Nutrition nonsense label claims

even if technically true, pure nutrition nonsense

Nutrition gets hijacked to promote all kinds of silly products.  Vitamin Water and “energy” bars come to mind.  But it also gets mis-used to push foods that aren’t manufactured chemical concoctions, giving them a dubious health halo.  The claims may be technically true, but they’re essentially meaningless.  Here are some examples:

  • “cholesterol-free” vegetable oil:  Yes, vegetable oil, like all other plant foods, has no cholesterol.  So what?  It’s oil.  Pure fat and high calorie.
  • “gluten-free” salad, steak, tacos, you-name-it.  First of all, being gluten-free doesn’t make a food healthy. Second of all, the vast majority of people avoiding gluten do not have gluten intolerance (celiac disease).  Third, the only foods that contain gluten are foods made with wheat, barley or oats.  Making a gluten-free claim for salad or steak or potatoes or tacos is utter nonsense; those foods never contained gluten.
  • “low fat” fruit or vegetables.  There are no high fat fruits or vegetables, other than avocado.  Low fat jelly beans?   Jelly beans were never known for their fat content.  They’re pure sugar.  This is a nonsense claim.  Being low fat doesn’t make jelly beans healthy.
  • This has to take the cake: corn syrup bragging about “0 grams of high fructose corn syrup”.
    So what if it’s not “high fructose”?  It’s still pure corn syrup (sugar).

What is meaningful?  The Nutrition Facts panel has meaningful data on calories, protein and several other nutritional components of the food in question.  No claims are made, just the facts.  The claims are on the front of the package.

“Free of” – only meaningful if the the food might normally have contained whatever it is.  Soup labeled “free of MSG” would be meaningful.

“Low” – again, only meaningful if normal versions were high in whatever it is.  Low fat pasta – meaningless.  Low fat milk – meaningful.

Then there’s outright hijacking of nutrition, to sell products: fiber in yoghurt, omega-3 in bread, calcium in orange juice, antioxidants in sugary cereals.  All examples of random nutrients added to foods for the purpose of marketing.  Why should anyone need to get fiber from yoghurt?  If label claims were sensible, we’d have claims for the naturally occurring calcium in yoghurt, the naturally-occuring fiber in whole grain bread, the naturally occurring antioxidants in orange or other juices, and the naturally occurring fiber and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables.  Unfortunately, food marketers are moving away from sense and into the realm of nutrition nonsense.  Savvy consumers have to stay informed to avoid getting conned.

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