By Lindsay Moyer & Bonnie Liebman

Do food company execs sit around all day dreaming up ways to make us think we need something—snack bars, sports drinks, “nutritional drinks,” whatever—that we could do without? Or trying to convince us that products havemoreof something—fruit, vegetables, you-name-it—than they do? There’s a sucker born every minute, they say. And these companies are out to prove it.

Boost Baloney

“To keep up this pace, I drink Boost Optimum,” says the fit woman in the TV ad.

“Boost Optimum, with 5 in 1 advanced nutrition, helps support muscle, energy, bone, normal immune function, and vision,” adds the authoritative voice-over.

“Support” should set off your “huh??” meter. It’s code for “a claim that needs little evidence.” (Ditto for “maintains” and “enhances.”)

For example, Boost Optimum has “antioxidants, including vitamin C and selenium, to help support normal immune function,” says the label. But there’s no good evidence that lack of vitamin C or selenium causes immune problems in Americans.

And it has “vitamin A, zinc and riboflavin to help support normal vision.” But few Americans have vision problems caused by too little of those nutrients.

As long as you can eat real food, you don’t need a bottle of milk protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, sugar, oil, vitamins, and minerals. Nestlé, a leading infant formula maker, is just trying to boost its market.

Milking It

silk probiotic almond and cashew milk with oats

“Every 8-ounce glass has 5 grams of added prebiotic fiber, 50% more calcium than dairy milk, and 2 grams of sugar,” says the carton of Silk Prebiotics Almond & Cashew with Oats.

“What are prebiotics?” the label asks. “Beneficial fiber that helps feed the good bacteria in your gut.”

Translation: Silk adds chicory root extract (inulin), a carbohydrate that your digestive enzymes can’t completely break down. That means it ends up as lunch for the bacteria in your gut.

Does that matter for your health? It’s not clear.

The FDA has only decided that inulin has one health benefit: increasing calcium absorption. But since each cup of Silk has 45 percent of a day’s calcium, you’re already getting a large dose. Given the (still-uncertain) evidence that excess calcium may promote prostate cancer, that’s a downside for some men.

At this point, only two things are clear: inulin often causes gas...and is always a good marketing tool.

That’s Breakfast?

Kashi ripe strawberry breakfast bars

“Now More Fruit!” boast boxes of Kashi Ripe Strawberry Soft Baked Breakfast Bars.

Judging by the ingredients list, Kashi’s definition of “ripe strawberry” is “pear juice concentrate, tapioca syrup, cane sugar, apple powder, strawberry puree concentrate, cornstarch, vegetable glycerin, natural flavor, and elderberry juice concentrate for color.”

We guess “Now More Sweetened Juice Concentrate Goo!” wouldn’t sound nearly as enticing.

Processed One Bar

“Your stomach’s being rude and it’s screaming for food,” says the TV ad. “Here comes the 90-10-1 crew with the Protein One bar for you!”

Protein One bars have 90 calories, 10 grams of protein (“to help you feel full,” the website says), and 1 gram of sugar, “for all your snack emergencies.”

It’s not clear that protein makes you feel more full than other nutrients (see Sept. 2018, "Much of What You've Heard About Protein May Be Wrong"). And who needs a snack made of (gas-producing) chicory root extract, whey and soy protein isolates, maltitol, palm kernel oil, glycerin, and a dozen other processed ingredients?

Apple, anyone?

Nature’s Powder

“Experts say to eat a lot of fruits and veggies,” says the TV ad for One A Day with Nature’s Medley. “But are you getting enough of their nutrients?” Nature’s Medley is “the only complete multivitamin with antioxidants from one total serving of fruits and veggies.”

Talk about a switcheroo! Experts say to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, not their nutrients or their antioxidants.

A two-gummy serving (so much for “one a day”) has 100 milligrams of powders from onion, pomegranate, blueberry, broccoli, etc. That’s about what 1/40 teaspoon of sugar weighs.

Surely, One A Day isn’t trying to convince people that taking its gummies is as good as eating a “total serving” of fruits and vegetables. Nah.

VeryLittleBerry Cheerios

“Flavored with Real Fruit,” says the front of the Very Berry Cheerios box. “Berries and breakfast go together like cereal and milk,” says the back.

Yes, but these Very Berry Cheerios aren’t...umm...very berry. They’ve got no whole berries and more salt (and sugar) than any berry powder...and a serving has no more than 1/17 teaspoon of salt.

Cheerios is big on “real.” Its “limited edition” Pumpkin Spice Cheerios were “made with REAL pumpkin puree.” Again, they had more salt (and sugar) than pumpkin.

“Real food tastes better,” said in-store signs for Cheerios. It sure does.

Sorta Scamwater

“I’m the sorta-fit spokesguy for Vitaminwater Active, the drink that gives you the sports-level hydration you need to get in a good workout,” says the ad’s ordinary, non-athlete at the gym.

Wait. Why would you need “sports-level hydration” if you’re not doing sports (for hours)? You don’t.

Each bottle of Vitaminwater Active has 100 calories’ worth of mostly sugar, plus a smattering of vitamins you can do without.

It’s just Vitaminwater’s (that is, Coca-Cola’s) attempt to convince ordinary people that they can’t just drink ordinary water after an ordinary workout.

Why swallow half a day’s added sugar just to boost Coke’s bottom line?

Jolene Mafnas helped compile the information for this article.

Photos: Jolene Mafnas/CSPI.