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One Critic’s Take On The “Multigrain” Scam

Screen shot 2010-07-12 at 2.39.53 PM.pngFreelance journalist and author Suzanne Schlosberg wrote because she was so upset over a New York Times story, “The Chip That Stacks Adds a Multigrain Twist,” that she wanted us to review it. I thought anyone who feels so strongly about something should review it herself. So she did. Here is Suzanne’s guest post:


I was flabbergasted when I read this New York Times piece on Procter & Gamble’s new entry into the potato-chip market: multigrain Pringles. The story accepts at face value P&G’s misleading marketing pitch — that “multigrain” is equivalent to “healthy.” When I sent a link to my nutritionist friend Cynthia Sass., M.S., R.D., she replied: “Did you notice it says ‘advertising’ in the top left corner? It must be a paid ad that resembles an article.”

Actually, it’s not. It’s a business story that ran in the “Media & Advertising” section. Though the story didn’t appear on the health pages, it should have made clear that “multigrain” simply means that more than one grain is included in the product — not that the product is necessarily nutritious.
What’s more, the story confuses “multigrain” with “whole grain,” here:

Mr. Bergsma (Pringles marketing director) said that the multigrain Pringles campaign was devised to appeal to people 35 and older, a group that tends to be more aware of calories and sodium content and that also looks to keep the pounds off with whole grains.

Even more egregious: It’s not until the 11th paragraph, and only in parentheses, that the story mentions that — oh, by the way — the new Pringles actually aren’t any more nutritious than original Pringles. (Even so, multigrain Pringles, which are made from rice, corn, wheat and black beans in addition to dehydrated potatoes, have about the same amount of sodium and calories as regular Pringles.)

The story might also have mentioned that multigrain Pringles, like original Pringles, have 1 measly gram of fiber.

Cynthia Sass told me that misleading articles like this one have a real impact on her clients’ perceptions about what’s healthy and what’s not. She said: “Whether it’s sugar-free, low-fat or multigrain, when processed foods are being presented as ‘healthy’ they become perceived as healthy, even if they’re not. Foods that earn a health halo, deserved or not, are often consumed more frequently or without regard to calories, let alone overall nutritional value. I think it can lead to people truly thinking they’re eating healthfully then wondering why they aren’t losing weight or don’t have energy.”


Thank you, Suzanne, for your contribution and for joining us in the quest to help consumers scrutinize claims made for new treatments, tests, procedures, products — and potato chips.

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

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