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Have All Our Foods Become Fake Foods?

In Michael Pollan’s book he suggests that we lost control of what is in our foods and now we have stores full of fake foods or food-like products. Hence he called the book in defense of (these real) foods.

As a food scientist I feel that some clarification of the actual situation is needed regarding his claim. In the US we have federal standards of identity (CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 for a wide range of food products including categories such as: Milk and cream, Canned fruits, Bottled Water, Canned vegetables, Food dressings and flavorings, Chocolate products, Cheeses, Cereals and flours, Frozen desserts, Bakery products, etc. Fruits and vegetables are not included in these standards. Standards of identity define what a given food product is, its name, and the ingredients that must or may be used in the manufacture of that food. Food standards ensure that consumers get what they expect when they purchase certain food products. For example, to be called Ice Cream a product must be made from cream (derived from milk) and not some other fat source (e.g. vegetable oils). These food standards prescribe aspects such as the minimum amounts of certain ingredients; maximum fat and water contents and methods of processing or preparation. It is not correct of Pollan to suggest in his book that yogurt is now made with hydrogenated fat. The only type of fat that can be used in yogurt according to its standard (21 CFR Part 131.200) is milk fat. Pollan is correct in his comment that many ingredients are now added to some foods that were probably not in these products back in the 1980s. Much of these concern “nutrients” added to foods to improve its nutritional profile, e.g. cholesterol-lowering plant sterols which is an FDA approved claim (21 CFR 101.83). The FDA allows several types of claims to be made on foods, these are (a) health claims that meet significant scientific agreement (e.g. that plant sterols can reduce cholesterol claim), (b) qualified health claims (e.g., some limited evidence supporting the claim but not considered conclusive by the FDA) and (c) nutrient content claims (the usage of terms like lowfat, lean, etc. See the FDA website for more details.

The addition of nutrients and the inclusion of “claims” is of course largely driven by marketing (to increase sales). If you, as a consumer, do not want Omega-3s in a food product, then just don’t purchase it. Most of the new food products that are introduced each year fail and are withdrawn within a short period and of course, companies that want to stay in business, will launch another product to take its place. The important point is food products, that are regulated by a standard of identity (and most “traditional” foods have standards while novelties like Twinkies do not), still have to comply with the requirements of that standard even if the manufacturer wants to add some additional nutrient like Omega-3 to the product. I would recommend anyone interested in the ingredients or nutrients permitted in our foods to visit the FDA website ( Anytime that the FDA considers changing a standard (or regulation) for a food, you as a consumer can post your comment on this website and this comment will be considered by FDA before any change is made. I just do not understand the view that adding a nutrient (e.g. vitamin D) to a traditional food like breakfast cereal somehow makes it an inferior quality product! I agree, however, that just because a food is called lowfat does not make it a very healthy product if it contained lots of calories from carbohydrate! I do not believe there is reasonable evidence to conclude that all our foods have become fake foods although many consumers are confused about the claims and labels on foods.

Although it is obviously not what Pollan believes in his personal manifesto, the comprehensive food standards we have in the US are envied (and often used as a reference) in many other part of the World.

Professor John A. Lucey
Department of Food Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison

26 thoughts on “Have All Our Foods Become Fake Foods?

  1. Yes it is very serious!A healthy diet is the most important consideration and a balanced eating plan comprising adequate vegetable, fruit, protein and fat intake is important. Attempting to maintain a lean and slim figure should not be controlled by calorie restriction and ‘starvation diets’ as this will continue to aggravate the reduced absorption of nutrients. Rather focus on exercise for your weight management needs with an understanding of nutrition and calorie control.

  2. You have a good point when you say: "I agree, however, that just because a food is called lowfat does not make it a very healthy product if it contained lots of calories from carbohydrate!" Though this is an extreme example you could take a very unhealthy donut, sprinkle on a tiny amount of oat bran and advertise it as: Healthy for your Heart Oat Bran Fortified. And in a more subtle way there is a lot of this going on today.

  3. There so much to think about when it comes to eating healthy. All the added chemicals, synthetic vitamins and such that a lot of people don't even know what to look for anymore. It seems that each person you talk to about health will tell you something different.

  4. I know that diet is very important I have to eat properly or my fibromyalgia flares up and hurts a great deal. I eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits instead of the carbs and it helps a lot. Thank you for the post.

  5. Everybody has a different perception of what 'healthy' and 'good for you' means. The previous commenter has hit the nail on the head. Its for the individual to decide what factor is important to them when it comes to healthy eating. I do feel that healthy eating has become too commercialised, nature isnt always low fat.

  6. To be honest, I think that all processed food is unhealthy as you do not really know what goes into it to make it tasty, or preserve it. It is scary to think how manufacturers pump their products full of additives to make the shelf life longer. I try to cook everything from scratch as I know exactly what is going into it.

  7. I think its pretty much getting that way, now we hear that there is no nutritional difference between GM and non GM veg, so now there will be not stopping the food industry. To be quite honest, 6 six years ago when I got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and was insulin for a while, I went on a huge nutrition and food Self education. For a while it worked. I came of the insulin but then as the doctors predicted, the honeymoon period came to an end and I went back on insulin. On of the big things I did learn along the way was not to worry about high cholesterol foods as much as chemical altered fats and bingo, the new buzz word was out out out with hydrogenated fat. All the major super markets in England have began dropping all their products that contain the stuff. Probably not wanting to risk any lawsuits if they can help it. We went through the carbs and weight gain thing about 7 years ago but it still circulates for the die hards. Who knows what the next bad food advice will be to storm the media. Quite frankly, a balanced diet without too much processed stuff, avoid deep fried and get plenty of veg. What else can you do?

  8. It is very important to educate our youth about the importance of reading nutrition fact labels, as well as understand them.

    Throughout the United States many students entering college are not inclined to reading Nutritional Fact labels, whether they understand them or not. The National and Education Label Act was meant to influence students to read and understand nutritional fact labels. Today students are being made aware of the importance about reading Nutrition Food Labels, but studies have shown that although there are mandates placed upon food companies to supply a clear understanding of the ingredients in packaged foods, many have yet to understand them, let alone read these labels. It is becoming more obvious that college students, specifically, still have limitations in their understanding and acceptance of the nutrition fact label, which directly affects their attitudes and choices for proper nutrition.

  9. In the UK we have seen an alarming rise in fake foods entering the supply chain. The recent scandal of horse meat from Eastern European slaughterhouses being sold in the UK (as well as other parts of Europe) by well-respected national chains of supermarkets in frozen ready-made meals as beef has shaken consumer confidence to the core. In an attempt to stem this epidemic we have seen a significant rise in the use of holographic security as simple hologram stickers or holographic hot foil stamping on the packaging.

  10. The argument of GM versus non-GM foods is open to fraud if there is a price differential. The moment that there is a profit to be had by faking one product pretending to be another that enjoys better popularity or margin potential, this will give rise to the question over the integrity of what is being sold. In the UK we're seeing a significant rise in the use of holograms and holographic products directly on the foodstuffs as well as on the packaging to try an reassure the customer that what they're purchasing isn't a lower quality item or something that isn't what it's marketed as.

  11. I have vegetables in my daily diet as they provide many vital nutrients necessary for our bodies. I also prefer organic foods, they are expensive but worthy.
    Scott Carlino has made very important point, we need to educate people about the importance of not just reading nutrition fact label but to understand them as well.

  12. I don't think everything that you write on the label is true. Or don't have the time or the knowledge needed to translate these labels. We must do everything possible to return to the traditional food. Very difficult to achieve, but not impossible.

  13. It is very very unhealthy to drink those sugar / caffine filled energy drinks to stay awake at night! Many people fail to see the warning signs before it too late hyper tension which leads to all kinds of health issues. Truck drivers have the same problem. To be honest the best remedy for falling asleep is Yerba Matte, it’s basically just green tea, its very good for you and really does the trick.

  14. I for one have become almost paranoid about reading food labels. I am so worried about the number of artificial ingredients that so many "natural" products have added to them, to suit the supermarkets and huge food companies. I think it is best to eat as much meat, vegetables and fruit that is organic and has undergone no additional processes.

  15. Now a day it’s a real truth that our food has became fake food. Point’s mentioned in this are really right and we should look after that. We should take proper vitamins and all important nutrition for being healthy.

  16. Inserting a junk into the food is lying to consumers. Peoples always been victim of fake food manufacturers. Supposedly, there is strict controls on them. Our health is undermined by fake food available everywhere.

  17. So true… so much food today isn't actually good. That's why I love going to Farmers Markets or using websites like Bakery Near Me to find actual bakeries that make REAL food!

  18. in the present era, a lot of food that was not suitable for consumption. Indeed, consumers are always harmed. Should always be a control on food sold in the market, it is very good for our lives as consumers.

  19. Thank you very much for this article, i suppose that when you are writing about the standards when a company want to introduce new products in the market possibly knows all these standards and knows how to focus the information of their products.

  20. Thisis a great and informative post. We all strive to stay healthy but never cared about what we eat. Processed foods are not helping us either. To me eating healthy means staying away from those processed foods and go for natural foods. Anyway, thanks for the post.

  21. I know that diet is very important I have to eat properly or my fibromyalgia flares up and hurts a great deal. I have vegetables in my daily diet as they provide many vital nutrients necessary for our bodies. I also prefer organic foods, they are expensive but worthy. assignment expert

  22. Interesting article! If we were all able to ea more plants and less processed foods, perhaps there would be no need for concerns! Especially if we moved back to more home grown produce.

  23. Try to prepare yourself one healthy meal during the day or one glass of fresh juice from organic vegetable or fruit. Stop eat junk food.

  24. Many food products in the United States that are labeled "light" or "low fat" are worse that the original food product. A savvy shopper takes time to read labels to avoid "fake food".