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Many food labels, not just Cheerios', leave a strange aftertaste

It appears the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has its sights aimed at our breakfast table.

First the FDA said Kellogg's overstated the benefits of its Frosted Mini Wheats, which were purported to make kids smarter.

Now it's Cheerios. The FDA posted a warning letter to General Mills on Wednesday, criticizing the Cheerios label for its claim that the popular cereal "can lower your cholesterol 4 percent in six weeks."

The FDA charged that General Mills' claims were tantamount to calling Cheerios a medical drug that could help "in preventing, mitigating and treating the disease hypercholesterolemia … and prevention of coronary heart disease."

The FDA's actions are good news for consumers. But if federal regulators are truly taking food labeling more seriously, they should not stop with cereal.

Also on the breakfast table, which increasingly is proving to be the most confusing meal of the day, is orange juice. It can be "pure," "squeezed," "freshly squeezed," "Florida squeezed," "from concentrate," "not from concentrate," as well as "from concentrate" and "not from concentrate" at the same time.

Take Homemaker Premium Orange Juice. At the top of the label, the juice carton states that it is "made with not from concentrate" while on the bottom it is blended with Valencia Orange Juice "from concentrate and not from concentrate."

Want some buttery maple syrup? We could not tell whether there was any maple or butter in Publix "Butter Maple." The ingredients mention neither butter nor maple like Cary's Maple Syrup does. The ingredients in Cary's: 100 percent maple syrup.

And there's Tropicana Light Lemonade, which carries on its label the statement, "Made with REAL Fruit Juice." Now this is true, but on the back of the carton it says it's only 8 percent juice.

And how do you make cheese without, well, cheese? Kraft sells a cheesy kind of food called American Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product. In this case, unlike Kraft's own Deli Deluxe American (which lists cheese in the ingredients), the product only lists "cheese culture."

Then there's Nesquik Milk Shake Chocolate, which contains "less than 2 percent of cocoa processed with alkali." And Special K Blueberry, which lists "blueberry flavored clusters," "blueberry flavored bits," "blueberry puree" and "blueberries and apple puree." How much fruit is actually in it is anybody's guess.

There are no health claims on these labels, but consumers have to wonder what they'll do to our health.

So here's the Edge:

• Read the label. Although they can be misleading, you have to start with some knowledge about what's in the product.

• Don't buy into health claims without some research. Some of those claims have been proven to have been overstated.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

Many food labels, not just Cheerios', leave a strange aftertaste 05/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 4:56pm]

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