Just as I was heading for the front door to go to work the other morning, a promotional leaflet from Supervalu publicising the store’s weekly special offers came through the letterbox. Almost without thinking, I slipped the leaflet into my handbag, to peruse while I was stuck in traffic. It was only while I sat in said traffic, immensely enjoying my reading material, that the thought struck me: Aren’t I easily amused? And, more to the point, how the Me of ten years ago would have cringed if she copped a vision of her future Self.
However uncool I’ve become, I am somewhat secure in the knowledge that I’m not the only one who’s shopping around and spreading my spend across a range of different stores at the moment. These days, whenever I meet up with friends or relations, the conversation will invariably turn to the bargains they’ve spotted at local supermarkets (interestingly enough, the majority of these conversations tend to take part with other women – I presume our menfolk our content to leave such trivialities to the girls). These are hard times indeed and we’ve got to have a little savvy to survive.
But regardless of how much I’m watching the pennies, I invariably try to buy the ‘healthy’ options and I am a complete sucker when it comes to products being marketed as wholesome and beneficial to a body’s overall wellbeing. It makes financial sense. If you keep healthy on the inside, hopefully you won‘t spend as much visiting doctors and purchasing over-the-counter remedies in the long-term. We Irish as a nation spend a small fortune annually on vitamin pills and supplements, as well as foods which claim to offer health benefits. Which is why I was gutted to discover that so many claims are completely unsubstantiated.
The European Food Safety Authority recently examined the science behind the health claims made by 66 foods or ingredients and came up with some startling discoveries. Claims rejected in the scientific investigation include that of Ocean Spray Juices, which had suggested that its cranberry juice could protect women against urinary infections. The agency also rejected an application from Unilever which sought to claim that drinking Lipton black tea makes people more alert. So much for a strong cuppa to start the day!
The EFSA findings are the result of the European Union’s nutrition and health food regulation of 2006 which requires manufacturers to substantiate any health claims. And shoppers who, like me, regularly fill their trolley with ‘healthy’ foodstuffs will no doubt be disgusted to learn that the science put forward by the many food companies to support their products doesn’t always support the claims they were making.
Fish oil supplements which purport to improve brain growth in babies and children have come under particular scrutiny, with the agency rejecting most of the benefits claimed by manufacturers. I never missed a day taking mine when I was pregnant with my little boy, so keen was I to deliver a healthy little brain-box.
Apparently, the agency’s uncompromising approach has persuaded some companies, including Nestlé, to remove products from the EFSA verification process. Danone, one of the biggest manufacturers of probiotic yoghurts and drinks, is another of the companies to withdraw from the EFSA tests. So far the agency’s scientists have dismissed claims made by similar probiotic products that they could improve gut health.
Although the EFSA rulings have yet to be approved by the European parliament to give them legal weight, manufacturers fear consumers will vote with their feet after a rejection and the food industry – quite justifiably – is in turmoil over the findings.
Speaking of the healthy alternative, one product I don’t think I’ll be investing in any time soon is Coca-Cola’s latest offering in the US, Vio, a fizzy milk (jaysus, my stomach is turning at the thought of it).
Vio apparently contains skimmed milk mixed with sparking water, flavoured with fruit and sweetened with cane sugar and is does not need to be chilled. One of Coke’s copywriters claims it tastes “like a birthday party for a polar bear”. The creamy drink comes in four “natural” flavours – peach mango, berry, citrus and tropical colada – and, if it’s successful in the US, could be launched globally as early as next year.
While dairy farmers in Europe are hoping that the drink could boost milk consumption, I have my doubts that it will be appearing in Irish lunchboxes any time soon. Then again – would your grandmother have believed her eyes if she’d come across a bottle of banana-flavoured milk while she was running around Darrer’s with her basket all those years ago?