Sometimes you just have to marvel at the lies we’re surrounded by. The number of untruths proffered by advertising is so blatant that it’s rather astounding that it isn’t illegal. Well, technically it is illegal, but it seems advertisers are well aware of ways around the rules, or simply break them until they’re called out.
In a previous piece, I detailed a lawsuit filed against Coca-Cola by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) for claims the company had made for their product “Vitaminwater,” a sugary soft drink masquerading as a health beverage. In the legal proceedings, Coke’s lawyers argued that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.” Essentially, Coca-Cola’s stance is that if you’re stupid enough to believe them, that’s too bad for you, and that it is within their rights to lie, exaggerate or otherwise skew the truth about their product in advertising it to the public because there’s no risk of anyone reasonably believing it.
Since the writing of that piece, the suit has been resolved. From CSPI:
The agreement approved yesterday by Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York bars Coca-Cola from making those health claims in connection with Vitaminwater, as well as such statements as “vitamins + water = what’s in your hand,” “vitamins + water = all you need,” and “this combination of zinc and fortifying vitamins can… keep you healthy as a horse.” The company will also prominently add the words “with sweeteners” on two places on the label where the brand’s name appears.
How about ‘vitamins + water + sugar + hype = soda – bubbles‘? Can they put that on the bottle? That seems reasonable.
However, it seems this one successful case hasn’t done much to dissuade Super-Global-Mega-Big-Processed-Food-Corp, all rights reserved, from deceptively portraying their garbage as health foods. A case in point, the above Kellogg’s ad came across my screen this week and I was instantly filled with doom. While it doesn’t specifically state that eating Special K will help your baby be healthy, that is what is implied. Imagine someone actually following this as if it was solid health advice.
Despite what the Coca-Cola lawyers said, people do believe these kinds of health claims. Maybe if anyone asked us outright, we might say, ‘No, I don’t believe that advertising copy is a good source of health advice’. But because we’re exposed to an estimated 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day, we’re obviously not consciously thinking about all of them. They’re mostly seeping into our brains, with us largely unaware that it’s happening, carried along with the billions of other data passing through there on a daily basis, also largely unfiltered. Advertisers know what they’re doing; they’ve sussed all the psychological tricks for influencing the masses. They’ve been studying the science of persuasion for a century or more. Getting small pieces of information into brains by appealing to emotions and bypassing the critical faculties is, most of the time, enough to peddle influence into our buying habits; or worse yet, our eating habits.
So if a woman sees the above ad, whether she’s consciously thinking about it or not, an association between Special K and healthy pregnancy has been made and registered by her unconscious mind. Obviously, this isn’t going to affect everyone the same way, but advertizers’ healthy balance sheets prove that the shotgun approach has a proven track record. So God knows how many women are going to be under the impression that the folic acid content of Special K, a processed food with little-to-no actual nutritional value, will contribute to giving them healthy babies.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, or vitamin B9, naturally found in foods. While folate is needed by women prior to becoming pregnant and in the initial stages of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in the fetus, folic acid is actually a poor substitute, needing to be metabolized by the liver in a complicated conversion process. If someone lacks or is deficient in an important enzyme in this process, combined with too much folic acid consumption (mostly from fortified processed foods, if not supplementation), it can lead to excess unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream. This has been associated with a host of problems including ischemic heart disease and cancer (for more on this, please see Chris Kresser’s excellent article: The little known (but crucial) difference between folate and folic acid).
So, essentially, Special K is advertising their bullshit breakfast cereal as ‘healthy for preggers’ because they’ve fortified it with a piss-poor version of a nutrient vitally needed in pregnancy. Actually, it’s not just breakfast cereal – the company has also released a new line of protein bars; substandard processed foods marketed as healthy meal replacements or something necessary for powering workouts (which is total nonsense). Protein bars are nothing more than candy bars with added protein from questionable sources. Here’s Kellogg’s new ad launching the campaign:
So inspiring! Ladies, are you with me?!
The hashtag that has been launched to accompany the campaign, #poweringyou, doesn’t seem to have a lot of traction yet (making it ripe pickings for hijacking; hint-hint), but I was surprised to find that tweets were almost exclusively positive. On closer inspection, they’re mostly branding companies praising the advertising campaign for portraying “a range of women being active” (a virtue signal to liberals that the ad features multiple ethnicities and makes a special effort to show a lesbian couple), that the protein bars are “a healthy snack” for women on the go, and a series of people trying to find the catchy tune featured in the ad. So where’s all the outrage?
As with most modern advertising, what Kellogg’s is selling here is a lifestyle, aimed at women who see themselves as being, or would like to be, active, trendy, possibly pregnant and of course, empowered (note how close “#poweringyou” is to “empowering you”. Probably not an accident). It’s feminist breakfast cereal! It’s about time! I mean hey, I’m an empowered woman! I carry groceries with a baby strapped to me! I do jazzercise in my underwear with my multi-racial friends! I crawl through the mud like an army bootcamp thingy! I should eat Special K! It’s so me!
The slogan, “With nutrients specifically designed to help women be the best version of themselves,” is pretty insulting when you think about it. I’m not a woman and I’m insulted. The idea that processed junk food will help anyone “be the best version of themselves,” could only be believed by someone who is achingly stupid. It is literally going to do the opposite, and I don’t care how many low-quality vitamins you throw in there. A processed diet is going to make you look, think and feel substandard, at best.
So in order to undo what this advertising has done, let’s take a look at what ‘healthy’ breakfast cereals really are.
From the Weston A. Price Foundation:
Cold breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion. Grains are mixed with water, processed into a slurry and placed in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a tiny hole at high temperature and pressure, which shapes them into little o’s or flakes or shreds. Individual grains passed through the extruder expand to produce puffed wheat, oats and rice. These products are then subjected to sprays that give a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch.
Anything that starts out as something referred to as a “slurry” doesn’t sound very tasty. Much less so when the next step involves something called an “extruder”. Why people took to torturing the hell out of their food is beyond me.
In his book Fighting the Food Giants, biochemist Paul Stitt describes the extrusion process, which treats the grains with very high heat and pressure, and notes that the processing destroys much of their nutrients. It denatures the fatty acids; it even destroys the synthetic vitamins that are added at the end of the process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially damaged by the extrusion process.
OK, so all that folic acid added into these preggo-bars and cereals don’t even necessarily survive the processing the “food” goes through. So, why are we eating this crap again?
And denatured, or rancid, fatty acids are no joke. From Sott.net’s Dr. Gabriela Segura: “Rancid fats not only mutate DNA directly, they also make DNA more susceptible to mutations induced by other environmental pollutants.” Makes you want to start your day off with a big bowl of DNA damage. It’s part of a balanced breakfast.
With so many millions of boxes of cereal sold each year, one would expect to see published studies showing the effects of these cereals on animals and humans. But breakfast cereals are a multi-billion dollar industry that has created huge fortunes for a few people. A box of cereal containing a penny’s worth of grain sells for four or five dollars in the grocery store – there is probably no other product on earth with such a large profit margin. These profits have paid for lobbying efforts and journal sponsorships that have effectively kept any research about extruded grains out of the scientific literature and convinced government officials that there is no difference between a natural grain of wheat and a grain that has been altered by the extrusion process.
The Price article highlights two studies, which are unpublished (likely due to the above-mentioned lobbying and journal sponsorships). One from 1942 put rats into 4 groups, feeding each a different diet. One given actual wheat plus vitamins, another puffed wheat (extruded) and vitamins, another given nothing but water and sugar and the last given only water and vitamins. You won’t believe what happened: the rats fed the puffed wheat died first! In fact, they only lived two weeks. They even died before the rats fed NOTHING but vitamins and water, who lived two months. So if you were thinking that breakfast cereals are better than nothing, apparently you were wrong.
The author summarizes the second study as follows:
Another unpublished experiment was carried out in 1960. Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor were given eighteen laboratory rats. These were divided into three groups: one group received cornflakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the cornflakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water. The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. The rats receiving the cornflakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box! (The first box rat died the day the last cornflake rat died.) Furthermore, before death, the cornflakes-eating rats developed aberrant behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock. The startling conclusion of this study was that there was more nourishment in the box than in the cornflakes. This experiment was designed as a joke, but the results were far from funny.
While the above studies, being unpublished, don’t exactly make an open-and-shut case, they certainly point in the direction of needed further research. One is left to wonder why neither of these studies have been replicated (ahem, lobbying and journal sponsorships). The fact is, no processed food should be able to make health claims, especially for something as important as healthy pregnancy, unless they’ve actually done studies to show the effects of the food itself – not just the benefits of the individual nutrients they’ve added in. Otherwise no one can make a claim about the benefits of their processed slop because they don’t actually know. They’re just guessing, and not very educated guesses at that. In fact, they probably know they are lying.
The only thing that saves Kellogg’s is the fine print. Very few will read the tiny white letters at the bottom of the ad, which say “A serving of Special K cereals contain ≈15% of the nutrient reference value of folic acid which contributes to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy. Enjoy as part of a varied & balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.” This is nothing more than a legal disclaimer to make sure that, when you do what the ad says to do and things go pear-shaped, you’re not able to sue them. It doesn’t technically say that their products will give you good babies, despite the fact that this is clearly what they’re implying. They say ‘folic acid is good for babies and Special K has folic acid, so… you know,’ and leave you to do the math.
With a team of Coca-Cola lawyers arguing that “no consumer could reasonably believe” their advertising, maybe it’s time for us to start getting a lot more reasonable. If you want to make sure you’re getting enough folate, the reasonable response would be to skip the processed crap and eat an egg. Or eat organ meats and bone broth. Don’t fall for the lifestyle-marketed, manipulated foodstuffs; that would be unreasonable. Eat the same things your great grandmother ate when she was pregnant. It’s reasonable to believe that that will turn out well.
And just to get that hashtag hijack going:
Doug DiPasquale is a Holistic Nutritionist, Paleo enthusiast and health journalist living in Toronto, Canada. He’s a regular contributor for SOTT.net, Dot Connector Magazine, the Huffington Post Canada, The Food Network Canada and has contributed to many other blogs and online publications. He’s passionate about the food we eat, exposing the lies and faulty thinking of the “food police” and informing the public about how to eat real food, ie. replacing that wheatgrass shot with bacon.