfolio of products that could never be deemed misleading.  Au contraire.

One of Unilever’s most popular and well-known brands is Lipton – makers of a wide variety of tea, and iced tea products.  One of which, Lipton Citrus Green Tea, belongs in the food crime hall of shame.


We’ve all heard about the potential benefits of green tea: a boost in metabolism, improved blood flow, lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The list goes on.  And there is no question that Lipton intended to take advantage of these well-known health benefits when marketing this product.  However, when you look at the ingredients, it is shocking that Lipton can even call this product green tea.

Lipton tea ingredientsNot only are the primary ingredients water and high fructose corn syrup, as opposed to green tea, but this product also contains acesulfame potassium, an artificial sweetener.  Nowhere on the front of the package do you see anything about added sugar or sweeteners, but this product is full of them.  Just one 16.9 ounce bottle contains eight teaspoons of sugar. Whatever benefits green tea holds, they are most certainly trumped by the very negative health benefits of all of that sugar.  We can’t even be certain how much green tea is in this product considering it is the 6th ingredient on the label.

In contrast, Hampton Creek has been completely up front about what it’s product is: A plant-based, eggless mayo.  And it says so, right on the front of the bottle.  You don’t have to dig through the ingredient list to figure it out.


So far, the joke has really been an Unilever, as the case has given Hampton Creek national exposure.  Dozens of media outlets have been covering the story.  Even David Letterman poked fun at the lawsuit.


As public health lawyer Michele Simon put in her blog post:

It’s the equivalent of the biggest bully in the school yard beating up the nerdiest kid.

Hampton Creek figured out a way to make a healthier mayo-like product, that’s still delicious.  Rather than use their extensive resources to compete, Unilever is choosing to attack the competition with a frivolous lawsuit.

I’m pretty confident Hampton Creek will come out on top with this one, but just in case, celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern has put out a petition on asking Unilever to drop the lawsuit.

Food Crime Friday: Lunchables Kabobbles

For today’s busy parents, the ease of grabbing a few boxes of Kraft Lunchables and never giving lunch another thought, can be very enticing.  But from a nutrition standpoint, Lunchables are (by far) one of the worst packaged products that directly target children.  Case in point: Lunchables Kabobbles.


When most of us think of a kabob, we envision a nutritious combination of grilled meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables.  However, in true Lunchables fashion, Kabobbles only contain processed meats and cheeses, and are accompanied by sugary drinks and candy.

For example: the Chicken Popper Kabobble contains Oscar Mayer breaded chicken poppers, Kraft American cheese product, pretzel sticks, Hershey’s kisses, and a Fruit Punch Capri Sun.  Looking at the nutrition information, the calories are actually pretty low at 350, but that’s only because of the small quantity of food provided.

Lunchables nutrition

Each package contains 6g of saturated fat and 540 mg of sodium, which according to the American Heart Association, is more than 1/3 of the daily needs for an 8-year-old child.  Thanks to the candy and sugar-sweetened beverage, this product also contains a whopping 26g of sugar.  That is more than DOUBLE the recommendation for an 8-year-old for the entire day.  It also means that this product is more than 25% sugar, by weight.  Yikes.

As for nutritional benefits, this product does contain 15g of protein (a nutrient most American children get plenty of) and about 15% of their daily need for calcium, but is not a significant source of any other beneficial nutrient.  Most notably, the product contains less than 1g of fiber per package.

Just for fun, I thought I would also include the ingredient list which is so long, I had to take two separate screen shots to capture it all.

Lunchables ingredients 2Lunchables ingredient 2

Bottom line: These products are not appropriate for children, and it is truly shameful that Kraft takes advantage of busy parents and impressionable kids by marketing them as such.

Food Crime Friday: Nesquik “Girl Scout Cookie” Flavored Drinks

The Girl Scouts of America has recently partnered with Nestle to create two drinks with beloved Girl Scout cookie flavors: Thin Mint and Caramel Coconut.

girlscoutnesquik-promoWhile the packaging boasts about 8g of protein and “a good source” of calcium, these drinks are far from a nutritious beverage – especially for young children. And here’s why:

Each 14 oz. bottle appears to be single-portioned, but the Nutrition Facts label claims it is actually 2 servings.  This makes the rest of the nutrition information look more favorable, but it is highly unlikely that anyone would drink less than the entire bottle in one sitting.  Since each serving contains 24 grams of sugar, the whole bottle contains twice that – a whopping 48 grams.

Milk does contain some naturally occurring sugar (about 22 g per 14 ounces of low-fat milk).  Taking this into account, these drinks still contain no less than 26 g of added sugar per bottle – that’s more than SIX teaspoons! The American Heart Association recommends that children aged 4 to 8 consume no more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar in an entire day.  Preteens and teenagers are recommended to have no more than 5 to 8 teaspoons.  Even adult women and men and are not recommended to have more than 6 or 9 teaspoons, respectively.

Nesquik Nutrition

The real problem here isn’t that a company like Nestle decided to create a product like this.  The problem is that it is tied to the Girl Scouts of America – an organization that prides itself on teaching young girls how to become strong leaders to “make the world a better place.”  Sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to more than 180,000 obesity-related deaths worldwide each year.   Licensing the Girl Scouts logo to help Nestle market a hyper-sweetened beverage to children (including their own members) certainly doesn’t set a good example about making beneficial contributions to society.

Nestle has tried to claim that this product is only being marketed towards adults.  Sorry Nestle, but you lose that argument immediately when there is a cartoon bunny on the bottle.

Looking over the Girls Scouts website, it is apparent that the organization does attempt to address healthy eating in their programming.  In fact, the organization states:

Girl Scouts of the USA recognizes that girls making healthy choices and promoting healthy living are necessary to the foundation they need to become strong leaders.

Marketing this product with the Girl Scouts logo is in direct contradiction to this concept, and I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so.  You can read more from parents and advocates outraged by this issue, and even sign a petition asking Girl Scouts to stop marketing the drinks to kids.

Food Crime Friday: Angry Birds Fruit Gummies (Halloween Edition)

Fruit snacks are the epitome of a healthwashed product.  I’m not sure whether it’s the name itself, or just some really good marketing, but these little sugary candies have somehow gotten the reputation of a healthy snack – especially for children.  Angry Birds Fruit Gummies are no exception. And to make sure your kids REALLY want them this time of year, they are available in a Halloween themed box.


The packaging is also designed to entice parents, with several health claims. The first three: “Nut Free”, “Gluten Free”, and “Fat Free” are completely useless for a fruit snack.  ALL fruit snacks could carry these health claims.  In fact, so could jelly beans, gum drops, or gummy bears.  It doesn’t make any of these products healthy.

The “Made With Real Fruit Juice” health claim is probably my least favorite of all health claims.  Fruit juice, when devoid of the fiber naturally found in fruit, is just sugar. Period.  It is especially worthless, when used in small amounts accompanied by other forms of added sugar – which is exactly the case for this product.


The first ingredient for these gummies is sugar. Followed by corn syrup (another form of sugar), and white grape juice concentrate (again, sugar).  Without fiber, vitamins are the only significant health quality left in fruit juice. But as you can see, there is so little grape juice used in this product, that it contains 0% Vitamin C per serving.  The remaining ingredients are gelatin, and a variety of artificial colors to create the different “flavors”.

Each serving of  fruit gummies candy is nearly 40% sugar by weight, meaning the recommended serving size of 13 pieces contains 15g of sugar.  That’s almost 4 teaspoons! If you ate the entire box, which I’m guessing many people would, you would consume TEN teaspoons of sugar.

Oddly enough, the name of the company distributing this product (and marketing it to children) is “Healthy Food Brands”. Their website is Talk about misleading.  There is nothing healthy about these gummies.

This Halloween, leave the treats for trick-or-treating.