May 15, 2015 / by Ann-Marie Giglio / No Comments

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Pop quiz…
What is 8.5 ounces (251 ml), 82.5 calories, contains 23.8 grams of sugar and is recommended by health experts?
Well some health experts.  Definitely not all…just the health experts who are being paid to recommend it.
Give up?
It’s a mini-can of Coke (available for consumption since 2010.)
The basic premise as to why the new mini-cans are being recommended as being a healthy way to go is that they are mini-cans.  Meaning if you can limit yourself to just one, you’ll be consuming less sugar etc. than if you drink a regular-sized can or bottle of Coke.

Dietician Robyn Flipse, one of the authors of the pro-mini-coke articles, says that she would suggest mini-cans of Coke even if she wasn’t being paid.  The small size is simply a more sensible way for people to enjoy Coke she says.”I absolutely think that I provide valuable information,” Flipse states.  Flipse, who has worked for Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association for years, says that as part of her duties she sends out messages on social media that refute the idea that sugary drinks are to blame for obesity. This practice fits under the umbrella of something called health washing.  It’s a term that describes the marketing of a product (typically food) as being healthier than it really is.

Another example of “health washing” is Girl Scout cookies.  Their cookies have been criticized as containing unhealthy and artificial ingredients.  What’s the solution?  You introduce a new variety of cookie called “Mango Crèmes with Nutrifusion.”  And then you advertise them as being “tangy, refreshing tropical treats that are packed with great taste and vitamins.””Nutrifusion” is a processed powdered substance made up of all parts of fruits and vegetables including the peel and skin.  And while the company who makes Nutrifusion does not claim that it’s a substitute for eating actual fruit and vegetables, you wouldn’t know it from how the Mango Crèmes are marketed:
“Crunchy vanilla and coconut cookies feature a mango-flavored crème filling with all the nutrient benefits of eating cranberries, pomegranates, oranges, grapes, and strawberries.”

The good news is that there are instances when “health washing” techniques have been legally curtailed.

You may recall that back in 2009, Coke was sued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest over the language it used to promote their Glacéau Vitaminwater product line.  Vitaminwater contains synthetic vitamins and plenty of sugar. Vitaminwater’s marketing claimed that the drink “could promote healthy joints, support optimal immune function, and reduce the risk of eye disease.” However, because the product contains on average about 31 grams of sugar per 20 oz (591 ml) bottle, when consumed in large volumes, it could actually lead to many serious health problems, not cure them.
As part of their defense, Coke’s lawyers suggested that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.”Or in other words, “it’s not our fault you believed our marketing.”In October of last year, they agreed to make changes to their labeling and said they would no longer make some statements about the drinks and their effect on the body.

Also this past October, it was reported that Red Bull had to agree to pay out more than $13 million to settle a class action suit.  Red Bull’s marketing said that by drinking Red Bull you could “improve concentration and reaction speeds.”  However their claims were found to lack scientific proof.

In February 2010, Dannon, who had been claiming that it’s Activia and DanActive yogurt products were “clinically” and “scientifically” proven to regulate digestion and boost the immune system were ordered to pay consumers $45 million dollars when a judge said that the claims they were making weren’t proven.

Here are a few strategies food companies use to health wash their product:
1) The words – They purposely use words that create an image or impression more desirable than the reality.  For example they use a word like “artisan” which invokes the image of a skilled food craftsman for products when in reality the products are processed and factory-made.  They use the word “multigrain” which simply means the product is made up of more than one grain.  It does not mean the product (which is usually darker) is anywhere near as healthy for you as a whole wheat product.  They use the term “Made with Real…” which gives the impression that the product consist of healthier ingredients.   For example, the packaging of Kellogg’s NutriGrain bars includes a “made with real fruit” stamp on the front.  And while the third ingredient listed is raspberry purée concentrate, it’s mostly made up of sugar and corn syrup.
2) Pictures on the box – The box contains pictures of happy animals or nature scenes which really have no relation to how the product was created.
3) Smaller serving size – In order to make the product more appealing, they reduce the serving size in the nutrition box to make it seem like it contains less calories, saturated fats, trans fats etc.

Here are six tips that will help make you immune from green washing…
1)  Buy foods that aren’t packaged.
2)  Support local produce.
3)  Ignore what it says on the front of the package and read the ingredients.
4)  Keep in mind that there are other ingredients such as more sugar, salt, flour, or thickener (which may contain even more calories) added to foods that are labelled gluten free, sugar free, low sugar, fat free and low fat.
5)  The word “natural” has been rendered almost meaningless.  In fact, General Mills no longer uses it in their advertising after they faced four lawsuits that accused them of using the term “100 percent natural” to describe food products that contain highly processed, genetically modified ingredients.
6) Light or Lite doesn’t necessarily mean lower in calories.  It could also mean products that are light in color or taste.
The goal of food marketing is to get you to buy their product, not to keep you healthy.  Be aware of “health washing”.  Don’t be fooled into buying something that is less than nutritious and could, with consistent long term consumption, lead to health problems for you and your family.

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