Vitaminwater making bold claims

Since its founding in 1899, NCL has been on the look-out for product claims that may be deceptive or misleading. So when we came across a few advertisements about vitaminwater recently, we were shocked to see that the company that manufactures vitaminwater, Glaceau (a Coca-Cola company), is suggesting that its products can keep you healthy or pre-empt the need for flu shots!

In a formal complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission in February 2011, NCL is pointing to print and television advertisements that suggest vitaminwater can replace flu shots or prevent illness and prey on consumers’ health concerns to sell a high-calorie product:

“These advertising claims are not only untrue; they constitute a public health menace. Stopping these vitaminwater claims, which contradict information by the Centers for Disease Control and other public health authorities, should be a top FTC priority,” stated Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of NCL.

The NCL complaint also urged the FTC to halt deceptive label statements for vitaminwater that describe the product as:

According to NCL, the statements are deceptive because the products on which they appear are not simply made from vitamins and water, but are made with crystalline fructose or other forms of sugar, and contain 125 calories per bottle.

“Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese; the last thing people need is sugar water with vitamins you could get from eating a healthy diet, or by taking a vitamin pill, Greenberg stated.

The FTC should act now, during cold and flu season, to stop vitaminwater’s outlandish claims,” she said.

Read NCL’s letter to the FTC here, or tell vitaminwater what you think of its ads here.

Sweetened with what? Lack of transparency and misleading claims make reducing added sugars confusing

Many of us are probably trying to heed the advice of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce our consumption of added sugars. FDA has made “Added Sugars” content per serving a mandatory line on the Nutrition Facts label and has established a Daily Value of 50g of added sugars based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. FDA’s actions, however, have had some unintended consequences.

The agency’s decision to include “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts label has created a marketing incentive for food and beverage manufacturers to replace added sugars with alternative or substitute sweeteners.  Leading brand name products bear prominent claims such as “No Added Sugars,” “Zero Sugar,” and “Reduced Sugars,” implying that the new product is healthier than the original without disclosing how the sugar has been reduced. As detailed in a recent Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) letter and an industry citizen’s petition filed with the FDA (Docket No. FDA-2020-P-1478), consumers have little idea that when they purchase a no/reduced sugar product, they may be buying a food that contains alternative sweeteners, highly processed, or artificial substances.

Most of us following the FDA’s advice aren’t looking to load up on combinations of new-fangled sweetening agents, sugar alcohols and other synthetic substances. CSPI’s January 9, 2020 letter asks that FDA enforce standards for nutrient content claims related to added or reduced sugar. We support that request.

The petition was filed by the Sugar Association, whose members are clearly concerned about competition from alternative sweeteners. But their complaint to the FDA makes a strong case for transparency by citing products that make no/reduced added sugars on the front label, but fail to disclose that sugars have been replaced by other sweeteners—many unfamiliar, some artificial, and some with known glycemic index effects. For example:

  • Rebel Ice Cream claims “No Sugar Added” but is sweetened with Erythritol, Chicory Root Fiber, Vegetable Glycerin, and Monk Fruit;
  • Kool-Aid Jammers claim “Zero Sugar” but are sweetened with Sucralose and Acesulfame Potassium;
  • Oikos Greek Yogurt claims “No Added Sugar and No Artificial Sweeteners” but contains Stevia and Chicory Root Fiber;
  • Quest Nutrition’s Hero Blueberry Cobbler Bar claims “1g” of sugar but is sweetened with Allulose, Erythritol, Sucralose, and Steviol Glycosides (Stevia);
  • Snack Pack Juicy Gels claim “Sugar Free” but are sweetened with Sucralose;
  • ONE Maple Glazed Doughnut Bar claims “1g” of sugar but is sweetened with Maltitol, Vegetable Glycerin, and Sucralose;
  • Snack Pack Chocolate Pudding Cups claim “Sugar Free” but are sweetened with Sorbitol, Maltitol, Sucralose, and Acesulfame Potassium;
  • Welch’s Fruit Snacks claim “Reduced Sugar” but are sweetened with Chicory Root Fiber and Maltitol Syrup;

The petition, among other steps, urges FDA to require that such substances be clearly disclosed as a “sweetener” in the ingredient list. That step seems reasonable to insure transparency and ensure that consumers know what they are purchasing.

The petition also calls for action against outright misleading claims regarding sugar content. The CSPI letter and industry petition blows the whistle on deceptive claims like these:

  • The reduced sugar version of Skippy peanut butter has 1/3 less sugar than its traditional counterpart but has more calories and fat per serving than the regular version. Despite having 1g less added sugars, the reformulated product provides 20 more calories per 2 tablespoon serving. The claim on the front label is misleading because it implies that the reformulated version is healthier due to the reduction in added sugars when the reformulated version is higher in calories.
  • Welch’s Fruit Snacks Reduced Sugar version claims 25 percent less sugar than the original version. The claim is predicated upon a reduction in the serving size of the reformulated version of the product. The original version has a serving size of 25.5g while the Reduced Sugar version has decreased to 22.7g.
  • Oikos Triple Zero blended Greek Yogurt makes a “0 Added Sugar” claim but has more calories per serving than the company’s regular Greek yogurt. The zero added sugars product, which is sweetened with Stevia Leaf Extract, has 120 calories per serving while the company’s original version has 110 calories per serving.

Statements like these turn the supermarket aisle into a minefield of misleading claims that are not good for consumers who are trying to sort out health values. We urge the FDA to prohibit misleading labeling of alternative sweeteners in processed foods and beverages and to grant the citizens’ petition for greater transparency in food labeling when it comes to these artificial sweeteners.

 

A prescription for surviving COVID-19 nutritionally intact: eat well, get sunshine

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Overeating or eating poorly during this pandemic is understandable. However, a healthy diet is vital for you and your family’s health. As most people are aware, a healthy diet consists of protein, fruits, vegetables, and grains and is low in salt, unsaturated fats, and free sugars. But there’s more to it than that.

While it’s important to have protein in one’s diet, it is not always necessary to get protein from meat products. One of the best sources is legumes (as known as beans) such as white peas, kidney beans, moong, masoor, chickpeas, lentils, and many others according to Thrive Global. Consider whipping up a salad, making tasty lentil soup with carrots and cilantro, or a chickpea curry to quench your taste buds! Preparing a simple, easy, and delicious meal doesn’t have to be hard, you can find many recipes and cooking guides on YouTube or Google Search.

Eating healthy sometimes means breaking bad habits, so the first step is by keeping healthy and nutritious snacks around, such as cheese with an apple, hummus and carrots, or nuts and dried fruit. Eating yogurt once a day is a good habit to get into along with fruit and cereal. If you’re full from a good breakfast, you are less likely to snack on junk food. Thrive Global noted that certain bacteria are highly recommended to keep you healthy and fit.

Remember to top up on your fruits! They are a rich source of minerals and vitamin C, which is especially good for boosting your immune system during COVID-19. Rangers, Apples, kiwis, and persimmons are just a few fruits rich in vitamin C. Kale, brussels sprout, broccoli, and parsley are also on the list. Vitamin D is also important in the immune response to COVID-19 due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin D is usually sourced by the action of sunlight on the body but since many of us are staying at home due to the lockdown and unable to get the necessary daily exposure, we must depend on vitamin D rich food sources such as; salmon, swordfish, oysters, mushrooms, and eggs, according to 10FAQ Health. And these vitamin D rich foods can make for very delicious dishes like garlic butter baked salmon or chargrilled oysters. Check out recipe sites like Food Network for more meal ideas.

Eating healthy is particularly important during the time of COVID-19. By incorporating foods of color—carrots, beans, various cheeses, kale, and more—you can make delicious dishes. Try new recipes and enjoy a healthy nutritious meal. And remember, eating healthy contributes to the boosting of the immune system. Let us all try to stay healthy and safe during COVID-19!

Alcohol consumption during COVID-19: What the consumer needs to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

While most people are stuck at home in America during the COVID-19 pandemic, many have increased their alcohol purchase and consumption. During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly stated at the end of prohibition, “what America needs right now is a drink.” American’s are now facing another crisis, a pandemic and are adhering to this call.

According to a survey done by the research firm Nielsen, off-premise sales of alcohol spiked nationwide following stay-at-home orders. A new study from Alcohol.org stated that 1 in 3 Americans are drinking alcohol while working from home during COVID-19 lockdown. About 32 percent of Americans are more likely to be drinking while working from home, with 36 percent of men and 26 percent of women drinking while working.

In 2018, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) disclosed data showing that 86.3 percent of Americans ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70 percent reported they drank in the past year; 55.3 percent reported that they drank in the past month. NSDUH also indicated in 2018 that 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States. This includes 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women. The survey went onto disclose an estimated 401,000 youth ages from 12 to 17 had Alcohol Use Disorder.

According to Healthline, Americans expressed that their daily routine has changed and many have faced unemployed. This increased uncertainty, anxiety, and fear brought on by the pandemic has resulted in binge drinking.

What is defined as “binge drinking”? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines it as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.

Binge drinking has some serious risks and is associated with many health problems, including:

  • sudden infant death syndrome;
  • obesity;
  • chronic diseases such as high blood pressures, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease;
  • cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon;
  • memory and learning problems;
  • alcohol use disorders;
  • and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

The CDC stated in 2010 that alcohol misuse cost Americans an estimated $249.0 billion. These costs resulted from losses in workplace productivity, health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, and other expenses. Binge drinking was responsible for 77 percent of these costs or $191 billion.

Many consumers are unaware that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has not mandated “Alcohol Facts” on alcoholic beverages. Consumers have access to labeling information that contains nutritional facts on every single thing they consume except alcoholic beverages. As a result, consumers have little means of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages. At the National Consumers League (NCL), we think the need for alcohol labeling is long overdue. Over the last two decades, NCL has petitioned the federal government for standardized “Alcohol Facts” and, this summer, will be calling for action on Alcoholic Beverage Labeling. Join your voice with ours by signing the forthcoming petition addressed to TTB and demand the drafting and implementation of rules that mandate a standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all alcoholic beverages. It’s time to end the confusion so consumers can make informed and responsible purchasing and consumption decisions.

Coronavirus: Keeping yourself and your family well-fed in a crisis

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Social distancing, isolation, and general uncertainty about the coronavirus have made many rightly concerned about feeding their families during this historic pandemic. Food is very much top-of-mind for most Americans at this critical time. Here are some tips we can offer consumers.

Some of us haven’t stocked our pantry, and we don’t cook much at home. This is a good time to start doing both. My pantry at home is always stocked because I have a toddler who always wants food and snacks. But it’s a good practice generally, and now we are reminded of that more than ever.

From The Washington Post, here are some tips for keeping the pantry stocked so that, in the event of an emergency, you have some options without having to leave the house:

  • Pick a weekend day. Involve the whole family, and make large batches of different dishes so there is variety. Some suggestions: turkey chili, green chili, pasta sauces, and soups or stews—all of which freeze well.
  • Pack them in pint-size containers so that you can take out just what you need for a meal
  • Remember to stock up on frozen vegetables; they have as good or better nutritional value as fresh, since they are flash-frozen at their peak, right after being harvested. If you do not have a big freezer, then opt to stock up on root vegetables. They last longer.
  • Make meals that are nutritious and provide good energy. Many grocery stores are out of stock or running low on stock of rice and pasta. Hugo Ortega, chef and owner of Blackstreet, offered this suggestion to The Post: mix Masa Harina (ground, nixtamalized corn flour better known as Masa), with water, stretch it in the palm of your hand, fill it with stewed vegetables, meat, cheese or anything really and cook it on a cast iron pan. For those that do not know, masa flour is equivalent to pasta, so if you cannot find pasta in your grocery store this is an option—and it’s delicious.

Chef Ortega also hopes that this forced hibernation will encourage people to cultivate fresh food themselves: fresh rosemary that you can grown near a your window or a tomato plant at your back door or on a balcony.

So make a trip to the grocery store—but consider doing so at an off-peak time, and follow the CDC’s advice for going into public safely—and stock up your pantry, cook your family’s favorite dishes, and store them in your freezer. There’s never been a time where we needed to be more prepared, and you’re sure to enjoy the experience with family!

National Consumers League opposes ‘unethical and unjustified’ Grinch cuts to the SNAP program, causing hundreds of thousands of children to lose nutrition assistance

December 9, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Despite widespread opposition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it would tighten work requirements for able-bodied Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants without dependents. The National Consumers League joins 140,000 other Americans who overwhelmingly oppose this cruel and unnecessary slashing of an effective safety net program.

Under current regulations, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) can receive food assistance no more than three months out of every three years, unless they work at least 80 hours per month or meet other education or workforce training requirements. Previously, states could waive work requirements when jobs were unavailable or didn’t match workers’ skills, but the rule will make it more difficult to do so, causing an estimated 688,000 people to lose benefits.

The vast majority of the more than 140,000 comments submitted to USDA in response to the rule were written in opposition, including those submitted by NCL Board member National Farmers Union (NFU).

Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director:

“More than 37 million Americans will experience food insecurity this year in the richest country in the world. SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, eases that pain and helps ensure that those in need can put food on their tables. Among our national safety net programs, food stamps is among the most effective. It provides that essential nutrition safety net for American families and especially children– yet this administration has done everything it can to slash gaping holes into that net, preventing hundreds of thousands of children and adults from getting rightful access to these programs. To add to the pain, these work requirements will erode food security in rural and urban communities alike.

“NCL joins with the NFU in believing that these new rules reflect the cold indifference to the struggles of our fellow Americans; we believe it is unethical and unjustified. We continue to call on the administration to rescind this rule, and we stand with the anti-hunger community and the many national, state, and local organizations who seek to support and protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL opposes harmful proposed rule that will expose more to hunger

September 23, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today, the National Consumers League (NCL) submitted written comments opposing the USDA’s Proposed Rule: Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), arguing that the proposed policy change would impact millions who qualify for the federal program that is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger.

“Our organization is deeply concerned that the proposed changes would deprive an estimated 3.1 million people of access to this vital program and cause 500,000 children to lose their automatic eligibility for free or subsidized school lunch. This proposed rule may potentially worsen hunger among low-income households, harm local economies, and increase SNAP administrative costs,” wrote NCL in the comments.

Low-income households receiving cash assistance from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or General Assistance have long been considered automatically (or “categorically) eligible for SNAP, which means they do not separately have to pass SNAP’s asset or gross income tests.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the proposed rule change is intended to close a “loophole” that states have misused to “effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines.” However, that’s simply not the case. Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) allows states to cover the gap between income and need by considering cost of living, wages, and other local economic conditions when determining people’s eligibility for SNAP.

The National Consumers League strongly opposes the proposed rule that would expose even more people to the arbitrary food cutoff policy.

NCL’s written comments are available here (PDF).

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

I’m going for the kids’ portion!

With overweight and obesity stats in an upward trajectory, the National Consumers League and the Georgetown School of Business are partnering up for a survey on a simple topic: what do Americans know about portion sizes, calories of average foods, and how many calories we can eat each day without packing on the pounds? 

We have a health crisis in AmericaFrom 2015-2016, 39.8 percent of American adults were considered obesewhich means the body mass index (BMI) measurements of more than 129 million of us are considered obeseThe annual medical cost of obesity is estimated at $147 billion because heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancers are tied to obesity. What is particularly concerning is that more than a third of younger people, ages 20-39, are obese.  

In fact, the New York Times reported that roughly a fifth of our soldiers are obese! The military is trying to combat this problem by replacing sweet drinks with water and cutting out fried foods, but it’s not working. 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines recommend that the average person should consume about 2,000 calories a day. Do most of us know that if you exceed 2,000 calories day regularly, you pack on the pounds? (That’s unless, of course, you’re getting a lot of calorieburning exercise or have a great metabolism.) Is that number too high for many of us? (It is for me. If I eat more than 1,650 calories, I know I’m going to put on weight.That’s what we want to find out with our research: what do Americans really know about this guideline? 

We will also be asking whether most Americans know how many calories are in average serving of common foods such as yogurt (150), hamburgers with bun (350), pizza (350 per slice), bagels (325), muffins (425), 4-piece fried chicken dinner with all the fixings (850-1,200), a 30oz. steak (1,400), a piece of cheesecake (650)big chocolate chip cookie (450)and an ice cream cone (300-400.) 

Also, dAmericans know what an average serving is? A Cheesecake Factory salad is not an average serving! Each of their salads have more than 1,300 calories. That’s too much for one meal. Unfortunately, restaurant serving sizes have increased a lot over the last several decades. 

Which brings me back to my headlinekids portions! I’ve begun sampling my local downtown DC upscale food spots popular with millennials like Roti, CAVAChoptThe custom is that you order a bowl of lettuce or spinach as a base and put lots of pretty healthy but also pretty caloric toppingsadd a protein for a few bucks extra, and crowned with shredded cheese and salad dressing. When you’re done, you have a big portion and lots of good food but also lots of caloriesalbeit not from hamburger and fries but still, calories! 

So try the kids’ portion! They are cheaper by a thirda lot less food, a lot fewer calories, and completely filling. My CAVA kids meal had a small white bread (unfortunately) pita, yogurt spread, two small spicy meatballs, cucumber salad, tomato salad, three pieces of fried breadand scoop of brown rice. In other words, a lot of food! I figured it was about 550 calories. Voila! A third of my 1,650 allowable daily intake of food. And I was stuffed. I’ll be trying other food outlets to check out the kids portions. And we recommend that other consumers do the samehelps to limit calories and prevent food waste when you’re eating out!

NCL to USDA: Portion control must be key strategy for fighting America’s highest-ever obesity rates

July 11, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Shaunice Wall, MS, RD, shaunicew@nclnet.org, (202) 835-0331, Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242, or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) presented oral comments to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee today in Washington, DC, urging the committee to focus on portion control as a key strategy to address the rise of obesity.

“Unfortunately, while the current version of the Dietary Guidelines mentions portion size – it appears to be mostly an afterthought among the various strategies to improve diets and fight obesity,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Portion balance is not mentioned in the guidelines’ executive summary; this is despite the fact that larger portion sizes have greatly contributed to the problem of overweight and obesity.”

Nationally, 39.6 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of children were considered obese in 2015-2016, the most recent period for which NHANES data were available. These figures represent the highest percentages ever documented and obesity rates are projected to affect half of all adults, or 115 million adults, by the year 2030. There are also substantial economic losses associated with obesity. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. 

“One promising, and we think underutilized, strategy for tackling the obesity epidemic is helping consumers understand and implement appropriate portion control,” said Greenberg. “This simple step to improving public health should not be marginalized in the forthcoming edition of the Guidelines; rather it should be one of the key points stressed by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and form a cornerstone of the Dietary Guidelines.”

NCL’s full testimony is available here (PDF).

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.