Nutrition Action Exposes How the Food Industry Turns Diet Advice into Profits

September 26, 2014

Nutrition experts recommend eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, fish, and nuts. But instead of pushing healthier foods, food companies use new buzz-words to keep the same cheap ingredients (mostly white flour, sugar, and oil) flying off the shelf, according to the cover story in the October issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

For example, labels on Kellogg's To Go Milk Chocolate Breakfast Shake boast of its "5 grams of fiber." But the fiber comes from maltodextrin and polydextrose, making the shake a poor substitute for breakfast foods it might displace, such as whole grain cereal and fruit. Processed fibers like inulin and modified starches don't confer the same benefits as the intact fiber that occurs in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

"Added processed fibers don't turn cookies, brownies, bars, and shakes into beans, bran, berries, and broccoli," said Bonnie F. Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the author of the article. "But they do turn white powders into bigger profits."

Food manufacturers are also adept at getting consumers to think that various processed foods are rich in vegetables. But as with fiber, the vegetable powders used in products like Pop Chips Hint of Olive Oil Veggie Chips do not have the same health benefits as intact vegetables. Those chips are labeled as "a flavorful blend of nine (count 'em, nine) veggies" yet there's more dried potato than any other ingredient. They have more tapioca starch than beet, spinach, pumpkin, tomato, or red bell pepper powder, and more salt than kale powder.

"If we eat a variety of vegetables and fruits, we get all of their nutrients and phytochemicals, some of which we don't even understand," said Barbara Rolls, professor and Guthrie chair of nutritional sciences at Penn State University. "So how could food companies know if powders have the same benefits?"

And powders don't provide the satiety that you get from eating fresh vegetables and fruit, said Rolls.

Ronzoni Garden Delight Tricolor Rotini claims it has "a half serving of vegetables" per 2-ounce portion. But it only has the vitamin A of a sixth of a baby carrot, according to Nutrition Action. Similarly, V8 V-Fusion Açai Mixed Berry juice claims "1 full serving of vegetables" from reconstituted carrot and sweet potato juice, but only has a third of the vitamin A of one baby carrot.

Nuts, particularly almonds, are also prominently advertised on food labels. But a cup of Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Vanilla almond milk has the equivalent of only four almonds; the rest is mostly water and sugar from evaporated cane juice. Hershey's Chocolate with Almond Spread is largely sugar and oil, with a smidgen of nonfat milk, almonds, and cocoa. Emerald Breakfast on the go! S'mores Nut Blend nut and granola mix has more vanilla granola (read: sweetened), honey roasted peanuts (read: sweetened), milk chocolate candies, and marshmallow bits than almonds.

"They're turning nuts into candy," said Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. "Corn syrup is cheaper than nuts. Why not just have 200 calories' worth of nuts without the artificial color, corn syrup, and other junk?"

"Hijacked: How the Food Industry Turns Diet Advice into Profits" also exposes food manufacturers' use of whole grain, omega-3, and gluten-free claims to market highly processed junk foods, such as Cheez-Its and Pop-Tarts that are "made with" whole grain and "gluten free" Simply Cheetos White Cheddar Puffs, which are mostly corn meal and oil.

Nutrition Action Healthletter is published 10 times a year by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. The current edition also features a review of the safety of sugar substitutes, a review of sliced lunch meats, and three delicious entrée salad recipes from its Healthy Cook Kate Sherwood. Print and electronic subscriptions to Nutrition Action are available at NutritionAction.com.


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