“Fat free”, “no salt”, “low sugar”, “natural”, “no artificial sweeteners” – food marketers have no end of claims for making us think their products are a healthier choice. However, take a look behind the marketing speak and you’ll find the reality is often vastly different. Our annual Bad Taste Food Awards call out manufacturers on the claims they use to make their products seem like better choices – whether it’s a fruit cereal seriously lacking in fruit, or a fat-free snack laced with sugar.
There was no shortage of nominations for this year’s awards. A big thank you to all those who sent us their picks for the worst offenders.
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Pump’s flavoured waters declare they’re “low in sugar”, but if you drank an entire 750ml bottle, you’d be in for a not-so-sweet surprise.
The range of waters – with names such as Pump Berry Storm, Pump Lemon Fix, Pump Lime Rush and Pump Mango Blast – contain a hefty 17g of sugar per bottle. That’s more than 4 teaspoons – or a third of the World Health Organization recommended daily limit for sugar.
After water, cane sugar is the largest ingredient in these drinks. How does Pump get away with its “low in sugar” claims? Food standards let manufacturers put this claim on products with 2.5g or less of sugar per 100ml. But should it be allowed on a single-serve 750ml drink with more than 4 teaspoons of sugar? Our view: no.
A better option when you’re feeling parched is plain old, sugar-free, tap water.
When we delved into the cereal aisle earlier this year, we found a few companies had made an effort to reduce sugar levels in their products since our previous investigation in 2012. However, a couple had actually bumped up the sugar content.
Pams Toasted Muesli was the worst offender, increasing its sugar content by 44%. When we looked at the product in 2012, it had 21g of sugar per 100 grams. That’s since jumped to 30.3g.
The sweet stuff in Countdown’s Toasted Muesli has also shot up: it’s now got about 20% more sugar than it had 5 years ago.
Despite its health halo, muesli is a regular offender when it comes to ladling on the sugar. Pams and Countdown mueslis aren’t bucking the trend.
Fonterra’s Anchor Protein+ range claims the higher levels of protein in its Protein+ Yoghurt, Protein+ Milk and Protein+ Smoothie Booster products give “Kiwis the strength to tackle whatever life throws their way”.
As one respondent commented, ads for these products create the impression we should be eating more protein. But the truth is most of us are consuming more than enough.
The latest New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey found 98% of adults consumed sufficient protein to meet the recommended daily intake, with some getting more than double.
You’ll pay a premium for the Protein+ range. We found a 2L bottle of Protein+ Milk priced at $5.33, while Anchor Blue Milk cost $4.53. Per 100g, a tub of Anchor Protein+ Strawberry Yoghurt is more than double the price of some of Fonterra’s other yoghurt brands.
You’d be better off saving your pennies and sticking with your regular sources of protein.
If you’re on the hunt for something for your kid’s lunchbox, you could be tempted by Mother Earth and Nice & Natural fruit snacks.
These snacks proudly claim they have “no artificial colours or flavours”. But what they do contain is sugar in various guises.
Nice & Natural Fruit Dinos are a jelly-like treat containing 60% sugar. Most of the sweetness is from fruit juice, but the dinos also contain glucose syrup and regular sugar.
Mother Earth Vege Fruit Sticks, a baked dough filled with puree, boast about the “real veggies inside the bar”. The vegetables are limited to beetroot puree (13% of the bar). What you’ll find as well is glucose syrup, sugar, golden syrup, invert sugar and brown sugar. Along with the natural sugars in the fruit puree, it all adds up to just over one teaspoon in each bar.
Oki-Doki Marshy-Mallows and Betta Mallow Bakes – marshmallows by any other name – both claim to be “fat free”. Advertising sugar-laden sweets as fat-free is straight from the food marketer’s handbook of dodgy tactics. As one respondent pointed out, they might be fat-free but they’re “full of sugar!”
The Mallow Bakes take the cake in the sugar stakes: they’re 64.5% sugar. Marshy-Mallows are close behind, with 58.5%. Eat one serving of the Mallow Bakes and you won’t be consuming any fat but you’ll have eaten 4 teaspoons of sugar.
When we looked at “gourmet” salts this year, we found some of these seasonings retailed for 5 to 50 times the price of the regular stuff. That’s surprising, considering all salt – no matter how fancy – is nearly 100% sodium chloride.
Some manufacturers were all too keen to promote their salts as containing iron, calcium or magnesium. However, these claims need to be taken with a big grain of salt as the minerals are only present in trace amounts.
We lodged a complaint with the Ministry for Primary Industries about claims made by 3 brands – Mrs Rogers, The Healthy Salt Company and Lotus Foods. After our complaint, Mrs Rogers was told to drop its claims and The Healthy Salt Company stopped selling its salt at retail stores. Regulators across the ditch are talking to Aussie-brand Lotus Foods.
The label on the bottle of Lipton’s Peach Flavour Ice Tea states: “No preservatives, no artificial colours, no artificial sweeteners.” However, this liquid gold contains 26g of sugar. That’s 6.5 teaspoons in each 500ml serve.
The main ingredients in this product are water and sugar. Adding to the sweetness are peach juice and stevia (a natural sweetener). As for the actual tea content, “tea extract” makes up just 4.5% of the drink.
If you’re in the market for breakfast on the run, Sanitarium’s Up&Go Energize drink claims to provide “slow release energy” and “10 essential vitamins and minerals”, while bragging that it’s low in fat, high in calcium, and a source of fibre.
The breakfast drink even has a 4.5 (out of 5) health star rating, so it would be easy to assume this stuff is a great way to start your day. However, if you downed the entire 500ml bottle you’ll have sunk 39.5g of sugar. That’s nearly 10 teaspoons!
A regular 500ml Up&Go isn’t much better. It also sports a 4.5-star health rating and claims to have the protein, energy and fibre of 4 weet-bix and milk but we’ve yet to meet anyone who would add more than 9 teaspoons of sugar to their bowl of cereal.
If you’re wondering how something with this much sugar can get a 4.5-star health rating, you’re not alone. The answer is the system considers a food’s overall nutritional value, so the good stuff (such as fibre) can offset the bad (sugar). We’re pushing for star ratings to be capped so sugary products like this can’t get high stars.
Charlotte Taylor, Matt Hirini, and Caitlin Booth-Richards from Wanganui High School tell us why they nominated Up&Go: