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Fitness Files: Snacks wrapped in expensive promises of health

My niece held up a crinkly white bag of cookies.

"Guess what these cost," she demanded.

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Prepared for an astronomical amount, I doubled my first guess, "Ten dollars."

Her thumb bobbed up, up and she looked at me encouragingly.

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"Not fifteen!" I said.

The thumb gestured way higher.

"I give up. How much?"

"Around $35 for 10 cookies," she said. "They increase nursing mother's milk supply," she added, but her face wore the expression of "I know I've been had."

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My niece, the graduate of a prestigious university, delighted our family with a beautiful baby boy. Determined to nurse her new son despite a demanding job, she would wake up at 4 a.m. to use a breast pump before work, enabling her to leave behind a fresh bottle. And she bought milk-making cookies.

"What cookie ingredient could possibly encourage lactation?" I asked.

"Oats, brewer's yeast and flax seed," she said.

"I'll bake you the next batch," I told her. "Why would mothers pay that much money for a cookie?"

"We like cookies," my niece answered.

Searching the web, I could not find an independent analysis of commercial lactation cookies, but I did find dozens of comments from mothers saying that they worked. The only hospital connection to lactation cookies was the University of Michigan's Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital, which handed out cookies containing oatmeal, brewer's yeast and flax to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.

As for my niece, she opened her cupboard and pulled out brewer's yeast and flaxseed. "I could just add these to my oatmeal in the morning," she said. Then she dropped the cookies in her briefcase.

"Why are you putting them in there?" I asked.

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"My boss wants to see a $35 cookie," she said.

I finally understood their value — $35 cookies are a conversation topic.

Turns out cookies aren't the only expensive, targeted snack. I spotted, along with the protein powders and muscle supplements at the gym, a box of eight chip bags under a clear cover. "Protein Chips," the sign read, "$16.99."

"You're kidding," I thought. We eat protein from meat, dairy products, beans and whole grains, but chips?

On the way out, I bought a 1-ounce bag for $3.

Ingredients are milk protein isolate, dried potatoes, corn starch, high oleic sunflower oil, 2% nonfat dry milk, salt, malic acid and calcium carbonate.

A bag contains 21 grams of protein with 2 grams of fat.

They're a thin, airy cracker-chip with crunch and an aftertaste of stale dry milk. My husband called them "sawdust."

Everyone knows where to find protein. WebMD says a 3-ounce piece of meat, fish or poultry has 21 grams. Three-fourths of an ounce of cheese has 21 grams of protein. Why a chip?

We like our chips.

Finally, my friend brought over a bottle of probiotic coconut water from the health food store. On the medicinal-looking brown bottle with the snappy logo, I saw that the first two ingredients are coconut water and kefir. Fifteen ounces cost somewhere around $16, which makes it more expensive than my wine.

An article from Harvard Medical School says, "Science hasn't shown whether probiotics will replenish good bacteria …[nor are] the quality of marketplace probiotics consistent." Harvard says science may ultimately find some benefit but for now "the jury is still out."

Pretty expensive coconut water, but we like our drinks.

So, what's the point?

Jillian Berman's Oct. 2 Huffington Post article, "Americans Spend More On Snacks, Less On Actual Real Food," says that the growing worldwide snack industry rose to $374 billion in 2014. Furthermore, Berman quotes a Nielsen poll of 490 Americans who reported that "they 'enjoyed' eating all the time." Nielsen's senior vice president of consumer insights, James Russo, says, "We want indulgent snacks, but we also want healthy options for a snack."

I'd say we like our cookies, chips and drinks nicely packaged and expensive, with a questionable serving of health claims.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is a retired teacher who ran the Los Angeles Marathon at age 70, winning first place in her age group. Her blog is lazyracer@blogspot.com.

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