Not-So-Healthy Health Claims

As a health and wellness advocate and self-proclaimed foodie, I pride myself in keeping my finger on the pulse of food and nutrition trends. For me, doing this serves multiple purposes: 1) it reinforces the good things I’m already doing, 2) it provides new information that might contradict what I’m doing and prompt me to research it further, 3) it informs me of the garbage that’s being propagated as health food or healthy supplements.

This little bag of lies lives in that third category:

A few weeks back, I attended a party and saw these on the counter. Being the huge coconut fan that I am, I picked them up to take a look.

First red flag: The advertisement of how many mg of coconut oil were in each chew

Second red flag: Health claims in GIANT font accompanied by asterisks (the asterisks, of course, refer to the note on the back that says that these statements have not been approved by the FDA)

I flipped the bag over and continued reading.

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Ok, not terrible Supplement Facts. Yes, there are more grams of carbohydrates and sugar than there are in actual coconut oil (actual coconut oil has zero grams of carbs or sugar), but I am letting that slide for a minute. We’ll get back to Supplement Facts shortly.

And then I read the most important information on any packaged food item: the Ingredients list.


By law, ingredients must be listed in order from highest to lowest percentage by mass. The first ingredient is the most prevalent ingredient in the product. So in this product, there is more corn syrup and sugar than there is coconut, and there is more dairy fat than there is coconut fat

WOW. So let’s go back to the health claims on the front of this package and do a quick ingredient reconciliation:

  1. Promotes Healthy Metabolism:
    Yes, pure coconut oil promotes healthy metabolism, because of the short- and medium-chain fatty acids that are present in it. However, corn syrup, sugar, and soy do just the opposite. Corn syrup and sugar (both essentially sugar) disrupt a healthy metabolism by spiking blood sugar and flooding the blood stream with insulin, a process that, when done to often and in extremes, ultimately helps keep us fat. Soy contains phytates, which disrupt the absorption (and therefore the metabolism and proper utilization) of important minerals necessary for proper sugar metabolism, sleep (essential for weight loss), bone health, and brain function. (These minerals are zinc, magnesium, and calcium.)
  2. Helps Control Appetite:
    Yes, the saturated fat in coconut oil helps control appetite. However, as I just stated, corn syrup and sugar do just the opposite by spiking blood sugar, which causes a flood of insulin and the return of your appetite (often more voracious than before).
  3. Natural Energy Source:
    This one I love, because it applies to basically everything we put in our mouths that contains calories. Calories=energy. Nothing about this product is special in terms of providing energy, except that coconut oil itself is a very dense source of high-quality calories. It’s true that coconut oil is great for our brain function, our memory, and our ability to remain alert, however that’s not the claim they’re making. In essence, they’re saying, “this product contains energy from calories” — indeed, a useless piece of information.
  4. Supports Immune System:
    Coconut oil is a wonderful thing — it contains lauric acid, which acts as an anti-fungal and helps keep problems like yeast and candida under control. It has antibiotic and antiviral properties. In that way, I suppose you could claim that it supports the immune system by helping it fight off invaders. However, GMO foods like corn, sugar beets, and soy are linked to total gut disruption and dysbiosis. They contain glyphosate, one of the active ingredients in Roundup, which destroys the bacteria in our gut responsible for the bulk of our immune system. So again, the ingredients in this product (2 out of 3 of which are more prevalent in the product than coconut oil itself), do exactly the opposite of this health claim.
    Dr. Mercola has some great things to say about glyphosate and GMOs in case you’d like to read more: “What’s worse, glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over. At that point, your body also has to contend with the toxins produced by the pathogens. Once the chronic inflammation sets in, you’re well on your way toward chronic and potentially debilitating disease…”

Products like this infuriate me. It’s true what Michael Pollan says in his book Food Rules: “Generally, it is the products of modern food science that make the boldest health claims, and these are often founded on incomplete and often bad science.” — Put more simply, if you are concerned about your health, avoid foods with health claims.

This brings me back to the Supplement Facts. Don’t they seem pretty harmless? Only 2 grams of sugar, 4 grams of carbohydrates. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It doesn’t sound so bad because it’s not real information. Supplement Facts tell us basically nothing except for reductionist information about a serving size of whatever’s inside the package. It doesn’t tell us anything about quality or substance; it simply measures macronutrients, and often inaccurately to how people will consume the products. Look closely on the right side of that picture again. Do you see the recommendation of how to eat these chews? “Adults enjoy 1-4 chews daily.” It makes it sound like medicine, and it’s SUGAR! It’s a farce! And if you consume the chews as directed, you’re potentially quadrupling those numbers! 2 grams of sugar and 4 grams of carbs increases to 8 and 16.

As I said before, if you’re considering food that comes in a package, look at the INGREDIENTS. Skip the Supplement Facts. You’ll be surprised what’s lurking in your cabinets. Hopefully it’s not Coconut Oil Chews.


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