Nutrition Action Healthletter
April 2002 - U.S. Edition
Food Fraud
Where would we be without health-food stores?

   Chances are, we’d have no whole-wheat breads, crackers, and pastas, for starters. No yogurt and soy milk, either. Not even brown rice, bulgur, herbal teas, or granola, for goodness’ sake.

    Now you can buy those and dozens of other foods in the supermarket, but they got their start in health-food stores. And health-food stores are still the only places you can find foods that have yet to hit the mainstream.

    What’s more, health-food stores have the biggest stocks of organic foods, and many now carry a tantalizing selection of freshly cooked, out-of-this-world salads, soups, breads, and entrees, many of them made with top-quality whole foods.

    But health-food stores, for all their merits, still sell some items that are anything but healthful. They may have “organic,” “natural,” and other virtuous-sounding claims splashed all over their designer packages, but what’s inside is no better—and is sometimes worse—than what you might find in the supermarket.

    Here’s a smattering of items to watch out for. If you don’t see these brands in your store, chances are you’ll find others that make similar claims.

The information for this article was compiled by Tamar Genger.
Enhanced Water
Glaceau Vitamin Water Defense Lemon IceWhy drink ordinary water when you can drink “nutrient enhanced water”? Glaceau Vitamin Water’s Defense Lemon Ice seems to target people who want to boost their immune systems. But there’s no good evidence that the ingredients—zinc, vitamin C, echinacea, and arabinogalactan—can prevent colds, the flu, or other infections. And if you’ve got a cold, the echinacea may help, but the vitamin C and zinc probably won’t (only zinc lozenges seem to work).

    “Vitamins + water = what’s in your hand,” says the label. Not quite. Unlike other water, this one has 125 calories per bottle. It’s really water + sugar + vitamins + hype.

Very High Energy
Mrs. Denson's Monster Chocalate Chip CookiesMrs. Denson’s Monster Chocolate Chip Cookies don’t pretend to be a stalk of broccoli. But the “All Natural,” “High Energy,” and “No Refined Sugar” claims make them look like something special. What’s special is that the 140 calories listed on the Nutrition Facts label apply to only a quarter of the cookie. A 560-calorie cookie is what “high-energy” claims are all about. They’re just a way to say “high-calorie” in a government-approved, food-industry-friendly language that fools consumers.

Fried Bananas
Whole Foods Banana ChipsIt’s bad enough that these “all natural” banana slices are fried, sweetened, and pumped up with “natural banana flavor.” Instead of a 100-calorie fresh banana, each modest (1/4 cup) serving supplies 150 calories, thank you very much. Worse yet, the banana chips are fried in coconut oil, the most saturated fat around. Of the eight grams of fat in each serving, seven are saturated. A McDonald’s Quarter Pounder has eight grams of sat fat.

Spinach Powder Crisps
Snyder's Veggie CrispsDon’t like vegetables? Synder’s of Hanover conveniently mixes them into its “bountiful blend of potato, spinach, and tomato chips.” What’s “bountiful” is Snyder’s chutzpah. Surely the company doesn’t think that a few grams of tomato purée and spinach qualify as vegetables.

    To their credit, the crisps are made with non-hydrogenated canola oil. (Only slices of potato or other vegetables can be called chips. Crisps are molded from potato flour.) But If you want to “enjoy the simple goodness of garden fresh vegetables,” as the label claims, don’t expect Snyder’s—or most other brands of veggie crisps—to help.

Unfair to Linda
Ethnic Gourmet's Linda McCartney Vegetable Burrito with Rice“Linda McCartney Meals...naturally a better way to eat,” says the label. It’s tough to criticize foods named after a vegetarian activist who died of breast cancer. But someone at Ethnic Gourmet should have known better.

    No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives doesn’t make up for half a day’s saturated fat (ten grams) and sodium (1,220 mg) in this 450-calorie Vegetable Burrito with Spanish Rice. Memo to the misinformed manufacturer: White rice and white flour, the first two ingredients, aren’t as healthful (or natural) as whole grains. And bean-and-vegetable burritos should be low in fat. All the cream, milk, and cheese in this dish can raise the risk of heart disease, which kills more women than breast cancer. Only four of the 13 items in Linda’s line are low in saturated fat.

Soy Swindle
Soy Delicious Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert BarSoy protein lowers cholesterol, so how can you go wrong with a Soy Delicious Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert? It’s the “organic chocolate coating” made with organic coconut oil that will get you prepped for an organic coronary bypass. Each bar has a third of a day’s saturated fat, not to mention 300 calories. Beware of chocolate coating—which is much worse than chocolate itself—on any food, whether or not it’s organic, natural, or soy. It almost always contains highly saturated palm kernel or coconut oil.

Nothing But the Fat
Kettle Cuisine's Cream of Broccoli SoupUnless they’re homemade, soups are nearly always salty, and Kettle Cuisine Soups, with 800-or-so milligrams of sodium, are no exception. But at least you can depend on most store-bought soups to be low in fat. Not Kettle Cuisine.

    When they say “Cream of Broccoli,” they mean it. The cream, chicken fat, cheese, and butter in each bowl add up to ten grams of saturated fat—nearly a Big Mac’s worth. You can add Kettle’s New England Clam Chowder (14 grams of sat fat) to your watch list. And if the six grams of sat fat in the Hungarian Mushroom Soup aren’t enough for you, just follow the label’s “serving ideas” to add meat, poultry, or meatballs and top with sour cream.

   We’ve got a serving idea ...but you can’t follow it unless you’ve got a trash can handy.
Nutrition Action Healthletter Food Fraud Health Food that Aren't By Bonnie Leibman and Jayne Hurley Center for Science in the Public Interest April 2002 U.S. Edition Subscribe Today! Customer Service