09.23.09 12:13 AM ET
Snacks: You Lie!
Last week, Weight Watchers filed a lawsuit against the makers of the Skinny Cow line of diet ice-cream snacks. Their alleged violation? Not only listing the weight-loss program's "points" on the label, but calculating the points incorrectly.
Keep in mind that diet food can be hazardous to your waistline even when properly labeled. One study—" Can 'Low-Fat' Nutrition Labels Lead to Obesity?"—indicates that even when food products are properly labeled, consumers eat more, because they increased their conceptions of how big an appropriate portion size should be and decreased their “consumption guilt.”
The snack bag declared it was “Good for you!” but when a Good Housekeeping Institute staffer munched on the rice puffs, she thought it was too good to be true. It was.
Now layer on the potential faulty labeling, and you have the diet from hell. Is your favorite snack under suspicion? Skinny Cow is far from the first diet treat to be accused of stretching the truth about its nutritional content. Here are 10 of the best from recent years.
Cow, yes. Skinny, maybe not so much. In a lawsuit filed last week, Weight Watchers alleged that Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, maker of the Skinny Cow line of diet frozen snacks, had not only used the weight-loss program's "points system" on Skinny Cow packages without consent, but also had calculated the points incorrectly. The court filing also says that Dreyer's had previously agreed not to use any of Weight Watchers' trademarks, and made similar allegations against Nestlé, the parent company of Dryer's, involving the Lean Cuisine Casual Eating line. Dreyer’s did not respond to media inquiries when the report was filed.
Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Bread
Food fibbing hit the bread aisle last year. Sara Lee agreed to modify the packaging of its "Soft and Smooth" sandwich bread, which had been marked as "whole grain." In fact, the bread only contained 30 percent whole grains; it was made mostly with refined white flour. An advocacy group had threatened to sue the food company if the packaging wasn't changed.
If you want something cold and low-cal, try ice. Ice cream, on the other hand, will likely always be bad for you, which is why it's so good. In late 2003, the New York City Department of Consumer affairs told the frozen-dessert chain CremaLita to either change its advertising or pay fines on each of 61 counts of false advertising. The product in question? Its supposedly low-cal fat-free frozen dessert, which CremaLita advertised had just 60 calories in a small four-ounce serving. In reality, not only did a four-ounce portion actually contain 154 to 181 calories, but its stores were selling a small serving with six ounces, pushing the calorie count up to between 235 and 271. A consumer affairs department official said she was "outraged" by the fake ice-cream purveyor's "cynical" behavior.
Another faux-ice-cream chain brought down by the intrepid reporting of The New York Times, Tasti D-Lite advertised its four-ounce portion of creamy frozen mystery substance as having only 40 calories, less than a fifth of the actual calorie count of 224. Part of the problem was the larger-than-advertised serving, which a store owner justified by saying that of course customers know they're getting extra: ''They almost kill the girls if they give them four ounces.'' The chain lost the right to use the badge "low calorie" in 2005.
The snack bag declared it was "Good for you!" but when a Good Housekeeping Institute staffer munched on the rice puffs, she thought it was too good to be true. It was. Its nutrition panel claimed it had very little fat, plus some vitamins, but the tester discovered it contained three times as much fat as advertised—as much as in bag of corn chips. And there were 147 calories per serving, not 120. In 2002, a mother of a toddler who loved the stuff filed suit, to hold the maker "accountable." A judge later awarded $3.5 million to consumers, in the form of discount vouchers.
Baker's Breakfast Cookie
Baker's Breakfast Cookie was celebrated on the cover of Woman's World magazine with the headline "Magic Weight-Loss Cookie" as a tasty treat gobbled by weight-watchers and triathletes alike for its alleged low-cal high-energy goodness. The company's toll-free number was overwhelmed by customers trying to place an order after reading the tabloid's gushy description of cookie-eaters dropping dozens of pounds. But it was just another boastful tasty treat. The Seattle Times performed an independent lab taste and found that the supposedly 250-calorie oatmeal raisin and mocha chocolate chunk cookies weigh in at 366 and 370 calories, respectively. The owner pleaded that his product was practically handmade, and that "We're not out there trying to deceive the public."
Big Daddy Ice Cream
For Floridians on Weight Watchers, enjoying the rich-yet consequence-free treat known as Big Daddy had become a fleeting moment of pure joy in their otherwise hopeless lives, until an investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel shattered their low-cal illusions. Eventually, DeConna Ice Cream agreed to pay a $1.2 million settlement to a class-action lawsuit brought on by customers who bought the Big Daddy brand ice cream believing it contained, as labeled, only 100 calories per serving, when in fact the creamy crack contained three times as many calories, and almost four times as many grams of fat. But at least plaintiffs who could show a receipt could get either a refund or two free cups of Big Daddy for each ice cream cup they were originally enticed into purchasing.
Back in 1995 The Washington Post tackled the ubiquitous low-fat muffin, a breakfast food that's like cake except you don't have to feel bad about it. Or do you? Ten muffins were tested, five of them non-fat and the rest low-fat, and found that none of them met the FDA's definition of "fat free." And all of them dwarfed the FDA's dainty definition of a muffin serving (two ounces). The Post reports, "The Chesapeake Bagel Bakery came closest to meeting the 'fat-free' definition, although the 5-ounce muffin tested by the Post contained 1.5 grams of fat and 352 calories, slightly higher than the information given verbally to customers on request." And though Tom's Muffins were found to meet the definition for low-fat, the muffin tested didn't have the advertised two grams of fat, but eight, and not 340 calories, but 528.
Dannon Pure Indulgence
Yogurt-maker Dannon settled—without an admission of wrongdoing—a case with the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising of its Pure Indulgence frozen yogurt in 1995. Dannon marketed its fro-yo flavors like chunky chocolate nut and Heath Bar crunch as low-fat and "pure heaven." But the FTC found that chunky chocolate nut had 190 calories per half-cup serving and nine grams of fat, violating the FDA's definition of low fat (three grams or less). Shockingly, premium ice-cream brands were lower in fat and calories: Breyer's vanilla fudge twirl ice cream had only eight grams of fat per serving and 160 calories; Super G's cookies & cream ice cream had seven grams of fat and 150 calories per serving.
"Carob"-Coated Donut Felony
In 2004, 68-year-old Robert Ligon began serving a 15-month federal prison sentence for donut lies. FDA agents raided Ligon's business, seizing tens of thousand of tasty treats, and realized that the half-million dollars worth of supposedly low-cal donuts the ol' sticky fingers sold were actually regular donuts he'd purchased from a Chicago bakery. The donuts came to his store in packages, to which Ligon's staff affixed various lying stickers. A donut that cheerily proclaimed to be "carob-coated" with only 135 calories and three fat grams was, in fact, a plain old chocolate donut, with 530 calories and 18 grams of fat. Another man, named Vernon L. Patterson, pleaded guilty to a nearly identical crime in 2000. In that case, the FDA said on its Web site, a "woman in Mississippi piled on the pounds during the six months that she ate $500 worth of allegedly skinny products."