‘Fat-burning’ foods and other scientific-sounding trickery
WOULD you like to kick-start your metabolism and strengthen your immunity to diseases? Just eat fat-burning foods with immune-boosting ingredients, and drink alkaline water. Actually, that whole paragraph, and its very concept, is a lie. But it sounds promising -- and familiar -- doesn’t it? It’s common for marketers to exaggerate claims to entice us to buy products. And we believe much of what we read when it sounds scientific and plausible.
This practice is brilliantly exposed in a video from McGill University’s Office for Science and Society (OSS) that has gone viral. Jonathan Jarry, science communicator at the OSS (and the person who made the video), says that flashy marketing accompanied by cool music, enticing fonts and pleasing images are very effective tools of persuasion.
“Many people believe what they see because the packaging is convincing” Jarry says. “Our access to information has exploded since the development of the Internet, but most of us have never been taught how to critically assess this information.” And the truth is, lots of “information” is junk. Don’t fall for scientific-sounding claims or nutritional trickery. Here are examples to be aware of.
The claim: Certain foods rev up metabolism and cause heat inside the body, which helps you lose weight as fat miraculously burns away. The reality: Studies show that capsaicin in hot peppers does have some effect on internal temperature and metabolism, but it’s minimal. Hot peppers cannot solve the obesity epidemic, but many marketers exaggerate and twist the claims into flashy and enticing ads that suggest otherwise.
The claim: Foods with vitamins or antioxidants can strengthen your immune system and leave you more resistant to disease. The reality: Any food that is part of a healthy diet will promote good overall health, which helps the immune system function optimally, explains David Stukus, an associate professor in the Division of Allergy & Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
“Claims that individual foods can ‘boost immunity’ are generally unfounded and extrapolated from research in lab animals or association data that does not demonstrate any true cause-and-effect relationship,” Stukus says.
Acid-neutralising alkaline water
The claim: Because it’s less acidic than tap water and contains more minerals, proponents believe alkaline water can neutralise the acid in your blood and lead to better health. Website sales pitches claim alkaline water can help you lose weight, avoid diabetes, live longer, fight cancer and boost your immune system.
The reality: “For alkaline water to work, it would have to overcome a very strong protective mechanism that we all have: Our blood is always kept within a very strict pH range. Drinking alkaline water won’t change that, especially since our stomach’s acid will neutralise the alka- linity. It’s pseudoscience, pure and simple,” says Jarry, though alkaline water will probably quench your thirst.
No added sugar
The claim: Packages of sweet foods made with fruit say they have “no added sugar.” The reality: Fruit can be turned into sugar during processing, and it’s easy to consume too much. If a food package says “no added sugar,” look at the ingredient list. If you see fruit pulp, concentrate or puree, that’s sugar!
The bottom line is buyer beware. “If someone out there is offering a miracle cure or other treatment that sounds too good to be true, then it is,” Stukus says. – Washington Post/ Rosenbloom, a registered dietician, is president of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company