The health fraud in food advertising

Surprise: some brands of food don't really have all the benefits they claim.

By Kim Peterson Jun 4, 2010 3:04PM
Food © Randy Faris/CorbisThink carefully before plunking down extra money for food that promises to make you healthier.

Forbes says that "foods masquerading as drugs" have become a huge business, as companies realize they can make serious bucks by adding omega-3 fatty acids and beneficial bacteria to their products.

This "functional food" industry is a $160 billion business worldwide, and sales are growing at about 7% a year, Forbes reports. The magazine lists several food cons that could dupe shoppers into paying more for benefits that aren't really there. Here's a list:

ProBugs: This yogurt beverage, found at places like Whole Foods Market (WFMI), says it can stop the growth of harmful bacteria in your digestive system. But in a clinical trial, Forbes reports, a daily dose of ProBugs didn't reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children. It didn't help stomach pain or reduce the number of missed days of school, either.

DreamWater: This water is advertised to help people relax and fall asleep. But an independent group found no proof that the water affects the brain at all.

Cheerios: The U.S. Food & Drug Administration came down on General Mills (GIS) for saying this popular cereal can lower cholesterol.

POM Wonderful: This company, which makes the pomegranate juice sold in grocery stores, has spent millions of dollars on scientific research. But, Forbes reports, "there's not a single definitive result among studies listed on POM's website."

Vitaminwater: Coca-Cola (KO) bought this brand in 2001 for $4.1 billion. But your body only needs a certain amount of vitamins -- which Americans generally get enough of as it is -- and taking more than that is unnecessary and can even be harmful, Forbes reports.

Coke tells the magazine that Vitaminwater has less sugar than soda, and that vitamins have an important role in health.

Kellogg's GoLean Honey Almond Flax: This cereal advertises 500mg of omega-3s, but they contain alpha-linolenic acid, Forbes reports. That acid only converts to a small percentage of the truly beneficial elements in omega-3s.

If you really want to get into omega-3s, look for products that contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the magazine reports.

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