Newman’s Own Misleads Customers About Healthfulness of Palm Oil
August 4, 2004
WASHINGTON—Labels on several Newman’s Own products make misleading claims about the healthfulness of palm oil, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI today asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down on the claims on Newman’s Own Champion Chip Cookies, Newman-O’s, Alphabet Cookies, and Pop’s Corn microwave popcorn. CSPI said the cumulative effect of the various label claims about palm oil is to trick consumers into thinking it’s a health food, when in fact it is high in saturated fats that promote heart disease.
Newman’s Own claims that palm oil “is not hydrogenated,” “contains no trans-fatty acids,” and “is lower in saturated fat than butter and has no cholesterol.” While each of those statements is technically true, each is designed to make consumers believe palm oil is positively healthful, according to CSPI, especially when viewed along side some of the other statements on the label, such as “Extracted from the palm’s fruit, not the kernel,” and “widely used in Europe as an alternative to partially hydrogenated oils.”
“Newman’s Own isn’t lying per se, but they are clearly trying to put lipstick on a pig,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “They’re using these misleading label claims to persuade consumers, who may have heard that palm oil is unhealthful, that the oil is really healthful. I am glad Newman’s Own does not use partially hydrogenated oil, which is certainly worse, but that’s not sufficient excuse to hoodwink consumers about palm oil.”
Newman’s Own also claims that “of the three tropical oils, Palm oil is 50% saturated while Palm Kernel Oil is 86%, and Coconut Oil is 92% saturated.” CSPI says that while that statement is true in the literal sense, it is deceptive since much of the saturated fat in palm oil comes from palmitic acid, while more of the saturated fat in palm kernel oil and coconut oil comes from lauric and myristic acids. Judging from its effects on the “good” and “bad” types of cholesterol, says CSPI, palmitic acid appears to be the most conducive to heart disease.
A number of food manufacturers, spurred by a recent FDA labeling rule that will require listing of trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels, are reformulating products to reduce or eliminate partially hydrogenated oils, which are high in trans fat. And while CSPI has encouraged food manufacturers to reformulate products, it has urged companies to switch not to palm oil or butter but to canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, or other more healthful oils.
In May, CSPI formally petitioned the FDA to prohibit the use of partially hydrogenated oils, which have been shown to be the most powerful promoters of heart disease among all edible fats available. Last month, CSPI petitioned the FDA to require restaurants to disclose their use of partially hydrogenated oils.
“The fact that palm oil isn’t quite as bad as the absolute worst fat shouldn’t give food marketers carte blanche to portray it as some kind of health food,” Jacobson said.