Deceptive advertising is as old as advertising. That said, modern consumers expect advertising on food to be accurate and honest, thanks to more than a hundred years of food safety and quality regulation. Unfortunately, accurate doesn’t always mean honest. Take, for instance, an advertisement for “gluten free strawberries”. Is it accurate? Yes, because strawberries don’t normally contain gluten. Is it honest? No, because it implies that these strawberries are special for not containing gluten–and the advertiser is probably using this to charge you extra. Quick way to fact check this claim? Gluten comes from grains. Fruits and vegetables should always be gluten free, as should grain-free foods.*
GMO labeling is another problem. Activists have pushed food companies to identify when their foods contain GMOs. This, of course, encourages companies to label foods which don’t contain GMOs as “GMO Free”. This is reasonable if there are versions of the food which do contain GMOs, but labeling oranges as GMO Free is deceitful if there aren’t any GMO oranges I’m not really worried about GMOs, but if you are, keep in mind that the USA has only approved a handful of GMO crops--mostly soy, corn, sugar beets, oils, and some potatoes. So before you shell out extra $$ on GMO-free versions, make sure there is actually a GMO version, so you’re not paying extra for a meaningless label.
An especially pernicious fad, in my opinion, is the trend toward “special” water. I have drunk well water, spring water, bottled water, and tap water at different times. True spring water is the best–but bottled water claiming to be spring water don’t taste anything like real spring water. However, that’s not really what I’m concerned about. Instead, I’m concerned about water claiming to be “pH balanced”, “alkaline”, and essentially “extra good” for you.
Here’s the thing–on the pH scale we use to measure acidity and alkalinity, pure water is smack in the middle, at pH 7. Pure water is pH balanced–naturally. Now, not all water is pH 7, due to minerals, absorption of CO2, and other factors–tap water varies from slightly acidic to slightly basic; however, this doesn’t matter. The pH of foods we eat and drink doesn’t affect our bodies’ pH. Our blood’s normal pH is between 7.35-7.45; our stomach’s pH is between 1-5, and our intestines are alkaline (basic). The body regulates this by a complicated, redundant set of systems to ensure that our blood pH doesn’t change, because changing blood pH can be deadly. So quick way to judge health claims on water–assume they are false and buy the cheap bottled water (if you need to buy bottled water).
We’ve come a long way from the era of horrifically adulterated foods which led to food regulation. However, when it comes to health claims on foods and beverages, we’re still in a Buyer Beware world.
*This is trickier to discern for processed foods, since multiple product are often made on the same lines, making cross-contamination possible.