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Can Junk Food Be Good For You?

December 14, 2007 | By More

At a time when Americans are struggling with obesity and not eating enough vegetables, some major food marketers claim they have an answer. Keen to tap into consumer interest in healthier fare, companies are rolling out snacks sprinkled with what they say are real servings of fruits and veggies.

But nutrition experts say you shouldn’t be fooled by their better-for-you promises.

Frito-Lay touts its new line of Flat Earth crisps as “impossibly good” because the baked squares contain more nutrients and less fat than regular snack chips. Kraft’s recently launched Nabisco Garden Harvest line of whole-grain chips promises a half-serving of fruit or vegetables in every serving. And the new Jell-O Fruit Passions, also from Kraft, boasts a full serving of fruit per cup.

That’s just the tip of the healthy junk food fad. This year scores of fruit or veggie infused products have hit grocery store shelves. The idea behind these snacks is healthier, on-the-go eating. Don’t like broccoli? No time to wash an apple? No problem. Just grab a bag and munch.

Not a real serving? The Flat Earth baked squares, with names like Peach Mango Paradise and Tangy Tomato Ranch, are made from a blend of rice flour, potato and fruits or vegetables and claim to provide a half-serving of produce per ounce, along with vitamins A or C. But there’s some debate over whether the powdered produce in the snacks counts as a real serving.

“The science suggests when it’s powdered, it’s no longer a true fruit or vegetable,” says Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive of of the nonprofit Produce for Better Health Foundation, the group coordinating the5 A Day campaign developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We need the intact veggie with fiber, water and nutrients to get the full benefit.” Based on the CDC guidelines, the snacks don’t meet the fruit or vegetable serving requirements, she says.

Frito-Lay company spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez says the snacks aren’t meant to replace produce. “We’re not saying eat apple crisps in place of an apple,” she says. “We’re saying that if you’re looking for healthier snack options, this is a good one.”

Gonzalez stands by the company’s produce claim, which conforms with U.S. Department of Agriculture food guidelines that flakes and powders do count as a real serving, she says.

Category: Food

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