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Is That Right? Jell-O with Antioxidants

I'm increasingly skeptical of packaged products that trumpet their antioxidant content. As I wrote in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, while much remains unknown about antioxidants and the role they may play in keeping us healthy, the term "antioxidant" appears on more food packages all the time.

Kraft has recently released two new varieties of sugar-free Jell-O snack cups boasting antioxidants; one is raspberry-and-goji-berry-flavored, the other strawberry-and-acai-berry-flavored. Neither product contains any part of the goji or acai berry, nor any raspberry or strawberry.

All of those berries, most prominently the goji and acai, have recently been touted for their antioxidant content; acai in particular has attracted a bit of a cult following, though claims for the exotic berry's nutritional superpowers have been largely dismissed.

The antioxidants in the Jell-O products are Vitamin E and Vitamin A, added to the product via Vitamin E acetate and beta carotene. One of the big questions surrounding antioxidants is whether they work the same way when isolated and delivered in supplement form (which is the case with their presence in Jell-O) as when delivered via real foods that contain them naturally. In any case, a single serving of strawberry-acai Jell-O delivers 10 percent of the government-recommended Daily Value for each of the two vitamins. Oddly, though strawberries and raspberries are good sources of Vitamin C, there's none of that antioxidant in these Jell-Os.

To be fair, Kraft makes no health claims for these products. But a consumer could easily assume that they offer solid nutritional value, given the way the word "antioxidants" and images of berries are blazed across the package.

A magazine ad for the acai variety notes that the stuff has "amazing acai berry flavor." By many accounts, the flavor of acai berries is nothing to write home about; I've never even tasted pure acai because the berry isn't easily available in the U.S., and it's usually paired with a better-tasting fruit to make products palatable. So it's hard to fathom Kraft's motives in singling the flavor out; seems like just another excuse to drop the name "acai."

Here's what Joyce Hodel of Kraft Foods corporate affairs wrote in response to my e-mailed questions:

Our consumers have said they are interested in adding more antioxidants to their diets. We thought it made sense to add them to our sugar-free ready-to-eat gelatin line because consumers who eat our sugar-free varieties are generally looking for a better-for-you snack. Our Jell-O ready-to-eat gelatins are made with various fruit flavors. Consumers have told us they like variety and assortment when choosing gelatin flavors, so we usually add a new flavor or two each year. For 2009, we included acai and goji because they are currently popular flavors with consumers. And we know consumers are interested in adding Vitamins A and E to their diets. A point to note -- Fruit is easily added to our Jell-O dry powdered dessert mixes. In fact, there are hundreds of delicious recipes for how to do that -- including some great summer ideas -- on

So, readers, am I being too harsh here? Or do you agree that Kraft's sending a muddled message?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 5, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right?  
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No, you're not being too harsh.

It looks like "antioxidant" is replacing "detox" as the latest food fad.

-Steve Parker, M.D.

Posted by: SteveParkerMD | June 5, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Please tell us, self-anointed Guru- Goddess Jennifer: What is "real food"?

Is there any way to tell without your inspired guidance?

"A consumer could assume". What idiot eats jello for nutrition? It's the opposite reason, hun.

Posted by: law1946 | June 5, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

To me, it is cheap deception, pure and simple. Just like "juice cocktails" that are 10% juice being placed in the juice section of the grocery instead of in the soft drinks section. Its outrageous and dishonest. I have seen people buying these cocktails are really think they are getting fruit juice instead of sugar water.

Posted by: Jimani2 | June 5, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

It's deception as usual, just like the fiber content notes on crackers and other carbs. Pure nonsense.

Posted by: notanidiot | June 5, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I not only think Jell-O's message is "muddled", I think what they are doing should be illegal. I don't think they should be able to put images of berries on their packages if there are no actual berries in the product. Furthermore, I don't think that food manufacturers should be able to make ANY health claims on their packages, so the word "antioxidant" should be forbidden.

Posted by: CalebMurdock | June 5, 2009 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Go eat your Jello and be happy 'law1946'.
I don't see any 'Guru-goddess' complex in anything written above.

Are you bitter your fancy law degree only got you a job at Kraft besmirching journalist?

On topic...
So is the goji > the a├žai when it comes to antioxidant values?

Posted by: cleanfront | June 5, 2009 11:32 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I would say Kraft is sending a muddled message, actually, more like an untrue message. Not that I don't ever buy
packaged, canned or prepared foods, but I read product labels and buy fresh as much as possible. I do not appreciate a
company claiming something that's simply
not true - Kraft should clean up their act.

Posted by: MILW | June 8, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I once thought Kraft produced wholesome foods but that was many years ago. Now it looks like they've really sold out.
Acai is the 2nd highest antioxidant food, Cocoa is the highest antioxidant food in the world but it's all about the processing. Kraft could make healthy jello but it would be expensive then they wouldn't make big profits.
If you want Acai with high antioxidants along with healthy chocolate, look at my website

Posted by: panick6 | June 9, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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