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!

A Face-Lift for Food Labels

Food labels are confusing.  They have been for decades (the last major updates were made in 1990), and often do more to mislead and confuse consumers than they do to help them make healthful choices.  But, it looks like some members of congress are finally trying to do something about it.

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The Food Labeling Modernization Act was introduced this month by three congressional Democrats: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ).  They argue that “new labeling requirements are needed in order to deliver the consistent, clear information that Americans need to combat the obesity crisis and make healthier choices.”

Some of the changes included in the bill are:

  • Whole Grain. Any product labeled as “whole grain”, “whole wheat”, “multi-grain” or “wheat” will have to list the amount of grain (as a percentage of total grains) on the label.
  • Serving Size. Any product which contains an amount of food reasonably consumed on a single occasion (i.e. single serving potato chips, candy bars, etc.) must be labeled as one serving and the nutrition information must be based on the entire package.  Currently, if calorie, fat or sugar content is too high, companies can label the product as more than one serving to reduce the numbers.
  • “Natural”. The use of the term “natural” will no longer be allowed on foods containing ingredients made through a non-traditional chemical process.  Examples include high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and maltodextrin.
  • Artificial Sweeteners.  There is currently no requirement for companies to disclose the use of artificial (non-caloric) sweeteners.  Though they are listed in the ingredients list, it is usually by their chemical name (sucralose, aspartame, etc.) which many consumers cannot identify as an artificial sweetener.  This bill would require full disclosure on the nutrition facts panel.
  • “Healthy”. The use of the term “healthy” will only be permitted on grain-based foods if at least half of the grains are whole.
  • Added Sugars. Many foods, like fruit and dairy products, contain both naturally occurring and added refined sugar.  However, food manufactures are currently only required to label the total amount of sugar in the product.  This bill would take out the guess work for consumers looking to avoid added sugar.
  • Sugar. Nutrition labels will have to include the percent recommended for daily consumption for total sugars and added sugars, which currently are excluded.
  • Caffeine. Companies will have to disclosure the amount of caffeine in any food or beverage which contains more than 10 milligrams.  Considering food manufacturers have been adding the stuff to everything from waffles to Cracker Jacks, this could be very helpful for consumers, especially parents.
  • Front of Pack Labels. These labels are meant to be a quick nutrition guide for shoppers in the grocery aisle, however, most are created by the food companies themselves, so they highlight the healthier qualities of the food (i.e. 100% DV vitamin C) and omit the less healthy properties (high in sugar.)  This bill would require uniform guidelines for all food companies, creating less confusion for consumers trying to make healthy choices.

So, how likely is this bill to get passed? If history is any indication, not very.

In 2009, Congress directed the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a study on Front-of-package labeling and recommend a standard labeling system.   However, the FDA backed off of efforts to implement it after the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) created and began implementing the industry’s own new labeling system in 2011.

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The industry program, Facts Up Front, has been showing up on food packages for the last four years.  Not surprisingly, the system includes an opportunity for companies to highlight positive qualities of a product (usually fortified nutrients — like fiber and calcium), making the system more of a marketing tactic than anything that could be perceived as informative.  Companies would never willingly agree to full disclosure about their food products because they know health conscious consumers wouldn’t buy them.

Case in point: The GMA’s response to the new Food Label Modernization bill:

Based on our preliminary analysis of this legislation, we are very concerned that it could have serious unintended consequences on a variety of products and will only serve to confuse consumers. GMA agrees with and supports federal laws requiring food labels to be truthful and non-misleading. There is a robust regulatory system in place to ensure the accuracy of information found on a food label. The accuracy of this information is further supported by the ongoing commitment by food companies to communicate with consumers in a way that is clear and accurate.

Whenever the food industry starts showing concern over “consumer confusion”, they usually mean the exact opposite.  If consumers are given too much information about the contents of their unhealthy products, it is likely they will make a different choice, and that terrifies the food industry.  The “serious unintended consequences” the food industry is worried about are their sales.

If implemented, this bill could help create a more accurate picture of what is contained in packaged foods.  Surely some heavy lobbying (and possibly even a media campaign to convince consumers that these changes are harmful) will undoubtedly kill the bill, but it does leave me feeling hopeful.  Proposing this type of legislation brings attention to the issue which is, at minimum, a very good place to start.

Food Label Frenzy: How Food Companies Profit from Your Healthy Intentions

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When it comes to food, the word ‘local’ has become synonymous with the local foods movement. The term ‘locally grown’ SHOULD refer to foods sold relatively close to where they were produced.  But when it’s used in ad campaigns for companies like Philadelphia Cream Cheese as seen below, you know it has lost all significance.

While I haven’t seen this particular buzz word on food labels yet, I’m assuming it is only a matter of time.  Food companies love those trendy little words and phrases, like ‘all-natural’ and ‘made with whole grain’, because they are quick to catch the eye of the health-conscious consumer, and help sell more products.   But, these claims can also confuse and mislead.  Most have little or no real meaning, and are an easy disguise for what is REALLY hiding in our food.

This slideshow will show you 10 of the industry’s favorites, and hopefully stop you from being duped on your next visit to the grocery store.

Sweet Deception: Why Artificial Sweeteners May Be Hiding in Your Food

As our country continues to face an obesity and diabetes crisis, food companies are under great pressure to reduce the excessive use of sugar and calories in their products.  For industry, this generally means replacing natural sweeteners with artificial ones, rather than decreasing the use of sweeteners all together.  Companies are starting to sneak artificial sweeteners into all types of products, including those intended for children, and they aren’t very eager to tell you that they are doing it.

Just last month, a controversial petition was submitted to the FDA by the Dairy Industry requesting that flavored milk be exempt from labeling standards which require companies to disclose the use of artificial sweeteners.  Currently, products containing artificial sweeteners must be labeled with what the FDA calls, ‘nutrient content claims.’  These are phrases such as  ‘reduced calorie’ or ‘no added sugar’ which are placed on the front of the package in addition to displaying which sweeteners are used in the ingredients list on the back of the package. Below is an example of the current standard vs. what the Dairy Industry wants:

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This issue was particularly alarming to parents, because it was the  Dairy Industry’s belief that these claims may deter children from wanting to drink the artificially sweetened milk that caused them to make the request.  The FDA has just begun reviewing comments from industry and consumers about the issue, thus a decision is still in the works, but the concept and subsequent controversy has really got me thinking about the increased use of these sweeteners in general.

The following words and phrases are those commonly used on of the front of food packages to denote the use of artificial sweeteners in a product:

‘reduced calorie’
‘no added sugar’
‘sugar-free’
‘diet’
‘light’

Why don’t companies just label the products, “sweetened with artificial sweeteners”? Is that just too honest? Or is it because the food industry knows that many consumers want to avoid these sweeteners, so they would rather work with the FDA to create positive sounding (and arguably VERY misleading) claims that avoid using the word ‘artificial’?

To add to the confusion, some claims like “no added sugar” don’t always mean the same thing for every product.  Sometimes it means the product contains artificial sweeteners instead of sugar; sometimes it means there are no added sweeteners whatsoever.  It is not the same thing as “sugar-free”, however, as products with the “no added sugar” claim also usually contain naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit or dairy products. Confused yet? You are not alone.

Not only do many consumers not understand the meaning behind these claims on the front of the package, but for those wanting to abstain from artificial sweeteners, looking to the ingredients label on the back of the package can be just as confusing.  Many people are familiar with the common brand names for artificial sweeteners such as Equal, Sweet N’ Low, and Splenda but these names usually won’t be found in the list of ingredients. Instead, companies list the generic names, like these:

Sucralose
Aspartame
Acesulfame K (or Acesulfame Potassium)
Saccharin
Neotame

The Sugar Association conducted a poll which showed that when the generic term for an artificial sweetener is used, unsurprisingly, consumer recognition declines.

While the research surrounding the long-term use of artificial sweeteners is inconclusive, surveys have shown that many Americans still feel it is important to know what sweeteners are being used when they purchase foods and beverages.   The current practice of using misleading claims (or no claims at all), and unfamiliar generic terminology is unfair to those consumers.

If you are curious  about which foods and beverages these sweeteners are hiding in, I took a quick look through the  grocery store to see where I could find them.  This is certainly not an all inclusive list; artificial sweeteners are currently found in over 6,000 products. But, some of these might surprise you!

Bread Products

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Thomas’ Light Multi-grain English Muffins

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Sara Lee Delightful 100% Whole Wheat Bread with Honey

Juice Products

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Capri-Sun Roarin’ Waters

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Ocean Spray Light

Fruit Products

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Breyer’s Pure Fruit Bars

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Musselman’s Lite Applesauce

Dairy Products

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Dreyer’s Slow Churned ‘No Sugar Added’ Ice Cream

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Dannon Light and Fit Yogurt

Breakfast Products

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Quaker High Fiber Oatmeal

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Special K Protein

Snack Products

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Quaker ’25% Less Sugar’ Chewy Bars

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Jolly Time Healthy Pop Kettle Corn

Other Products

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Tylenol Sinus

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Vlasic ‘No Sugar Added’ Bread and Butter Pickles