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Monday, May 6, 2013

Fun with Nutrition Buzzwords and Benefits

Food marketers talk about what's good about a food or beverage rather than what's not so good.

Let's take the example of red grapes used in grape juice. Grapes are healthy, right? You may have heard about anthocyamins, a class of flavinoids and resveratrol with resultant antioxidant benefits. And the rationalization continues -  if I replace grapes from the vine with concentrated grape juice, I've used more grapes and that's more antioxidant value per gulp. Richly concentrated pigments in these red pigmented grapes are widely touted to be protective against cancer, aging and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes and bacterial infections. At this point, you are feeling pretty good about your choice and your nutrition knowledge.

Now although your choice might have some merits here's where the story changes. To make the juice taste best so people will buy it more, the trouble begins. One teaspoon of sugar weighs about 4 grams and there are 40 grams of sugar in an 8 oz. glass of organic 100% grape juice. That is 10 teaspoons of sugar in the smallest 8 ounce glass of grape juice.  Talk about hidden calories and sugar (natural or not) in what we consider healthy in America. That's more sugar than a candy bar and more than the sugar content of two Twinkies! 

So then you say, well, at least I got the benefits of the anthocyanins, etc. rather than fat and sugar alone. The health benefit of the grape juice counteracts the damage of so much sugar. Now, even if this was true, didn't you chose the grape juice for it's health benefits? At the end of this bad math and rationalization you are at best neutral for your food consumption choice. I've often seen the most educated consumers overwhelmed with the details of what they read and consequently make worse choices than if they just stayed with basic principles and logic.

If you put more than two teaspoons of sugar into your coffee or lemonade wouldn't you start to feel that it wasn't the best idea for your health? There's are very simple "solutions"  to the grape juice dilemna - no pun intented. First, check the label before you purchase the juice. Water down the juice to 16 ounces and drink only 8 ounces, look for unsweetened grape juice and add your own sugar. I could tell you to buy this brand and not that one but formulas change and there is no way around looking at the food label. Just do it.

I know you really started with the best of intentions.

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About Me

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First trained as a food chemist and nutritionist, my career began enriching a Twinkie, comparing the nutrition of a Twinkie to an apple and studying the role of sugar in the diet. With an M.B.A. and years in food and pharma understanding consumers and manufacturers led back to where I started - food should taste great and serve to keep us healthy. To do so there needs to be consumer awareness. Consumers need to vote for what they want by buying what they really want. They need to practice balance and responsible choices. That's when change will come. Please engage me with your conversation so that I can help you make better food choices that you enjoy and gain a deeper appreciation of food not only from farm to table but farm to health. My vision is to promote solutions to marketing healthful food and food practices.