In her new book, “Unsavory Truth,” and blog, Food Matters, food policy expert Marion Nestle raises the alarm about health claims that food companies have used to promote their products after sponsoring the original scientific studies on which the claims are based. Nestle is professor emeritus at New York University and a former San Francisco Chronicle columnist.
CLAIM: Dark chocolate is heart healthy
INDUSTRY BACKERS: Hershey, Nestle, Mars
REALITY: Flavanols in raw cacao have the potential to improve heart health, but they are diminished during chocolate processing. Even if they weren’t, you would need to eat a whole lot of chocolate (and sugar) to get the flavanols required for better heart health.
INDUSTRY BACKERS: Several of the Alzheimer’s study authors are employed by Kirin, the Japanese brewing company. Bone density study was done by UC Davis “Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences” Charles Bamforth.
REALITY: The Alzheimer’s study showed that matured hop bitter acids found in beer could improve memory in mice. The second study looked at how some types of beer can provide silicon, which is linked both to healthy bone growth and can reduce how much aluminum the body absorbs (a factor in Alzheimer’s). However, silicon can be found in many other foods including milk, meat and cereals.
INDUSTRY BACKER: Beverage industry, including Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network
REALITY: Much of the medical world blames added sugar in the American diet, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, for a large portion of the country’s problem with obesity and related chronic health problems.
CLAIM: Mango is better for constipation than fiber supplements
INDUSTRY BACKER: Mango board
REALITY: You would have to eat an entire mango a day to get the slightly better results than 1 teaspoon of Metamucil.
CLAIM: Blueberries prevent erectile dysfunction
INDUSTRY BACKER: US Highbush Blueberry Council is one
REALITY: Risk of ED is lowered with eating any fruit. It’s the flavonoids, or antioxidants, that help.
CLAIM: Pomegranates help you cheat death and prevent erectile dysfunction
INDUSTRY BACKER: POM Wonderful
REALITY: You would have to drink up to four large glasses of pomegranate juice every day to receive an equivalent dose of Urolithin A, a compound in pomegranate that showed healthy qualities in studies. Urolithin A is also found in strawberries, raspberries, almonds and other foods. In addition, POM Wonderful sponsored-research did not test its antioxidant levels against other fruits (which might cost less).