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.




Food Crime Friday: Quaker Oat & Yogurt Sandwich Biscuits

Cookies for breakfast? It’s every kids dream.  Quaker, a brand known for their oatmeal and other breakfast items, has developed a cookie they believe is fit for “the most important meal of the day.”  Quaker Oat & Yogurt Sandwich Biscuits bear a striking resemblance to Oreo cookies, so I thought it would be fun to compare the two.


Here are the nutrition facts for both:


Calories: The Quaker biscuits cookies contain 180 calories per serving, while Oreo cookies only contain 160.  However, the serving size for Quaker is 38g as compared to Oreo which is only 34g.  Even if you account for this, both contain approximately the same amount of calories (4.7 calories per gram.)

Fat: Both products contain 7 g total fat and 2 g saturated fat per serving. Thus, the Quaker product contains slightly less per gram.

Sugar: Quaker’s product contains 11g of sugar per serving, while Oreo cookies contain 14g.  If you adjust for the weight difference, that’s only a teaspoon difference in sugar between the two products.  Both still contain a lot of added sugar, with Quaker’s product containing nearly 3 teaspoons, and Oreo cookies containing about 4.

Fiber: You’ll get 1 extra gram of fiber if you choose the Quaker product, but 1-2g of fiber for either product is not nearly enough to offset the amount of added sugar contained in these treats.  Especially, if you plan on eating them for breakfast.

Now, let’s look at the ingredients.

We know that companies list ingredients in order of predominance by weight.  While whole grain oats are the first ingredient for Quaker, their product contains four types of sugar (sugar, dextrose, corn syrup and honey), and Oreo cookies only contain two (sugar and high fructose corn syrup).  If combined together, sugar may climb to the top of the ingredient list for Quaker, just like the Oreo cookies.  It also appears that Quaker requires several more ingredients to make their product appear healthy.  Dried nonfat yogurt doesn’t show up until the middle of the ingredient list, likely providing very few of yogurt’s nutritional benefits to this product.


There is some great marketing here from Quaker.  Just calling them “biscuits” is likely to fool plenty of consumers into thinking they are buying a healthier product.  But, make no mistake.  These are cookies.  While oats and yogurt are healthy in their whole food form, Quaker is just using these ingredients to make another junk food product sound healthy.  It’s a textbook case of healthwashing.





Why a Soda Tax Matters

Soda Tax

Over the last several years, there have been over 30 proposed taxes on sugary beverages.  Sugary drinks (such as soda, fruit drinks, and sports drinks) are the single biggest source of added sugar in our diet today, and these drinks have very little, if any, healthy ingredients in them. Now, there is strong scientific evidence that they are also linked to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. Drinking sugary beverages does not make you feel full, which means that drinking 240 calories in a 20-ounce soda will not keep you from eating 240 fewer calories later. All those extra calories, day-after-day, begin to add up and turn into weight gain.

With all of that in mind, motives for this type of legislation are not surprising.  Hoping to match the effectiveness of taxes on tobacco, supporters believe a soda tax will discourage consumption of unhealthy drinks, offset the cost of obesity, and raise revenue for health and wellness initiatives.  Economists have determined that if the price of sugary drinks goes up 10 percent, consumption will go down by about 10-12 percent.  A tax of only a penny-per-ounce, would raise the cost of the average sugary drink by about 15-20 percent. This would be more than enough to reduce the amount that people buy, and the funds could be used on obesity prevention and health promotion programs.

Not surprisingly, the beverage industry has used their lobbying dollars to stymie these efforts, with great success.  But that hasn’t stopped legislators from continuing to make proposals.  Berkeley and San Francisco are the latest examples – both with soda taxes on the ballot for the upcoming November 4th election.  Whether you live in one of these municipalities or not, there are several reasons why you should care about the outcome of these initiatives.

1. A soda tax will work. Last year, Mexico passed a penny per ounce tax on soda and junk food, despite the large amounts of money beverage companies spent to prevent it.  Just as the companies feared, soda consumption dropped almost immediately in Mexico by several percentage points. And as advocate, Patrick Mustain, points out:

The amount of energy being poured into fighting these taxes is a pretty good indication that the industry, with all its well-funded market and consumer research, knows that if sugary drinks begin to be taxed, then consumption of these products will indeed begin to drop.

To date, the beverage industry has spent 1.6 million fighting the tax in Berkeley and a staggering 7.7 million in San Francisco.

2. It will change norms.  While beverage companies may try to convince you otherwise, a soda tax will not raise the price of all groceries.  It will raise the price of sugary drinks, which are not a grocery staple.  They are an indulgence.  Or, at least they should be.  Beverage companies have become quite good at getting people to consumer more sugary drinks (and in larger quantities) than they probably would naturally.  Sugary drinks are the default beverage accompanying fast food meals, can be found in coolers in nearly every store checkout lane,  are marketed as a size “small” even when the portion is 3-4 times the recommended serving size, and are almost always available with “free refills” at restaurants. A tax on these beverages reinforces the notion that these sugary drinks are a treat, and should be treated as such.

3. It will set a precedent. A soda tax passing anywhere in the United States, even in a more progressive area like Berkeley or San Francisco, is likely to ignite similar measures throughout the country.  Especially once data can be accumulated to prove it’s effectiveness.  California was the first state to ban smoking in restaurants and bars all the way back in 1998.  Now, it’s become so commonplace across the US, that entering an establishment that allows smoking seems uncomfortable.

4. It paves the way for other public health initiatives. Once health advocates realized that education wasn’t enough to reduce tobacco use, a multitude of polices were proposed to tackle the problem – which as we know, is what really caused smoking rates to finally drop.  Soda taxes are likely only the first of many policy initiatives that will be used to decrease consumption of sugary drinks.  Policy makers and health advocates haven’t given up on methods such as warning labels on packaging and serving size restrictions. By following tobacco’s example, maybe an effective tax could even lead to restrictions on the marketing of sugary drinks to children, or the removal of soda vending machines.  It may seem far-fetched, but I’m sure the same was thought of the restrictions put on cigarettes when they were first proposed.

Currently, rates of obesity and overweight show no signs of dropping, and more and more healthcare dollars are being used to treat diet related disease.  We know that sugary drinks are part of the problem.  Reducing consumption makes good economic and public health sense. A tax on sugary drinks can help make it possible.

Food Crime Friday: Yoplait Light Yogurt

Yoplait Light has always been known for dessert-like yogurt flavors  such as Key Lime Pie, Red Velvet Cupcake, and Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  The product line is also known for only being 90 calories per cup – which is very attractive to those consumers who are watching their waistlines.  To achieve these tasty sounding concoctions without adding too much sugar (and thus increasing the number of calories), Yoplait Light has always contained the artificial sweetener, Aspartame. Until now.


General Mills, owner of the Yoplait brand, recently announced the removal of Aspartame from Yoplait Light products.  According to their website, this was largely a consumer driven move.  The packaging of every container, now boasts the recent change:


Before we start applauding their efforts, we must take a look at the ingredients list for the updated product line, to see how they are still achieving their “90 calorie” status. As is no surprise, the Aspartame in Yoplait Light has just been replaced with a different artificial sweetener.  In fact, it actually contains two: Sucralose and Acesulfame Potassium. I don’t see the company displaying that in large bold letters on the front of their packaging.

The company isn’t necessarily being silent about the fact that they’ve switched from one artificial sweetener to another (check out this video), but unless you are a regular reader of the General Mills blog, or caught a news article about it – chances are, you’ll be learning about the change as you scan yogurt products in the grocery store aisle.  As the research continues to pile up suggesting that artificial sweeteners may be doing you more harm than good, it is shameful that General Mills has decided to use this type of “bait and switch” front-of-package marketing to mislead consumers into thinking they are getting a better, healthier product.

If you are looking for a healthy yogurt, you are much better off just buying plain yogurt and adding fruit or a bit of honey to sweeten it up.