Health sells. So ad agencies tap into—or amp up—the latest fads and fears about food. Want more energy, protein, or hydration? Avoiding carbs, gluten, or lactose? Should you avoid them?

You can’t dodge the hype. But you can not fall for it. Here’s the latest crop.

Not lyte on hype

pedialyte ad

Pedialyte Sport is “hydration beyond the hype” with “3x electrolytes,” says the magazine ad.

The artificially sweetened, red-dyed packet of Fruit Punch makes a 16 oz. drink with 7 grams of added sugar and 650 milligrams of sodium (more than a quarter of a day’s max).

Do you need all that salt if, say, you’re doing a cardio workout (like the woman jumping rope in the ad)? Don’t bet on it.

Unless you’re exercising intensely for more than an hour, plain water is fine. And even if you do exercise enough to need to replace electrolytes—like sodium and potassium—that are lost when you sweat, plain water plus food should take care of it.

Original Pedialyte is mostly for kids with diarrhea. But why not use its name recognition to sell a similar drink to...anyone who exercises? Brilliant!

Cheesy spin

le gruyere ad

“An ancient recipe without gluten or lactose. Talk about forward thinking,” says the ad for gruyère from a cheese industry group in Switzerland.

Gluten-free? Sure. But most cheeses—basically cultured milk, salt, and enzymes—are gluten-free. And who cares...unless you need to avoid gluten.

Lactose-free? Yes. But so are just about all hard cheeses. Only soft cheeses (cottage, ricotta, etc.) have a few grams of lactose (milk sugar) per serving.

If you’re lactose intolerant, look for 0 grams of sugar or carbs on the Nutrition Facts label. For the rest of us, lactose-free or gluten-free claims for gruyère aren’t forward thinking. They’re marketing-speak.

Cookie con

Atkins cookies ad

“Atkins just pulled off quite the cookie miracle,” says actor Rob Lowe in the TV ad, as he reassures a woman who wonders whether chocolate chip cookies can “blow your whole low-carb day.”

A miracle, indeed. Atkins tossed together some butter (the predominant ingredient), soluble corn fiber, milk protein isolate, palm oil, unsweetened chocolate, erythritol, polydextrose, whey protein concentrate, calcium caseinate, sucralose, and 10 other mouth-watering ingredients to make its Chocolate Chip Protein Cookies.

Each 1.4 oz. cookie has a third of a day’s saturated fat (7 grams) and 170 calories. You’d get the same calories from three Chips Ahoy!s (1.2 oz.).

Do Atkins’s 170 calories (mostly from fat and protein) lead to weight loss because they cause a smaller bump in blood sugar than any other cookie’s 170 calories (mostly from flour, sugar, and fat)? Now that would be a miracle.

Marketing to the max

ensure ad

“I brought in Ensure Max Protein, with 30 grams of protein,” boasts the talking Ensure Original shake container in the TV ad. “Those who tried me felt more energy in just two weeks!” pipes in the Max container.

Cue the tiny print at the bottom of the screen (visible for three whole seconds): “Survey of 1,038 consumers 50+; Those who drank 1 Ensure Max Protein shake per day for 14 days and reported feeling more energy vs. control group.”

Wow. Did Abbott (Ensure’s manufacturer) randomly assign people to drink Ensure Max Protein or a placebo drink for two weeks without anyone knowing which they were getting?

We asked Abbott that and other questions about their “survey.” By our deadline, they hadn’t provided any answers.

Abbott is a Fortune 500 company that can afford to do a real study on Ensure Max Protein. Of course, it got that way in part by pitching Ensure to millions of healthy people who don’t need it.

Sweet dreams

NyQuil ad

Need NyQuil or DayQuil to tame cold or flu symptoms?

Vicks is hoping you’ll fork over some extra cash for the version sold with Super C. You get 1,000 mg of vitamin C plus B vitamins, calcium, and ginseng, green tea, and turmeric extracts in the “daily” supplement and 1,000 mg of C plus calcium, zinc, copper, and ashwagandha, chamomile, and echinacea extracts in the “nightly” one. Do they help? Only Vicks’s bottom line.

“Super C is not intended to treat cold or flu,” says the ad’s fine print. Got that right!

A hard sell

June shine ad

“This year, upgrade your drinks to Hard Kombucha,” says the Instagram ad for JuneShine, which calls itself a “better-for-you alcohol.”


Alcohol is linked to a higher risk of some cancers (like breast), heart disease, strokes, and liver disease. Plus, it supplies empty calories.

So the only “better-for-you” alcohol is less alcohol.

Yet a 12 oz. can of JuneShine Blood Orange Mint has the same calories (145) and about as much alcohol (6 percent) as a 12 oz. Budweiser (5 percent).

Maybe that’s why the company’s website compares JuneShine to wine: 12 oz. of red wine has about 290 calories, it points out. Of course, the wine is 13 percent alcohol (as JuneShine notes). And that’s why a typical wine pour is around 6 oz. and 145 calories. Poof! There goes JuneShine’s edge.

Want to “upgrade your drinks”? Cut back on alcohol and try a lower-calorie non-alcoholic kombucha (many hover around 30 calories per cup) or seltzer with a splash of juice (like Spindrift). Beer fan? Most “hopped” sparkling waters and teas (like Hoplark) are calorie-free.

Start something processed

Campbell's soup ad

“Dinnertime again?” asks the Campbell’s TV ad, as condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup is dumped in a pot of “curry” with sweet potatoes, spinach, and chicken. “Start something good.”

“The wonderful consistency of cream of mushroom soup eliminates the need for yogurt!” exclaims the “Chicken Curry in a Hurry” recipe on Campbell’s website.

Who needs healthy yogurt, when you can dump a glop of (mostly) water, mushrooms, oil, and cornstarch—with its 2,150 mg of sodium—into your curry, which ends up with 810 mg per serving and takes 45 minutes to cook. (That’s a “hurry”?)

Who, indeed? Maybe ask the ad execs who are on a mission to sell Americans a steady diet of ultra-processed junk.


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