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Desperately making health claims: these foods don't deliver what their ads promise.

Desperately Making Health Claims

What could be wrong with oatmeal, orange juice, a low-sugar cereal, and a high-fiber bread? It's not the foods, but the ads for these products that are causing trouble. The ads exaggerate and mislead, deceiving even the well-informed consumer.

From used cars to designer underwear, we're all used to advertising hype. What's so different about exaggerated claims for foods? With ads for other items, consumers can often separate the facts from the fluff. But when it comes to claims that foods can prevent heart attacks or cancer, most consumers can't see through the hype without a trip to a medical library.

Only recently has the government allowed ads or labels to claim that foods can help promote health or prevent disease. The following ads--for decent foods--suggest that the food industtry is abusing the privilege. One shudders to think what ads for bad foods will claim.

Five Star Deception.

"We've baked a balanced amount of both insoluble and soluble fiber into every slice of our Five Star Fibre Breads," says Pepperidge Farm. "A total of five grams' worth per serving. Compare that to whole wheat breads, which usually have less than two grams of fiber per slice."

Two grams versus five grams. Sounds like Pepperidge Farm's new line of breads is very high in fiber. That is, unless you notice that it's two grams in a slice of whole wheat bread versus five grams in a serving of Five Star Fibre bread--and a serving is two slices!

That's not the only deception in this ad. Five Star Fibre breads are a "better source of fiber" than high-fiber bran cereals, says Pepperidge Farm, because the bread contains two kinds of fiber --soluble and insoluble--while high-fiber bran cereals contain only insoluble fiber.

It's true that soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol, while insoluble fiber may help prevent constipation and colon cancer. It's also true that it's best to get both types of fiber in your diet. But you needn't get both from the same food.

For example, you could eat bran cereal for breakfast (4 to 12 grams of insoluble fiber) and an apple or orange for lunch (1.5 grams of soluble fiber). Or you could eat bran cereal for breakfast one day, and oatmeal (2.2 grams of soluble fiber) the next. In both cases, you might be better off than eating two slices of Five Star Fibre breads (1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber plus 3 to 5 grams of insoluble fiber).

Five Star Fibre breads are a decent (and tasty) source of fiber. But they're not the best.

Citrus Hill of Beans.

"Treat yourself to a better source of calcium," say the ads for Citrus Hill Plus Calcium, Procter & Gamble's calcium-fortified orange juice. According to P&G, Citrus Hill's calcium is "even more absorbable than milk."

In fact, studies conducted by Procter & Gamble indicate that the calcium in Citrus Hill is absorbed as well as the calcium in milk. But the company has not published sufficient evidence that it's absorbed better than the calcium in milk.

Robert Heaney, an osteoporosis expert at Creighton University in Omaha, has conducted studies on about 300 women for P&G. "The difference [between calcium absorbed from Citrus Hill and milk] was small," says Heaney. "There is so much variation from person to person and from time to time for the same person, that the differences are not important. It is more appropriate to say that the calcium [in Citrus Hill] is at least as available as the calcium in milk."

P&G also boasts that Citrus Hill is "the first calcium product accepted by the American Medical Women's Association, an organization of 10,000 leading women physicians." AMWA's endorsement says, "Citrus Hill Plus Calcium has been shown to be a well-absorbed source of dietary calcium." The physicians said nothing about a "better source."

One more point: To date, P&G has tested Citrus Hill only on women aged 50 or below. How well its calcium is absorbed by older women is unknown. According to Heaney, that's because the company wanted to target younger women. Yet the ads don't say "for younger women only."

Procter & Gamble has already paid a price for misleading the public about Citrus Hill's orange juice content. Until 1987, the product was only 60 percent juice, but ads failed to disclose that fact. In a December 1987 agreement with the state of California, the company promised to pay the state $350,000 in settlement costs.

Not All in the Oats.

"In recent clinical studies, where Quaker Oats were a daily part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, total serum cholesterol levels dropped on average almost 10 percent. Other medical studies show such a drop could reduce your risk of heart attack by nearly 20 percent. Many experts believe it's the soluble fiber in oats that does it."

True or false: Does a daily bowl of oatmeal reduce your risk of heart disease by 20 percent? If you answered yes, you've been duped by Quaker.

The "clinical studies" cited in the ad-actually only one--concluded that oatmeal alone lowered cholesterol levels by only 3 percent. But Quaker wasnht satisfied making an honest claim about this modest improvement. Instead, it threw in the 5 percent drop caused by the low-fat, low-cholesterol diet eaten with the oatmeal. Still not content with the inflated 8 percent, Quaker took the liberty of rounding up to 10 percent. How clever.

While Quaker's figures are distorted, other studies have shown that the soluble fiber in oats and beans can indeed lower blood cholesterol. The question is, how much do you have to eat?

In earlier studies, people ate just over three ounces of oat bran a day. That translates into one bowl of oat bran eaten as hot cereal plus five oat bran muffins (see December 1985). Their cholesterol levels dropped 13 to 19 percent.

In Quaker's study, people were asked to eat two ounces a day of either oatmeal or oat bran. Actually, they ate less, averaging just over one ounce of oatmeal, or 1-1/3 ounces of oat bran. That's about equal to a single serving (one ounce) of oatmeal or oat bran cereal, plus one other oat product--usually a muffin--only once every two or three days.

The people who ate oat bran actually consumed twice as much fiber as the people who ate oatmeal. But surprisingly, the drop in their cholesterol levels was even smaller than the 3 percent fall seen in the oatmeal-eaters. According to the authors, egg yolk in the oat bran muffins may have neutralized the oat bran's effect.

Adding a serving of oatmeal or oat bran to your diet may reduce cholesterol levels enough to make a small different in your risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, when Quaker says, "It's the oats that does it," many consumers will think that oats are the key to avoiding a heart attack.

Isn't That Special?

"Did you know the last time you starved yourself to lose fat, you might have lost muscle? Why? You didn't eat enough protein. Protein helps you keep the muscle while you lose the fat. And that's what's so special about Special K. It has the highest level of dietary protein of any cereal."

Forget Nautilus. Forget aerobics. From the looks of these bare legs, viewers are likely to think that Special K is the key to a body beautiful. The facts are less encouraging:

1. The Kernel of Truth. If you go on a strict diet--800 or fewer calories a day--your body does need more than the recommended Dietary Allowance for protein. Unless you eat more than the RDA, you will lose small amounts of muscle--about 2 ounces a day. Exactly how much more protein you need is under debate. Some researchers say 25 percent more; others say almost twice the RDA.

But according to Bruce Bistrian, at the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, the daily 2-ounce muscle loss won't affect your looks, health, or athletic performance until you lose at least 10 percent of your starting weight. Moreover, says Bistrian, most people regain the lost muscle shortly after their diets are over.

2. The Question Mark. The average woman eats 150 percent of the RDA for protein. The average man eats twice the RDA. Only 23 percent of women aged 19 to 50 eat less than the RDA for protein. Only 10 percent eat fewer than 900 calories. How many eat less than the RDA and fewer than 800 calories is unknown. In other words, the ad's warnings may apply to very few women.

3. The Clincher. Special K isn't such a terrific source of protein anyway. One serving provides only 10 percent of the USRDA. Not much compared to a 4.2-ounce skinless chicken breast (84 percent of the USRDA), five ounces of flounder (64 percent), 2-1/2 ounces of tuna (55 percent) or one-half cup of cottage cheese (33 percent).

True, most cold cereals contain even less protein (2 to 6 percent of the USRDA) than Special K. But with a food supply abounding in protein, the difference between 6 and 10 percent is trivial.

For years, Kellogg has promoted Special K as the dieter's cereal, implying that it's lower in calories than other cereals. Not true. Special K contains 110 calories per serving, no fewer than most other cereals and slightly more than Wheaties, Raising Bran, and Shredded Wheat, to name a few.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Apr 1, 1988
Previous Article:CSPI starts minority health project.
Next Article:Fiber by the slice.

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