Last Updated Jun 4, 2010 6:48 PM EDT
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Why, out of all the fast-food purveyors, weight-loss scams, and late-night infomercials for bogus fitness equipment, have I chosen Haagen-Dazs Five ice creams as the worst new threat to our collective health? After all, it has just five, recognizable ingredients and an award-winning marketing campaign that emphasizes purity and simplicity. Doesn't that mesh with the real-food/clean-eating movement that's become so popular?
I'll tell you why: Because it is pure spin. "Haagen-Dazs didn't change one thing about that ice cream," food guru and author Michael Pollan told me. "It always had five ingredients. They just started boasting about it."
Actually, that's not entirely accurate. The company did re-jigger the balance of skim milk and cream to give the Five line slightly less fat. But, generally speaking, with about 220 calories per half cup, nearly 50 percent of which comes from fat, plus a good dose of sugar, Five is far from being the health food it dresses as.
But here's the real sin: Its success (and our ongoing gullibility) is inspiring other food manufacturers to spin their brands in similar ways that will continue to confuse and ultimately fatten Americans. For instance, Lay's Classic Potato Chips are now boasting of being "made with three simple ingredients in as little as 24 hours, and that's it." And Pillsbury Simply--Cookies are advertised as being "made with just the simple, wholesome ingredients you and your family know and love."
These are potato chips and cookies, for heaven's sake, not something grandma knitted for you.
"The food industry is incredibly clever at transforming any criticism of its practices into a new way to sell us more food," says Pollan. And in that, he is 100 percent correct. Never believe anything you read on the front of the packaging or hear on a commercial. Examine the product's nutrition panel and its ingredients. Fortunately, there's no way companies can spin that.