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: 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.





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.


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 Label Frenzy: How Food Companies Profit from Your Healthy Intentions


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.