The Antioxidant Lie: Marketing Run Amock

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Antioxidant nutrients are so important as marketing tools that they constitute their own brand, say British experts on such questions. Apparently, up to 60% of consumers who see an antioxidant claim on a product label will buy it for that reason.

Despite lack of evidence that additional antioxidants make people healthier (and may actually do some harm), these claims are so popular that food companies introduced nearly 300 new antioxidant-labeled products into U.S. supermarkets last year. I've been collecting choice examples: breakfast cereals, of course (they are always at the leading edge of nutritional marketing), but also jelly beans.

The marketing has become so competitive that unprocessed fruits and vegetables have to get into the act. I've seen ads for blueberries, tomatoes, and artichokes advertising their high antioxidant content. Of course they have antioxidants. All fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, and theirs may actually do some good.

Photos by avlxyz, Flickr CC, sklathill, Flickr CC, {Guerilla Futures/Jason Tester}, Flickr CC, ellie, Flickr CC

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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