President's Choice is getting prepped and ready for a brand new advertising campaign that will feature Mr. Galen Weston discussing the challenges Canadians face in eating healthier.
I was called to attend an audition.
After five years working in the field of nutrition accompanied by three years in advertising before that, I was pretty sure I'd get it. I get what the nutrition game is about and I know more than I'd like to about Healthwashing. I am often contacted by former colleagues who want me to meet with their clients or try out a new "healthier" cereal, or "fat free" ice cream, or "good for you" chips. I am always hopeful but often as soon as I read the ingredient labels, I have to decline.
With that being said, I was both delighted and surprised when I was contacted by a casting agency for a President's Choice TV campaign around their healthier choices Blue Menu products.
Last year I was invited to an event at Loblaws, in support of the Blue Menu products and couldn't eat a thing. This "healthier" line of products just isn't healthy. "Healthier" is not the same as "healthy." For example, one might suggest that it is healthier to smoke only five cigarettes or eat just five Krispy Creme doughnuts instead of 10. That doesn't make five cigarettes or five doughnuts healthy. Just as adding the words "multi-grain" to a junk food product doesn't make them a healthy choice. You will not get healthier by eating multi-grain pretzels instead of regular pretzels.
I do believe that companies that come out with "healthier" options have the intention in the right place and are likely further committed to this direction when "health experts" will accept large payouts to agree.
When I was invited to audition for a campaign that was described as being documentary style, for a real discussion about the challenges families face in eating better, I was thrilled. I think it's fantastic that this is the direction the mainstream grocery scene is heading. After all, I did teach a sold out class at Loblaws last year that was 100 per cent organic and whole foods based. I know this way of eating is completely possible at a mainstream supermarket. In fact, when I was writing UnDiet, I field tripped over to my local Loblaws to make sure everything I use in my recipes could be found there.
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Canned fruits and veggies may seem like a great snack in a pinch, but not only are canned fruits (particularly the highly popular canned peaches) loaded with excess sugar, their nutrient content is typically much lower than fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, which are flash frozen at the peak of ripeness. Canned fruit, on the other hand, has had its flavor bolstered by sweeteners so there's no need to use the most flavorful fruit, which is also the most nutrient-dense. Even worse, notes Jackson, the cans are often lined with a toxic chemical that acts as a preservative.
This is a triple threat snack if there ever was one. Not only are potato chips high in fat, calories, and sodium (threat No. 1), they are a high glycemic vegetable (threat No. 2), which can spike blood sugar. And finally (threat No. 3), when potatoes are heated to a high temperature, they release acrylamide, a harmful chemical associated with nerve damage. And no, you can't eat just one.
Rice cakes, while blandly low in calories, are made from processed white rice, which is high in blood-sugar spiking carbohydrates. Plus, many come with flavorings that are loaded with sugar and salt. So even if your net calories are low, munching on these nutrient-void disks is about as healthy (and tasty) as eating Styrofoam packing peanuts.
Or, as Kennedy calls them, "sugar-laden calorie bombs." This popular muffin's still fools even health savvy people, thanks to its promise of fruit and the fact that, despite the artificial flavorings, added sugars, and ridiculous portion sizes, they just sound wholesome and harmless. Unless you made the muffin yourself, steer clear (and even then it's better as a treat than an everyday snack).
Part of the problem with granola bars is their sheer ubiquity as an afternoon snack--and the organic promise that is on so many of these bars' labels. Nearly all of them are loaded with processed carbs, dried fruit (which is high in sugar), and held together with even more sugar in the form of honey or even the health-nut favorite agave. Plus, they don't contain much in the way of filling fiber and are often loaded with calories. Save them for the 10-mile hike.
The combo of sugar, fat, and salt makes these very easy to overeat. While there's also some evidence roasting nuts can deplete them of some of their protein as well, the sugar and salt content outweigh any potential health benefits from the healthy fats many nuts contain.
Unlike nonfat Greek yogurt, which has been strained to give it a thick, creamy texture, regular yogurt just becomes watery and bland without the fat. And when they take the fat out, something's gotta go back in. That's usually high-sugar fruit mixture--and a whole lot of it.
Aside from all the processed carbs and salt, some microwavable popcorn contains highly unhealthy trans fats (for shelf stability). Plus, the insides of the bags are often coated with chemicals to prevent the popcorn from sticking.
Would you eat seven mangoes in one sitting? Or 12 peaches? Because dried fruit is pretty much just that. Fruit that has been shrunken down and extracted of its moisture--but the natural sugars remain. As Kennedy notes, our bodies are not equipped to consume that much sugar--even from a natural source--in one sitting.
Both Kennedy and Jackson agree: Diet soda is the No. 1 worst snack in a can. Why? It contains a potentially carcinogenic chemical, aspartame, which is also linked to neurological issues. Plus, it affects craving centers in the brain, increasing appetite. To top it all off, diet soda is high in phosphorous; calcium and phosphorous need to be in balance to maintain bone health, and if too much phosphorous is present it can leach calcium from your bones.
Nutritionist Karen Graham gives you great ideas for healthier snacks.
As for this audition, I would have loved to chat healthy living over two days in my kitchen with Mr. Galen Weston. The problem of course with that is simply that the line of products I was being asked to vouch for, just isn't healthy and actually is a prime example of some of the worst Healthwashing claims.
3 Healthwashing Myths Explained
Myth #1: Multigrain = Healthy
The ingredient list of those "healthier option" pretzels are made primarily with enriched wheat flour (meaning all purpose flour, that has been enriched with synthetic nutrients) comes before the multi-grain flour mix- which is actually a combination of more processed flours. This is followed by malt (sugar) and salt. The ingredients of Frito Lay's Rold Gold brand pretzels is virtually identical -- starting off with enriched wheat flour and following up with malt, and salt. "Multi-grain" doesn't offer any additional health benefit in this or most cases. If you want to eat pretzels, eat pretzels. If you want a health promoting snack food, eat carrots and hummus.
Myth #2: Omega 3s = Healthy
Omega 3s -- flax seeming to be a popular source at the moment -- are being added to everything. Omega 3s are the anti-inflammatory fat. We need omega 3s for our brains, nervous systems and hormonal balance to be happy. Can we get them from bread and oven roasted chicken? Not a chance. If you have ever bought flax oil, you know that it comes in the fridge. The reason we keep our Omega 3 rich oils in the fridge is that this fat is highly sensitive to heat, light and oxygen. Exposing the flax seed oil to heat, oxygen or light increases the risk of free radicals forming -- which happens when we cook it. Free radicals are known to have an impact on cancer producing cells; and not in a good way. Therefore, cooking with omega 3s causes more harm than benefit. Which brings me to the Blue Menu product: "Oven Roasted Chicken Breast with Flax Oil."
The challenge then becomes how we can all play together. How do we make packaged foods more legitimately healthy, and also inform consumers as to how to make the right choices, and demand certain changes in the products they want to continue to use?
In a room with a glaring fluorescent light, a camera on me in one corner, four execs around the table, they started asking me questions. What were my three favourite go-to meals? (Chilli,quinoa salad and soup.) Did I shop at Loblaws? (Yes, occasionally).
Unfortunately, this where I knew it was going to fall apart.
I applaud Loblaws for their efforts to remove artificial colours and flavours from their own brand of products. I appreciate their addition of new symbols to help people to choose Blue Menu products over the other product options, but is that good enough? More often than not, the "healthier choice" is still not health promoting and if it's not health promoting, then it falls into the disease building side.
I knew I sealed the deal on my being cast aside when I was asked if I used Blue Menu products. For all of the above reasons, and many more, I do not. Unless we educate people on the true health and economic benefit of eating whole, real unpackaged food, combined with the ease and deliciousness, well that's the only we way we can truly address why Canadian families are being challenged with making truly healthy (not healthier) choices. It was then that I was labelled "hard core healthy" by the team around the table. I agreed.
What I later learned, was that I was not the only nutritionist called in for an interview. I was also not the only nutritionist who wasn't willing to put their name or professional reputation behind these products. That should speak volumes: nutritionists unable to support a major grocery store chain's "healthy" line of products.
I may not have been right for this commercial, but could I add value in helping Loblaws educate the public on whole and healthy living? Absolutely. We won't be filming a commercial in my bright kitchen next week, but I will be here, ready to chat about the challenges of getting our population healthier, when they are ready for me.
Follow Meghan Telpner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/meghantelpner