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Food labels get "healthy." (health claims on food labels)


This is one of your classic big print/small print scams. "5 mg of cholesterol, 160 mg of sodium, and 12 calories." That's the boast you'll find emblazoned across packages of Oscar Mayer Healthy Favorites Oven Roasted Chicken Breast. The words "per 12 gram slice" are there, too ... but in much smaller print. Now the average person eats two ounces (56 grams) of luncheon meat at a sitting. So Oscar's label should read: "23 mg of cholesterol, 747 mg of sodium, and 56 calories per serving." That's pretty salty. In fact, it's no better than most--and it's worse than many--other packaged chicken or turkey luncheon meats.

November 1990.

Consumer groups finally get Congress to force the FDA to crack down on misleading labels by defining claims like "light," "lowfat," and "percent fat-free."

Early 1992.

Prohibited from using the old claims, the food industry finds new buzzwords that the law didn't cover. So-called "healthy" foods are born.

This isn't the first time companies have done an end-run around the FDA's regulations. It was no coincidence that the "lite" craze started soon after the feds restricted the use of "reduced calorie."

But this time, the FDA got wise. Last November, the agency said that it would consider defining "implied" claims like "healthy." The Grocery Manufacturers Association (Surprise!) argues that "implied" claims are none of the FDA's business.

So "healthy" is now being defined by companies' marketing departments. Oops.

To our minds, a "healthy" food should be good for you, period. A "high-fiber" food that's high in sodium isn't "healthy." Neither is a "low-sodium" food that's high in cholesterol.

A "healthy" food should be:

* low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugar, and

* a good source of at least two vitamins, minerals, or fiber.

Most "healthy" foods flunk this test. Some are "partially improved"; that is, they're lower in salt or fat than usual. Others are no more "healthy" than a Big Mac.

When it comes to "healthy" food, consumers are, once again, on their own. Here are some of the offenders.


If fat were all that mattered, McCain Ellio's Healthy Slices Cheese Pizza would be a winner. At 14 percent of calories from fat, it's lower than the lowest-fat pizza we rated back in April of 1991. But a five-ounce serving (which the FDA says is typical) contains 730 milligrams of sodium. A seven-ounce serving (which is how much Pizza Hut or Domino's pizza most people eat) will sock you with 1,022 mg. That's more than half the salt you should eat in a whole day.


What's so "healthy" about the 12 grams of fat and 540 mg of sodium in a two-ounce serving of White Wave Meatless Healthy Links? That's three times the fat and 1-1/2 times the sodium of Fairbank Farms Tender-Lite Pork Breakfast Sausage. It's also more fat and salt than many chicken or turkey sausages. True, they're cholesterol-free and have less saturated fat than meat links. But that doesn't make them good for you.


The package says "low cholesterol," yet a Le Menu Healthy Herb-Roasted Chicken dinner contains 70 milligrams of the stuff. That's more than you'd get from six pats of butter or two glasses of whole milk--two not-exactly-low-cholesterol foods. Le Menu could argue that its frozen dinners are higher in cholesterol than the competition because they contain a little more chicken. Fair enough. But the truthful "more chicken" apparently doesn't have the same sales appeal as the bogus "low cholesterol."


Would you dump 6-1/2 teaspoons of sugar into a glass of low-fat milk, add some gums and artificial flavor, and call it "healthy"? Well, food giant ConAgra does. That's what's in an eight-ounce serving of its Healthy Choice Vanilla Flavored Frozen Dairy Dessert. Cutting the fat is great (regular ice cream has 18 grams per cup; Healthy Choice has four grams). But a lower-fat food with as much sugar as a glass of Kool-Aid isn't our idea of "healthy."


When your frozen dinners don't stack up nutritionally against the competition, you can do one of two things: make them better of fool people into eating them anyway. Budget Gourmet has opted for the fool-them strategy. But what do you expect from one of the first companies to lure shoppers into the frozen-food aisle with deceptive "percent-fat-free" claims? Its Light and Healthy Ham and Asparagus Au Gratin, for example, gets almost half its calories from fat, and gives you about half your daily quota of saturated fat and sodium.


The Campbell Soup Company deserves some credit for its Healthy Request Soups. But cutting out the MSG and scaling back the salt by a third doesn't mean they're good for you. You want healthy? Try Pritikin Vegetable Soup. It's got 160 milligrams of sodium, one gram of fat, and three grams of fiber per eight-ounce serving. Healthy Request Vegetable will set you back 500 mg of sodium and two grams of fat. Campbell couldn't tell us how much fiber the soup contains. And that's not a "healthy" sign.


A Health Valley Uncured Chicken Wiener contains eight grams of fat and gets almost 70 percent of its calories from fat. A Hormel Light & Lean Frank (which is made from beef and pork) has just one gram of fat and gets 28 percent of its calories from fat. And, the Hormel frank is one-third larger. If you're looking for a lower-fat hot dog, you've got more than a half-dozen to choose from (including Yves tofu wieners). Just keep a "healthy" distance from HV's franks.
COPYRIGHT 1992 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 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Schmidt, Stephen
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Antioxidants and cancer.
Next Article:A meat & poultry primer.

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