Boosting immunity is first and foremost on American minds in the COVID-19 era. Food manufacturing companies are taking advantage of the trend by adding vitamins and other ingredients to their goods, claiming they will help your immune system.
Marketers launched 383 food and beverage products with immune-health claims in the first half of 2021, compared to all of last year’s count of 326, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Immunity comes up in nearly every conversation I have with clients,” says Lu Ann Williams, of Innova Market Insights, a global market company for consumer-packaged goods, specializing in the food and beverage personal care sectors. “We are afraid to get sick. American healthcare is very messy. Consumers are looking for a cheaper alternative that brings some type of silver bullet.”
The added nutrients in immunity-claim marketing are often vitamin C and zinc, which experts say do enhance your immune system. This summer, the Good Crisp Company introduced cheddar cheese balls with an immune-boosting ingredient called Wellmune, which is a baker’s yeast derived from beta-glucan. According to its website, Wellmune has been “clinically demonstrated to improve general immune health.”
But experts warn that an immune-support claim shouldn’t convince you to buy a product that is highly processed or high in sugar or fat.
Some of PepsiCo’s products, such as versions of Mountain Dew and Evolve protein shakes, have added vitamin C and zinc to promote immunity.
“If you’re making brand choices or product choices based on that or paying a premium for that, you are being taken advantage of,” says Michael Starnbach, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Harvard Medical School, according to the WSJ.
Legally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits food marketers to describe the ingredients in their products and discuss the effects they have on the body, as long as the information is accurate. However, food products can’t claim that they treat or cure illnesses, unless the claim has been proved under FDA regulations.
However, doctors say that adding vitamins and other ingredients to otherwise unhealthy foods is mainly a COVID-19 marketing strategy.
“COVID-19 is where the money is,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., a board-certified internist and expert in immunity. “Trying to scrape together a few nutrients out of junk food is really not the way to protect yourself. For example, the sugar in a 12-ounce can of soda can suppress your immunity by 30 percent for three hours.
“A better solution would be to eat healthy food, which can dramatically help immunity, and take a good multivitamin with at least 100 milligrams of vitamin C and 15 milligrams of zinc, along with 2,000 IU of vitamin D and 100 micrograms of vitamin K.”
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