How were we so ignorant to not-so-subtle marketing tactics and sloppy science?

As a child of the ever more nostalgic 1990’s, my uber-progressive parents stocked the kitchen with the latest and greatest health foods.

Ostensibly, these foods were marketed as essential pantry items for a modern and health-conscious family. Yet twenty-five years later, we look back in relative horror at the cheap consumer tricks and pseudo-science we wholeheartedly embraced with gusto.

In no particular order, let’s take a look back at the quintessential “health” food items that defined the cupboards of the 90’s.

Margarine

margarine unhealthy food
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Butter was driven out of our fridge when high-fat foods became vilified by nutritionists and government health experts. It was replaced by vats of a creamy butter-like substance that spread easily, tasted great and saved us from the perils of real butter. 

Margarine was packed full of trans fats and processed ingredients.  Sales have only recently plummeted in favor of re-embracing Julia Child’s staple ingredient.

Low-Fat Ranch Dressing

Pseudo healthy low-fat ranch
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My family lived by our daily salad.  It was a staple at the dinner table for decades. Chowing down on some evening greens could erase the sins of our dietary mishaps from earlier in the day.

Of course, getting kids to embrace the bitterness and strange textures of a hearty mixed salad required some backup.  Thus, Low-fat Ranch Dressing proved to be the great disguise. Hey, it says Low-fat on the bottle. Fat = bad.

The fact is, when you remove all that delicious fat, you’ve got to add something to take its place.  In this case, the replacement was sodium. Low-fat Ranch Dressing has up to 440mg of sodium in just two tablespoons.

Sunny Delight

Pseudo healthy Sunny Delight
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California style! Sunny-D was marketed to families as a healthy alternative to soda. However, it rivaled the cola competition in sugar content. Those essential vitamins must offset the sugar, right?

 

Fruit Rollups

Pseudo healthy fruit roll-ups
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This candy was disguised as a magical paste extracted from real fruit. General Mills was eventually forced to settle a lawsuit claiming the company deceived customers with its Fruit Rollups marketing.  The 90’s kid favorite wasn’t healthy or “a great source of vitamin C”.

Granola Bars

Pseudo healthy granola bars
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Chewy, chocolatey, delicious. Granola bars served as a mid-afternoon snack or a camping trip staple.  But most of these bars were chock full of – you guessed it – massive amounts of sugar.

Much of the sugar and processed ingredients have now been replaced with newer (and arguably healthier) additions.   Chia and flax seeds are common in modern iterations sold at Whole Foods.

Dinosaur Vitamins

Pseudo healthy dinosaur vitamins
Image Credit: Christina Spicuzza, Flickr

How do food giants get kids to crave taking vitamins? Pack them full of sugar and make them chewy, rainbow-colored and dinosaur-shaped.

In the 1990’s, a favorite nightly ritual in the Love house involved Swallowing two cherry-flavor Tyrannosaurus Rex bites.  Later, the habit transformed into a family fixation on taking the proper stack of supplements as adults.

We’ve only recently learned that many popular vitamins and supplements do little or nothing for us.  And some may even be detrimental to our health.

Skim Milk

Pseudo healthy low-fat or skim milk
Image Credit: Getty Images

 

A glass of skim or 1% milk found its way to our dinner table every single night. This was in addition to our ranch-drenched salads and dinosaur vitamin addition.

My parents faithfully followed the narrative that milk was essential for the bones of growing children.  It was a narrative created a half century earlier by the US government under the influence of the powerful dairy lobby. Low or no fat versions? Those were even better!