Nevermind the health claims – buy produce!


By Lori Bricker, MS, RD

Since the whole thing with Lipton and the FDA, I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about tea and health and labeling—more than usual.  In case you missed it, Lipton got in trouble over its talk about antioxidants, among other things (read my post about it).  And now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on POM Wonderful for violating the same types of rules in their ads for pomegranate juice.  (Read the FTC’s news release.)

Within the tea industry, people have widely differing views on whether or not tea has health benefits, what those benefits may be, and whether or not health claims should be allowed on labels and in ads.  For now, the FDA’s position is that there is not enough consistent, solid, scientific evidence to allow health claims for tea.

My position

As a dietitian, I think in terms of foods, and I keep coming back to this basic point:  ALL plant-based food such as fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, herbs, spices, beer, wine, etc. have antioxidants of some sort, in some amount.  Lipton and POM Wonderful aren’t lying when they say their products have antioxidants in them.  But so do hoards of other foods.  It isn’t rare or exceptional. Of course, it might seem that way because you don’t typically see labels on fresh produce, only on packaged foods. It doesn’t help consumers when bright shiny packages display all kinds of health claims while fresh fruits and vegetables just sit there quietly.

What’s a consumer to do?

Foods are a wonderful, complex, mixture of things that affect the body in many ways, some positive, some negative, and many unknown or misunderstood.  Nutrition science is complicated, but eating really isn’t.  You already know that plant-based foods should be a large part of any healthy diet.  So by all means, stay informed, but don’t depend on the latest news blip, food label, or product ad to determine your next meal (or beverage).  And if you’re looking for antioxidants, head for the produce aisle.

For more information on antioxidants and other phytochemicals, visit Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center.