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.

7059

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.

CC_Healthy-Food-Brands-Angry-Birds-Halloween-Fruit-Gummies-candy-box-October-2012

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 HFBcandy.com. 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.

QUAKER VS OREO

Here are the nutrition facts for both:

NUTRITION FACTS

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.

INGREDIENTS

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.

Yoplait-Light-No-Aspartame

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:

Yoplait-Light-No-Aspartame

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.

http://www.generalmills.com/~/media/Images/Brands/Nutritional_Images/Yoplait/Light/Yoplait_Light_Key_Lime_Pie.aspx?Width=622&Height=362

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.

 

Food Crime Friday: Oscar Mayer Carving Board Meats

Food companies are becoming more aware of the health conscious consumer’s desire for less processed foods. To reach this market, companies could start stripping down the number of ingredients and using less processing to create their products.  But, that would be too easy.  Instead, some companies are actually doing more processing – to make their products appear less processed.

Case in point: Oscar Mayer’s Carving Board Meats.

Homemade-Fast-Food

These meats have ragged cuts, and darkened edges to make the meat look like it was just carved from a roast.  Their advertising would even make you think it is equivalent to what you would get from a Thanksgiving dinner.


But what they don’t advertise is what you’ll find right in the ingredients list.

Carving ingredients

Those darkened edges are just created with caramel food coloring.  Sodium nitrites (linked to cancer in some studies) are used to preserve the meat.  And the sodium content is far higher than anything one would get from a roast cooked in their own kitchen.  Major health organizations recommend that we consume no more than 1500-2300 mg of sodium daily (depending on your age and health.)  Carving Board meats contain anywhere from 540-630 mg of sodium per serving. This means that one sandwich (if you follow the recommended serving size) would eat up more than 1/4 of your daily needs – and that’s not including any condiments or other toppings.  Yikes.

Don’t fall for this one, folks.  This product line is nothing more than regular, overly-salted, heavily processed Oscar Meyer deli meat with a cosmetic face lift.

Food Crime Friday: Beauty Sweeties

We’ve all seen food products with health claims before – packaging that touts magical ingredients that will lead to weight loss, lower cholesterol, or a reduced risk for heart disease.  A new product from Germany is taking a different approach – claiming their gummy candies will make you beautiful.

beauty sweeties 2What are the secret “beautifying” ingredients in these treats? According to the company’s website, each Beauty Sweeties product contains coenzyme Q10, collagen, biotin, and/or aloe vera.

Beauty sweeties 1Not that I’m buying into the notion that candy can make you pretty, but I thought I would look into each of these ingredients, just for fun.

  • The claimed “beautifying” effect for Coenzyme Q10 is related to antioxidant activity, but the science is not conclusive.  In fact, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that there is no cause and effect between ingesting Coenzyme Q10 and protection from oxidative damage.
  • While ingesting collagen to create younger looking skin is a common practice in Japan and more recently, in some European countries, there is no research to date proving any real effects.  Simply from a nutrition standpoint, there is no way for collagen to be transported directly to the skin when it is eaten, as it is broken down during digestion into amino acids just like any other protein. These amino acids are then used to produce different kinds of protein needed for muscle and cartilage growth, hair and nails, hemoglobin production and other processes in the body.
  • Biotin’s “beautifying” quality is likely traced to the claim that the vitamin can improve dry skin, hair and nails.  However the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates biotin as having insufficient evidence to support such claims.
  • Ingestion of aloe vera (often in the form of aloe vera juice), has become popular for it’s proposed effects on skin renewal and detoxification.  In addition to there being little scientific evidence to back these claims, consuming aloe vera can lead to some pretty ugly side effects, including abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The only truly impactful ingredient in these gummy candies is sugar – and there sure is a lot.  The first two ingredients are glucose syrup (sugar) and regular sugar.

Beauty sweeties 4The front of the package makes sure to indicate that each product contains 20% fruit juice and 6% fruit pieces.

Beauty sweeties 3While 20% isn’t that much to begin with, what they are speaking of is fruit juice concentrate, which as I’ve mentioned in the past, is just another fancy form of sugar.

I don’t think much more explanation is required for why this product achieves Food Crime status.  Thanks to Jennifer Heatley and Casey Hinds for letting me know about this one!

Food Crime Friday: Taco Bell’s Foundation for Teens

I’ve decided to add a new category to my blog, called Food Crimes!  Every Friday, I’ll be posting about a misleading or deceptive marketing tactic being used to sell unhealthy products.  Most of us have been duped by food marketing at some point – mislead into purchasing a product we thought was good for us.  Or maybe there is a marketing practice targeting kids that is particularly shameful.  Whatever the scenario – you can find it here every Friday!

To start things off – Taco Bell’s Foundation for Teens.

TBFFT-RGB-StandardThe Taco Bell Foundation for Teens has announced it will provide funding to Junior Achievement, an organization dedicated to empowering young people to pursue higher education. Taco Bell claims that the partnership shows their commitment to ensuring students are prepared for a successful career.  Why is this a food crime?   Clever marketing tactics disguised as philanthropy is just another play in the food marketing playbook. The collaboration between Taco Bell and Junior Achievement, enables the company to easily connect with teens, a highly desirable market.  For example, a recent Junior Achievement back-to-school event offered students free Taco Bell products, distributed from a heavily-branded Taco Bell truck. The money provided by Taco Bell is surely small potatoes in comparison to the return they will receive by attracting new customers.  If the company was truly just interested in giving back – they would provide funding without the additional peddling of their unhealthy products to youth.