Health Foods That Aren’t: Watch Out For Undercover Junk Foods In Health-food Packaging, Says CSPI


WASHINGTON--Just because you shop at the health-food store doesn’t necessarily mean everything in your shopping cart is all that healthful, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Although health-food stores have clearly paved the way for a wide range of genuinely healthful products, consumers are likely to find some chaff alongside the whole wheat — including some real nutritional doozies like those exposed in the April issue of CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter.

     “Thanks to health-food stores, consumers can take home an unprecedented array of nutritious foods,” CSPI nutrition director and article co-author Bonnie Liebman said. “But consumers need to look beyond buzz words like ‘organic,’ ‘all natural,’ or ‘high energy,’ which are sometimes just used to provide cover for foods that are high in calories or saturated fat, or that are just plain junk.”

     It’s not that these are the worst products on the market, say Liebman and co-author Jayne Hurley. But because they’re dressed up in earthy-crunchy packaging, or make liberal use of wholesome-sounding words, they’re the kind of products most likely to be mistaken for more healthful fare. Here’s a smattering of what CSPI found on health-food store shelves:

  • Glaceau’s Vitamin Water Defense Lemon Ice. Billed as “Vitamins + water” and positioned as an immune-system booster, this so-called “enhanced water” is really “water + sugar + vitamins + hype,” says CSPI, and there’s no evidence to suggest it will come to anyone’s “defense.”
  • Whole Foods’ Banana Chips. It’s true they are “all natural.” But this fruit is fried in coconut oil, which lards them up with seven grams of saturated fat in a modest quarter-cup serving— nearly as much as a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder! Whole Foods adds extra sugar and additional “natural banana flavor” to these chips too.
  • Linda McCartney’s Vegetable Burrito with Rice. Sounds healthful—after all, it is emblazoned with the name of the late vegetarian activist. But the cream, milk, and cheese pumped into this entree from Ethnic Gourmet provide half a day’s worth of saturated fat. White rice and white flour round out this dismal dish.
  • Veggie Crisps. You would think you were buying some kind of salad, judging by the veggie pictures on the bag and the “bountiful blend of potato, spinach, and tomato chips” promised within. What’s bountiful is manufacturer Snyder of Hanover’s chutzpah, according to CSPI, for offering up just a few grams of pureed tomato and spinach.

     “Simply reading the nutrition and ingredient labels can help a consumer detect ‘health foods that aren’t,’” according to Hurley. “Shopping at the health-food store is no excuse to let your guard down."