Tuesday, January 13, 2009

“Healthier” Junk Food Is Still Junk

A New York Times article on Sunday focused on the attempt by McDonald’s to rebrand itself, with the goal of increasing sales. One route has been to offer apple slices, salads and white-meat Chicken McNuggets. Sorry, but these changes don’t absolve McDonald’s from the fact that most of its offerings are really bad for you. The 2004 documentary “Super Size Me” made this painfully clear.

The big food companies understand the immediacy of current health issues and are trying to secure their market share and profits by introducing “healthier” food choices. Granted, the companies make more money when their products contain simple ingredients, but they can ill afford to lose customers who are looking for better options.

Thus, the companies release variants of their original products in an ostensibly healthier form. These items are slightly costlier to produce, but the companies will trade (minimally) reduced profits for consumer brand loyalty. The public is the loser, though, since these new products are often as noxious as the originals.

Frito-Lay, for example, has added Multigrain Tortilla Chips to its Tostitos product line, joining its White Corn Tortilla Chips. Corn, vegetable oil and salt are the three ingredients in the white corn variety. The multigrain chips—in addition to the corn, oil and salt—contain corn starch, whole buckwheat flour, whole oat flour, sugar, toasted corn germ and whole wheat flour.

Yes, the whole grain flours are a positive, but I would guess that most consumers would never think the revered multigrain chips contain more sodium, fat, calories and sugar than their hillbilly cousins.

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