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Kelloggs Withdraws Immunity Claims

I don’t even walk down the cereal aisle at my grocery store, so I only learned of this online. Kellogg’s cereals have started carrying health claims about how they boost your children’s immunity. Sugar-laden, full of toxic refined grains, and created in a laboratory, these cereals actually argued that they could help prevent your kid from coming down with swine flu thanks to the synthetic vitamins added to them.

Wonder of wonders.

Of course, the new box cover didn’t last long. The San Francisco city attorney thought the marketing message was misleading and asked the company to back up the claim. Rather than provide the substantiation, Kellogg’s opted to change the cover.

On the one hand, I am glad for this minor victory going to consumers.

On the other hand, I am peeved about our labeling laws and confused regarding a good solution. Marion Nestle, author of the Food Politics blog, believes that we need more stringent regulations. We need to give the FDA some teeth to attack these people who make health claims without backing them up with rigorous science.

And yet for many foods and dietary supplements, there is no rigorous science. Why? It costs money, lots of it. And who’s going to pay the money to do research on natural food products which have slim profit margins and which no one can patent?

And truly, is science the best judge of what is and is not healthful for us? One of my major presuppositions on this site and as a nutrition coach is that science is too reductionist when it comes to food. It focuses too much on individual nutrients, and not enough on foods. And it certainly doesn’t focus on entire diets or ways of living.

So, should we avoid all health claims altogether as Europe has now done — a move which Marion Nestle applauds, but which will leave consumers without much guidance? Or should we require rigorous science to support health claims — a move which will under cut inexpensive natural foods and dietary supplements?

Right now the law in the U.S. is fairly lenient. For food and supplements, we allow what’s called “structure-function” claims under Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. This means that the product is supposed to support a structure or function of the human body — not treat or cure a disease. The only contingency is that the claim be truthful and not misleading. In the recent Kellogg case, the San Francisco attorney believed the Kellogg claim to be misleading, so he asked for proof.

Yay for him.

But what if this was a different case? What if this was a traditional foods manufacturer selling coconut oil, and they claimed in their marketing materials that coconut oil can boost your body’s metabolism? Or what if it was a grass-fed beef cattle rancher, and he claimed on his website that grass-fed beef was higher in CLA — a proven anti-inflammatory that can help reduce the risk of heart disease? There are a few studies that support these claims, but are there enough? And would these small-scale producers be able to conduct their own research on the scale or caliber that giant agribusiness corporations can when they fund university research?

Unfortunately, what’s considered “misleading” is in the eye of the beholder. Some would say that the saturated fats in these two traditional foods wipe out any health claim they could make with integrity. Others would say that saturated fats are actually good for you. Hence, my confusion.

I’m not confused about what is or isn’t good for me. You all know the one rule I apply to test those waters: I ask myself, is this food REAL? Is it old? Is it traditional? If the answers are yes, I don’t think eating the food can harm you. If the answers are no, then I say avoid it like the plague. It’s quite simple, really.

But I am confused about what is or is not an appropriate standard for health claims on food and supplement labels. Do you all have any thoughts or ideas about health claims on labeling and marketing materials? Is it good or bad? What kinds of regulations, if any, should we have? I can’t wait to hear from you.

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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19 Responses to Kelloggs Withdraws Immunity Claims
  1. Everett
    November 5, 2009 | 4:30 pm

    If we would just eat healthy, whole foods as close to the source and as unprocessed as possible we wouldn’t have to worry about it. People would get the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, macro/micro nutriants… they need from food again.
    .-= Everett´s last blog post …BYETTA Kidney Failure Risk =-.

    • Jen
      November 7, 2009 | 9:22 pm

      we can’t trust the FDA because we can’t trust the government bureaucrats in the first place. more government regulation and teeth will only hurt the little guy and the small family co-op. american citizens are too compliant. we are a nation of sheep being lead by wolves and it is utter foolishness to expect these wolves, with vested financial interest to know what is right and true for my health and second, to enforce honest intentioned policies.

      • Jen
        November 7, 2009 | 9:26 pm

        opps i replied to everett’s post, that was a goof on my part.

  2. Nate
    November 5, 2009 | 7:39 pm

    Eat food because it’s good. “Good *for* you” is a suspicious statement.

    What was Michael Pollan’s criteria? If your grandmother or great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, avoid it.
    .-= Nate´s last blog post …Fancy Baked Mac and Cheese =-.

  3. NutraThai
    November 5, 2009 | 7:46 pm

    Kellogg’s Withdraws Immunity Claims | Food Renegade: What if this was a traditional foods manufacturer sell.. http://tinyurl.com/yhds6yz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  4. NutraThai
    November 5, 2009 | 8:06 pm

    Kellogg’s Withdraws Immunity Claims | Food Renegade http://bit.ly/31jty5

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. rsuarez46
    November 5, 2009 | 9:03 pm

    Kellogg’s Withdraws Immunity Claims | Food Renegade: Or should we require rigorous science to support healt.. http://bit.ly/lAV7C

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  6. sputniksweethrt
    November 5, 2009 | 9:36 pm

    http://bit.ly/3T7uRW Another victory for real food & nutrition. BOO,Kelloggs. How dare you suggest sugary crap has any health benefit.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  7. Vin - NaturalBias
    November 6, 2009 | 8:27 am

    It’s great to see that someone spoke up and that Kelloggs’ is being pressured to change the label. However, they’ve probably already gotten more than enough benefit from it already, and it has probably misled far too many people.

    It’s a shame that food manufacturers can make such claims without approval. It allows them to basically do whatever they want and all they have to do is change the label if they receive a complaint that is serious enough. Unfortunately, even if there was an approval process, we can’t really trust the FDA anyway when they have standards that allow labels to claim 0g of things like trans fat and sugar as long as there’s less than 0.5g per serving.

    As with most things, the bottom line is that consumers need to be more informed, and that requires some effort on their own part to read articles like this one. :)
    .-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog post …Don’t Help Wal-Mart Degrade the Quality of Organic Food =-.

  8. vinmiller
    November 6, 2009 | 8:30 am

    Justice is served! Kelloggs’ to remove ridiculous immunity claim on Cocoa Krispies http://bit.ly/1AjuOE by @foodrenegade

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  9. Bethany
    November 6, 2009 | 8:34 am

    Well, Kellog’s is not traditional. Obviously. So I think just that would take it out. Unless they can somehow claim that the processing makes it ‘good for you’?
    .-= Bethany´s last blog post …Please pray for me . . . =-.

  10. theotherkim
    November 6, 2009 | 2:49 pm

    Really?? You mean glorified sugar can’t ward off the Swine Flu? You don’t say… http://tinyurl.com/yhds6yz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  11. Michelle (Health Food Lover)
    November 7, 2009 | 7:04 am

    Hi Kristen,

    When I finish my Naturopathy degree I plan to go into nutrtional research.
    I agree with you how they(scientists etc) have a reductionist approach to food. I think it’s so silly considering food is not one nutrient but a whole food and food does not act as one nutrient but as many macronutrents and micronutriets that act synergistically. But I can also understand it would be difficult to test whole foods and diets as there are so many factors involved in doing that.
    The way I think about it is they shouldn’t have to have so much evidence to eat certain things we know are healthy (and are common sense). But this isn’t really the case, because not everyone knows what really is healthy, so of course nutritional science and research is so very important.

    You know how you wrote”is it old?”, what do you mean by that?

    Michelle.
    .-= Michelle (Health Food Lover)´s last blog post …Banana Prune Spelt Bread =-.

  12. Leedungaree
    November 9, 2009 | 5:08 pm

    Well, so much for staying immune from disease this winter with a morning bowl of sugar, err, cereal. http://tinyurl.com/yhds6yz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  13. tina
    November 10, 2009 | 10:31 am

    Kellog’s has withdrawn the claim that Cocoa Krispies boosts childrens’ immune systems. They did so on the advice of their nutritionist, Count Chocula.

    I found this funny on another website.

  14. foodadvocate
    November 10, 2009 | 2:50 pm

    Boxed cereal health claims: http://bit.ly/3FMVBH

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  15. foodadvocate
    November 10, 2009 | 3:54 pm

    Kellog’s cereal claims to boost immunity: http://bit.ly/3FMVBH

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  16. Jesse
    November 11, 2009 | 5:55 am

    I haven’t eaten packaged food in months now…with the exception of a bag of lentils I had to get recently ‘cuz they were out of bulk. I heard about this Kelloggs thingy just this week. The idea that anything called Cocoa Krispies could in anyway NOT be detrimental to our health is just…I can’t find the words…
    .-= Jesse´s last blog post …The complicated path to simplicity? =-.

  17. Cara @ Health Home and Happiness
    November 11, 2009 | 3:41 pm

    As much as those crazy health claims drive me nuts (the crystal lite immune booster has my mother evangelizing for it. ug), I’m one who’s against just about all regulation as it seems to limit freedom. I want to be able to claim that I lost weight by upping my coconut oil intake on my blog without having to fund a huge study and publish a peer reviewed article in a medical journal, you know?
    .-= Cara @ Health Home and Happiness´s last blog post …Make Jello Blocks Made From Fruit Juice =-.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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