Dangerously Misleading Nutrients

Posted on by Ashley Fruno


Many green vegetables are a great source of calcium

Food contains a multitude of nutrients and is as essential to human survival as air, yet as we become increasingly distanced from its production, we have come to rely ever more heavily on the information on our ready-made meal packets to tell us what is good for us. This reliance on food companies (whose interests are profit, not the common good) to tell us what we need to eat has led to a situation in which even the unhealthiest products can be marketed as essential to our daily diet.

Conflating a product with a health benefit is one of the best and most long-standing strategies for ensuring loyal, lifelong customers. A company does this by selecting a specific nutrient that its product contains and then marketing that nutrient so strongly that we come to believe that our very survival depends on the daily consumption of that nutrient. The company then makes its product known as the best and most readily available place to find said nutrient.

If asked which minerals we need most in order to be healthy, many people would say calcium and iron. In fact, we need 4,700 milligrams of potassium and 2,300 milligrams of chlorine a day, while we require only 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 18 milligrams of iron a day. Yet nobody talks much about potassium or chlorine—most people don’t even know what foods contain them (fruits, vegetables, and salt). But the daily intake of calcium and iron as well as protein is a major concern for many consumers in the Western world. One reason for this is that every day, year upon year, the meat and dairy industries market the health benefits of calcium, protein, and iron to ensure a constant stream of eager consumers ready to buy burgers, milk, chicken fillets, and cheese.

Western countries are, in fact, plagued by health problems, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and kidney failure, that are all too frequently a consequence of excessive consumption of meat. Despite this, the average American still consumes twice the amount of protein that he or she requires each day and still believes that it isn’t enough. On the other hand, through a healthy vegan diet, one can consume all the nutrients that the body requires and none of the nasty additives found in meat and dairy products. So why do people still buy into the health myth of meat and dairy products? Because of marketing.

The food business is a multibillion-dollar industry. Saputo, one of the largest manufacturers of dairy products, took in $6.7 billion in 2012, and Smithfield Foods, one of the top pork producers, saw an annual revenue of $13.1 billion last year. The funds that they and other food corporations have available to market their products—and the power that they wield—cannot be overestimated. Corporations such as these bombard consumers with messages telling them that they need to consume meat and dairy products in order to get enough calcium, protein, and iron. But that’s not the case. Tofu, lentils, tempeh, spinach, kidney beans, and chickpeas are all high in protein. Collard greens, almonds, soy, kale, and broccoli are great sources of calcium, and a diet containing spirulina, quinoa, spinach, or pumpkin seeds will provide all the iron that the body needs. As they say, a half-truth is a whole lie, and the so-called “health benefits” of meat and dairy products are perhaps the biggest lie out there.

Posted by PETA Asia-Pacific intern Josceline Cluff