Yogurt – Still Full of Lies

Am I beating a dead horse if I link to yet another article pointing out that health claims on packaged food are (intentionally) misleading?

This NY Times article doesn’t really reveal anything new if you’ve been following the whole story over the past few years, but it speaks to the stretches of truth advertisers will make and the overall gullibility of consumers when you consider that people are still buying these products.

It just feels like a battle food advocates can never win. Between advertisers and media willing to repeat any study that touts a “superfood”, or an ingredient with nutritional properties, the people standing up and saying, “hey now, wait a minute, do more research” are the ones made to look like kooks.

But how sad is it that we’re willing to buy yogurt, or juice or cereal because of false promises of restored health? I’m angry that people don’t take more time to inform themselves about what they’re buying and putting into their bodies, but I’m also a little shocked at the desperation of people willing to try anything that offers any kind of promise of improvement, be it weight loss, digestive health or, scariest of all, cancer prevention.

I don’t agree with everything said by author Michael Pollan, but “don’t buy food with health claims on the package” has to be one of the wisest things I’ve ever read.

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Probiotics Revisited

It’s been a couple of years since I posted my rant about probiotic claims on yogurt containers. Recently, Dannon/Danone settled out of court rather than face a lawsuit that would make the research they based their product on public. In Europe, the Food and Safety Association has rejected health claims on packaging outright.

One science food writer believes that companies will rally and come up with better research and better strains of probiotics, becuase they actually do a lot of good. Marion Nestle would like to see the US take on a similar approach that the EU has and ban health claims on products completely – her point: foods are not drugs and we shouldn’t be treating them as such.

One other thing that I don’t see addressed by anyone…

Dannon is working hard to get an approved health claim from the European Standards Agency which annoyingly wants to see some science behind health claims before approving them. Dannon has now added a tomato extract to its yogurts with the idea that this substance, which appears to help deal with diarrhea, will strengthen its bid for a health claim.

Tomatoes are an allergy trigger for a lot of people. Just as adding fish oil to bread so it can be enriched with Omega 3 could trigger allergic reactions in people sensitive to fish, might we begin to see reactions to products with tomato extract added? This all seems a desperate attempt to confuse and mislead consumers into believing that they can buy a tub of yogurt instead of visiting a doctor or taking real medicine.

And of course, as even Dannon’s research made clear, the probiotics don’t work as well as the company is claiming they do. Add to that all the sugar and flavourings most people need to make yogurt palatable, and you might as well be eating candy. Plain, unadulterated yogurt contains natural probiotics that can (maybe) be beneficial to your health. Don’t be fooled by the hype and the pretty package.

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The Lies on Your Yogurt Container

There has never been any debate that yogurt is a healthy food. Yogurt adds calcium and protein to the diet; can positively affect other health issues such as cholesterol, immunity and colon health; and is easier to digest than milk. Plain yogurt contains live bacteria that can regulate digestive issues and restore balance to a system thrown off by things like yeast infections or anti-biotics.

These good bacteria are known as pro-biotics, and occur naturally in plain yogurt made with live bacteria. However, once you get into sweetened or flavoured yogurt of any kind, the sugars kill off the live bacteria and the nutritional benefit is thought to be negligible.

Because food companies are always working to keep and increase their market share, and because our society seems to work on the theory that if a little of something can be helpful then a lot of something must be really, really great, processed foods have been popping up on the shelves of the dairy case touting the inclusion of pro and pre biotic bacteria.

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