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What!?! This coconut custard pie isn't HEALTH food?

March 3, 2010 |  8:08 pm

Trans-fat-free Sometimes, our powers of magical thinking when it comes to the food we eat get a little extra push from food manufacturers. And sometimes, as it did Wednesday, the FDA pushes back.

On Wednesday, the FDA dispatched a passel of letters warning food companies that they had gone just a bit too far in touting the health benefits of their products on their labels, and instructed them the practice had better stop.

Hard to believe, but it turns out that Nestle's Drumstick Classic Vanilla Fudge is not really a health food!

Nor is Mrs. Smith's Coconut Custard Pie! (But wait a minute, isn't coconut a fruit?). And Dreyer's Dibs bite-sized ice cream snacks with Nestle Crunch coating--again, NOT a health food, apparently.

It would seem that the manufacturers of these fine foods might have led some consumers to believe they were more than just a "yummy part of a(n) (otherwise) healthy diet." The labels of all the food products above, according to the Food and Drug Administration's letters, loudly called out to consumers that they "trans-fat free!" Technically true, perhaps, but they are certainly not free of significant amounts of saturated fat and total fat -- and that's a problem for the FDA.

If the agency decides to disallow these little "lies by omission," it's going to have to fire up its printing presses: a quick ride down the supermarket aisle will clearly uncover dozens of instances, at least, of foods heretofore packed with trans fats -- such as doughnuts, snack bars, crackers and cakes -- that tempt consumers by proclaiming they are "free" of them. Meanwhile, they clearly retain high levels of artery-clogging saturated fats.

Now, follow me down the juice aisle for a few more surprises from the FDA. Those adorably curvy bottles of Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice? No, it does not treat, prevent or cure such diseases as hypertension, cancer or diabetes, as its adorably curvy packaging claims. And the labels of Nestle's Juicy Juice All Natural 100% Juice Orange Tangerine and Juicy Juice All-Natural 100% Juice Grape "imply that the products are 100% juice when they are actually juice blends with added flavors," the FDA saidl.

Even Diamond of California Walnuts got in trouble with the FDA for going too far with its self-promotion. The agency had to remind Diamond that, while it has received permission to make some limited claims about the health benefits of the tree nuts, it has not received permission to label its shelled walnuts with messages that suggest or imply that they will treat, prevent or cure heart disease, arthritis or cancer.

--Melissa Healy

Photo credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times