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Zaleski: How easily we buy into scams

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Modern marketing is so effective that it fools people into buying into a lot of nonsense. By "buying into," I mean literally buying. We demand more information about the food we eat, and we get it. Providers of the information, corporate or government, happily bamboozle us newly "educated" consumers. Examples:

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Bottled water is one of the most successful marketing stunts in retailing history. The industry, which is mostly owned by the big beverage companies, has convinced Americans that their local water supplies are tainted, even as reams of independent research prove they are not.

The irony? Much of the bottled water consumers purchase comes from municipal systems, is filtered (maybe), injected with flavor enhancers, and sealed in plastic bottles with labels that suggest it's the best thing nature has to offer. What a crock.

Secondly, flavored vitamin waters -- usually high-priced -- fool a lot of people, including me. One describes itself as an "enhanced hydrating beverage." How's that for hyperbole? It's nothing more than water laced with coloring and sweeteners, for gosh sakes! We used to call it Kool-Aid.

Nine of 10 dentists recommend Bright Smile whitening toothpaste for oral health and a better love life. Nine of 10. I want to talk to No. 10. I want to know why dentist No. 10 does not recommend Bright Smile. Then I want to get the justification from the nine who endorsed Bright Smile. Are we talkin' payoff, here? Or, as they euphemistically say, a "compensated endorsement"?

Notice the ads never name the dentists? Notice the ads rarely get specific about why the toothpaste is the best thing for your mouth since the harmonica? No testimonials about how the ol' love life is going.

But, hey, nine of 10! Must be amazing, right? Gotta have it.

"Gluten free" has become a cynical nutrition scam when it should be an unambiguous health warning specific to people who have gluten sensitivity.

Stroll through the food market and see how many products, which never have had gluten in them, are labeled "gluten free." Gluten is in wheat, rye and barley. That's it. Food free of those grains has always been gluten free; and it's just fine, thank you, for people without gluten allergies.

Most people are not allergic to gluten. Last year's study by the American College of Gastroenterology reported less than 1 percent of Americans are sensitive, though other studies claim rates as high as 6 percent. Nevertheless, less-than-informed consumers make the leap that "gluten free" products are healthier than the vast range of foodstuffs made from grains that naturally contain gluten. Not true.

It's a brilliant marketing strategy, and it works. I'm not sure how it comports with the "whole grain" fiction because whole grain wheat, barley and rye can't be "whole" without the gluten. And you sure as hell can't have gluten-free pasta if you want it to cook up al dente because gluten is the substance that makes for al dente.

Maybe the next faux nutrition/healthy food campaign will be gluten-free bottled water. It'd sell.

Jack Zaleski is the editorial page editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com.

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