FDA proposes new definitions for "healthy" food labeling: Internet Scambusters #1,051
The US Food and Drugs Administration is planning to redefine what "healthy" means on a food label.
But until new rules come into play, claims about nutritional benefits can still make it appear that foods loaded with bad stuff - added sugar for example - are healthy.
Add to that, scams and marketing tricks that can mislead about whether a product is really healthy or not, as we report in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
When "Healthy" Food Can Be Unhealthy
What do you think when someone tells you a certain type of food, diet, smoothie, or weight loss program is "healthy" for you?
We probably all have different ideas about what that means, but the general feeling is that it must be a good thing.
It's another of those words that gets bandied about by marketing people, and, like many other terms, such as "natural," "wholesome," and so on, sometimes it can be downright misleading - into that gray area we think of as scams.
Some meals come with a "healthy" tag when they're nothing of the sort. For example, you may think of a Caesar salad as being healthy but add a few croutons and your favorite dressing and you'll consume hundreds of calories and a lot of fat.
Or, that fruit smoothie you got at a local health drinks bar could have up to 100 grams of sugar in it! Plus, they may also use low-nutrient concentrates, which remove what good you might have otherwise gained.
And so-called energy bars, which are touted as healthy, are often not only small and expensive, but can also contain up to 500 calories.
Claims of some supposedly "healthy" diet programs are the number one source of health-related complaints to consumer agencies.
A recent report by the AARP seniors organization declared: "On-the-make marketers deploy a variety of tricks to get people to purchase their wares. Some create websites that look like those of legitimate magazines and news organizations and fill them with phony articles claiming celebrities have achieved amazing results from various diet pills or herbal supplements."
And a report last month on fitness website The Thirty notes "(U)nfortunately, some 'healthy' foods out there aren't actually healthy at all. You could think you're filling your grocery cart with nutritious items, but you might be buying into some scams and filling your body with extra sugar and chemicals."
Author Sarah Yang identifies several foods that can fall short of a "healthy" tag. For example: certain granolas, fruit juices, protein bars (which we reported on two weeks ago), some gluten-free products, certain yogurts, and diet sodas.
Rules about what constitutes "healthy" food have been in force since 1994, but they are out-of-date, for example, paying scant attention to added sugar. A product that is overloaded with added sugar can still legally be described and labeled as "healthy."
Change of View
Nutritional science has changed its view in recent years on what a healthy diet looks like. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this means that some products currently labeled as "healthy" no longer meet requirements.
The agency is changing these requirements that, in the future, should stop manufacturers using the term when it's no longer considered true. About 5 percent of manufactured products currently are labeled as "healthy."
"The framework underlying the existing 'healthy' claim is, in some respects, inconsistent with current nutrition science and federal dietary guidance," it says.
Notably, the new rules will now set limits for the amount of added sugar in products. And the agency plans to introduce a new symbol that can be used on packaging so that consumers will be able to tell at a glance if a product is genuinely considered healthy.
The FDA will also require manufacturers to keep records "designed to ensure that the use of the 'healthy' claim is accurate, truthful, and not misleading, based on information known only to the manufacturer, and to facilitate efficient and effective action to enforce the requirements when necessary."
Despite all of this, some of the requirements on nutrition labeling are still voluntary and that is unlikely to change with the new actions. Plus, of course, it won't stop marketers from using the term in promotions. And it won't stop scams, like phony diet programs, from using the term.
A new logo, along the lines of that now used for "organic" products, will go some way toward limiting scam claims, but as always, it's down to the consumer to be skeptical. Always check the nutrition labeling for a clearer picture of whether or not what you're buying and eating is truly "healthy."
This Week's Scam Alerts
Don't Answer: The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a new warning to people who enjoy answering quizzes and surveys on social media. Certain questions in some of them, such as asking the make and model of your first car, are being used to gather and compile information about individual consumers, which could later be used for marketing purposes and identity theft. It may seem like fun, but you could end up in trouble.
Don't Let Them In: The ability to track a missing mobile device has been hijacked by cheeky scammers who knock on people's doors and claim they've tracked their device to your home. In reported cases, they've either asked for the individual's Wi-Fi password to supposedly check further or just used the incident as a way of getting inside homes. Never tell anyone you don't know or trust your network password - and certainly don't let them into your home.
More Knockoffs: Scammers have launched a new and major online campaign promoting cheap copies of top-brand products, passing them off as the real thing. A report this month in the New York Times says some leading names are dealing with hundreds of scam sites every month. One chief executive told the publication: "The second that we report a site and it gets blocked on one of the social media channels or blacklisted, they just spin up another instance and then there's ads running almost kind of instantly." The usual rule applies: If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Crypto Fraud: More than 350 fake crypto tokens - digital currencies supposedly backed by real-world assets - were created every day in 2022, according to new figures from monitoring company Solidus Labs. Crooks launch the tokens, pump up their prices, then sell up and disappear. An estimated two million Americans have lost money in crypto scams during the past couple of years.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!