Walk into any grocery store and you’ll see shelf after shelf of products shouting a health message.
“Helps lower cholesterol!”
“Only 100 calories per serving!”
So much of our food claims to be healthy. And yet, as a cardiologist, all day long I treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol in individuals who are struggling to lose weight. What is going on?
The truth is that these health messages are more marketing hype than straightforward nutrition guidance. They’re designed to sway a purchase decision, which, in a grocery store, is typically made within 3 to 5 seconds.
A couple of examples of the truth behind the hype:
- The claim of “reduced sodium” means that a serving of the product contains 25% less sodium than the original version of the same product. But if the product starts out at 1000 mg, as many canned soups do, getting down to 750 mg does not make it recommended for someone with high blood pressure.
- A cereal might state that it helps lower cholesterol, but you may need to eat 4 servings of the cereal to consume enough fiber to affect your cholesterol readings. Do that, and you are likely to take in loads of extra calories, added sugar and salt. Not exactly a great trade-off.
- Specific calorie content is often highlighted on snack items. But even 100 calories worth of cookies is not inconsequential. Add 100 calories a day, every day, and you’ll gain 10 pounds in a year. Keep eating those simple carbs that will rev up your pancreas to make insulin, and down the line, you could develop blood sugar abnormalities.
Bottom line? Buyer beware. If a food item is shouting a health message, it may not really be all that healthful. In fact, it just might help make you sick.