05/16/2011 04:41 pm ET | Updated Jul 16, 2011

The Whac-A-Mole Game Of Combating Deceptive Food Product Promises

It's hard not to be lured by the promise of food products that can lower cholesterol, regulate your digestive system or even cheat death. However, as the New York Times reports, these claims of various functional food products (think Pom Wonderful, Activia, etc.), are often well, false.

Some examples of misleading claims:

  • Welch’s 100% Grape Juice has a red-heart certification from the American Heart Association. An eight-ounce glass has 36 grams of sugar whereas a regular-sized Snickers has 30.
  • A TV ad for Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal claimed that the cereal improved kids' attentiveness by 20%. This was compared with children who only had water for breakfast.
  • Activia probably doesn't regulate one's digestive system within two weeks, unless one eats the yogurt three times per day.

In the past two years, the FTC has attempted to crack down on these inaccurate claims by filing deceptive marketing complaints against companies such as Kellogg and Dannon. Similarly, the FDA has attempted to protect consumers as well. However, as Michael Taylor, the Deputy Commissioner for Foods of the FDA explained last year, "once we prove today's claim is misleading, [marketers] can readily come up with another one tomorrow. Going after them one-by-one with the legal and resource restraints we work under is a little like playing Whac-a-Mole, with one hand tied behind your back. "

Nutrition expert Marion Nestle sums up the issue by explaining that the point of functional foods is "the ability to put something in a product that allows you to market it using health and wellness claims. Health claims sell food products...Science is irrelevant here. Marketing is what’s relevant."

In the clip below, Saturday Night Live takes the exaggerated health claims of yogurt to a whole new level.