Can You Believe Health Claims From Food Manufacturers? by Dana Carpender

Back in the day, there was a “tonic” called Hadacol. It was hyped as vitamin elixir, a dietary supplement, a source of vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), and B3(niacin), plus iron. Hadacol was advertised as something you would take for your health, that would relieve the root cause of many ailments, from heartburn to nervous disorders.

Hadacol was also 24 proof, a factor that was not hyped, but certainly helped its popularity, especially in dry counties. Some pharmacies reportedly sold it by the shot, and I’m not talking injections.

I am constantly reminded of Hadacol these days. Why? Because the market is awash in sugary crap being touted as good for you because it contains at least three grams of fiber! Or 8 grams of whole grain! Or a day’s worth of these three important vitamins! Just like the makers of Hadacol, the food producers are hoping that their touting of the addition of a little something vaguely healthy will obscure the fact that what they’re selling is concentrated addictive drugs, and will make you feel positively virtuous about indulging your addiction – or letting your kids indulge theirs.

I don’t know a lot of parents who would give their kids a couple of shots of vitamin fortified liquor and send them off to school, expecting them to have a productive day. Yet millions of parents give their kids a bowl of General Mills sugar-laden cereals and send them off with that bright, good hope. Frankly, I just don’t see a great deal of difference.

Similarly, people will switch from a candy bar to a “fiber” bar, telling themselves it’s the healthy choice, because after all, something vaguely healthy_sounding has been added to the sugar, grains, and cheap oils. Why do I suspect that these are the people who wind up telling their doctors “I’ve tried changing my diet, but it just doesn’t work?”

I gave a quick look to the Fiber One Bar website. The ingredients of a Fiber One Bar are as follows: Chicory root extract, semi-sweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural flavor), whole grain oats, high maltose corn syrup, rice flour, barley flakes, sugar, canola oil, glycerin, maltodextrin, honey, tricalcium phosphate, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, salt, nonfat milk, fructose, malt extract, cocoa processed with alkalai, baking soda, caramel color, natural flavor, mixed tocopherols added to retain freshness.

We’re looking at 29 grams of carb, 9 of which are fiber, 10 of which are sugar. Indeed, there are at least 6 kinds of sugar in this product, and that’s skipping the caramel color. I’d be willing to bet that if you added ’em up, they’d outweigh that so-healthy-sounding chicory root extract that comes first on the list. (That’s inulin, by the way. It’s okay.) They advertise this thing as tasting like a candy bar. There’s a reason for that.

The Fiber One bars, however, really are health food compared to WhoNu? Cookies. These are nothing more than absolutely bog-standard processed, packaged cookies with a vitamin pill or two thrown into the mixing bowl. Better you should give your kid a children’s multi-vitamin daily, and skip the trash.

And of course, everything from fruit juice blends to Manwich is being sold as a great way to get your vegetables. We have the same game going on here as we had with the Fiber One bars: The second biggest ingredient in Manwich is high fructose corn syrup. The fourth ingredient is plain old corn syrup. The sixth ingredient is sugar. I’m betting if you added up all the sugar, it would be the predominant ingredient. This is a common tactic on the part of the food processing industry: Since ingredients must be listed by descending order of predominance, they use several different varieties of sugar, so no one type shows up first on the label.

Please, folks, it’s not just about getting the vitamins and minerals, or the right number of servings of vegetables, or number of grams of fiber. It’s about what you don’t eat. You wouldn’t drink vitamin fortified booze and call it a healthy food. Vitamin fortified sugar is no better.

© 2011 by Dana Carpender. Used by permission of the author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.

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