Parents, What's Really in Our Health Food?

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With two children, ages 7 and 11, I am a proud mother. I'm the crazy one cheering them on just a little too loudly at their soccer games and the mother who cries on the first day of school. I am loudly and proudly "that mom."

If you are a parent, you will understand what I mean. It's not a feeling that you can describe; the love you feel for your child is unlike anything you've ever felt before. But with this love comes worry. Parenting is four parts love and 100 parts worry.

I worry about what my kids are doing, what their futures look like, if they are safe, and if they are healthy. Our household is very divided when it comes to health. I myself have been a vegan for over 13 years, but my husband is a bit more relaxed about his diet.

While he and I are divided about our diets, we have a firm "agreement" about what our kids should eat. We know that one of the most important things you can do to help children develop is to ensure they have a healthy diet, and we take this very seriously.

To try and instill healthy living into our children's lifestyles, we like to take them shopping with us each week. We tell the kids "we are on a mission" and their job is to help us. Originally when this began, our guideline was to look for food products that contained fruits, vegetables, or anything natural on the packaging. This seemed like an easy guideline for them to follow.

What began happening, though, truly shocked me. They would run up to the cart with a box that would contain a colorful photo of a variety of fruits and vegetables and I'd turn it over and see a list of ingredients I couldn't even pronounce. I'd tell them to put it back because it wasn't healthy and they would become confused and frustrated. My 7-year-old said it best: "But MOM, you said to find healthy food."


This frustrated me as well. My kids were following my guidelines: Find food that looks healthy and includes fruits and vegetables. Their only mistake, it turns out, was that they trusted the packaging. To be fair, so did I.

I wanted to know how companies were legally permitted to deceive consumers in this way, so I began to do some research. This lead me to a company called Froozer, which describes their product as a "health product that's actually healthy." I spoke with their CEO Rich Naha about the state of the health food industry.

I asked how phrases like "made with real fruits and vegetables" could be applied to products with almost no actual fruits or vegetables. I asked how "no sugar added" and "whole grain" and "all natural" seemed to almost never actually mean those things.

"Well first of all you have to understand the motive," Naha said.

"Food companies aren't making food because they are food enthusiasts. They are corporations and they are driven by profits. They make food with ingredients that are cost effective, that taste good (whether healthy or not), and they pay high powered lawyers to justify how they package their products."

Naha went on to explain, "Companies will say 'no sugar added' and that may be technically true. What they don't mention is that they use other sweeteners, like juices and other extracts, none of which are any healthier."

In other words, their packaging and their branding is meticulously designed to be "legally" accurate. But by any reasonable standard of interpretation, these companies are misleading consumers.

As a parent, it makes me outraged that this is the norm in our society. Everyday, parents are buying food for their kids that looks healthy, thinking they are making good dietary decisions for their families. But in reality, millions of parents are being duped by clever marketing -- or what a good parent would just call lying.

I was glad to hear Naha describe a recent escalation of lawsuits against food corporations for their branding. I was equally excited to hear that his own company is embracing a full disclosure approach to packaging their foods. And their job is made easy by the fact that they are made from Whole Fruits and Vegetables. Froozer is the only frozen fruit product that doesn't add sugar or water, and that aren't made from juices, concentrates, or purees.

Froozer's products are fruits and vegetables that are frozen and blended together. Because of the method they use in harvesting and blending, the natural flavors of the fruits replace the need for sweeteners altogether.

As parents, we need to take a stand against these deceptive practices. We need to call out the companies that mislead customers and support the companies that are honest. The Internet has given us a voice like we've never had before in history and it's time to use it. I encourage parents out there: do your research on the products your family is consuming and make sure that the health food you're buying is actually healthy food.