Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Healthy Living" in NYC

One of the things NYC is best known for is its hustle and bustle. A major part of that is the contant barrage of information (and misinformation) presented in the form of advertisements. Lately, I've been noticing an increase in a rather disturbing trend in the advertisements I see near my apartment, on the train, and around the tearooms I visit.

For some time, drinks like Gatorade and VitaminWater have been marketed as "healthy," despite the fact that they are, essentially, colored sugar water with vitamins/minerals/herbs mixed in. (Yes, corn syrup and pretty much any ingredient ending in "ose" really means sugar.)

If you want water with the benefits of vitamins, minerals, and herbs, why not drink some tea or a tisane (herbal tea) and skip the sugar and coloring? Or you could (gasp!) eat a healthy meal and drink some water. Or do anything else besides believe CocaCola when they claim that the new Enviga, Gold Peak, and Diet Coke Plus are good for you.

Sure, vitamins are (generally speaking) good for you. So are a lot of minerals (in moderation) and herbs (when used properly). However, sugar/sugar substitutes, artificial colors/flavors, and caffeine are NOT good for you in the quantities that usually come along with these "good for you" supplements. And while vitamins, minerals, and herbs CAN be good for you, it doesn't mean they ARE good for you. It depends on your body's specific chemistry, any conditions you have, any medications you take, and all kinds of other factors that most people don't take into account when buying something to drink at the local bodega.

The most disturbing aspect of this trend is that many of the products tout supplements that most people didn't know about before the ad campaign started. EGCG and theanine, which occur naturally in tea, are in a new Snapple product and a new VitaminWater product. The average person sees the ad/packaging and says, "Hey, what's that?" The ad, packaging, or unwitting person's somewhat health-conscious friend informs them that it's something found in tea and it's good for you. That's about the extent of the information transfer. Your average person thinks, "Tea is healthy. This product must be healthy. I want to be healthy. I'll buy it."

I see how this happens, but I wish I could get people to stop and think for a moment before mindlessly accepting whatever soundbyte or catchy slogan they're fed. Do they consider drinking tea for EGCG, eating berries for antioxidants, drinking pure orange juice for vitamin C, or goig to any of the other sources for the "health" in the bottle instead of selecting a processed, synthisized, and sweetened version? No. Do they seriously think about their own health concerns when they select their beverage of choice? Not really. Do they become healthier by drinking it? I doubt it. Do they consider drinking actual tea? Probably not. (The product is readily available, convenient, and heavily marketed. Tea is mysterious and strange and consumed by oddballs like me.) Do they know what the supplement does? Maybe. Do they buy the drink? In most cases, yes.

I'll admit that I occasionally buy a VitaminWater when I'm out of the filtered water I carry with me and I don't have time to visit a tearoom or other place with good drinks. They are the most successful at marketing themselves as healthy (which is not to say they are healthy!) and providing flavors that aren't completely unnatural-tasting. When I saw that they have a new theanine (tea extract) drink, I had to try it. So, today I am trying it. Tomorrow, I'll post my findings. Wish me luck!

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