Advertisements you can’t trust!

A 35-second television commercial that cleverly promotes Horlicks by hyping on loss of nutrients in boiled milk has sparked a controversy. The advertisement claims that up to 25 per cent of many nutrients are lost by boiling milk; dramatic graphics show decrease in vitamin A, vitamin B and folic acid. Then comes the clincher: add Horlicks to milk to make up for the lost nutrients. The advertisement has miffed viewers and experts alike. Horlicks is a milk supplement, marketed by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

The commercial, however, plays it safe by adding that the claim of ‘loss of nutrients’ upon boiling milk is based on published literature. ‘Horlicks is a nourishing beverage to be taken as part of balanced daily diet. Increase in levels of milk nutrients upon addition of Horlicks is based on theoretical calculations.’

Micro and macro facts
Chairperson of the Mumbai-based Centre for Sustainable Development, Arvind Shenoy, says the commercial trivialises the very significant act of boiling milk before consuming by unnecessarily dramatising the loss of micro-nutrients. ‘Milk is consumed primarily for macro-nutrients like proteins, fats and carbohydrates and is not exactly known as a vitamin powerhouse,’ he adds. He describes the advertisement as ‘misleading’. Shenoy has a doctorate in biochemistry. A senior scientist from National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) said, ‘Milk is a veritable store house of nutrients. It is a rich source of protein, calcium and vitamins like A, D, B1, B2, B12 and K. And it is true that boiling affects many of these vital nutrients in your milk as vitamins are highly heat sensitive, particularly the B group. But this doesn’t mean that we should give up the boiling of milk.’

Boiling milk is a common practice in India and sometimes milk is re-boiled to increase its shelf life.
NIN offers some tips on how to boil milk with minimum loss of nutrients. It says milk should not be boiled at very high temperatures for a long time. It should also be stirred during boiling. After that it should not be left in the open for long but should be refrigerated. The institute also says that microwave or ovens should not be used to heat and re-heat milk. ‘These basic steps can reduce nutrient loss from milk on boiling to some extent,’ adds the scientist. Milk is a rich source of bio-available calcium that helps in the building up of strong bones, according to NIN. Milk fat serves as a vehicle for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E. However, for strict vegetarians, it is the only source of vitamin B. Besides, it is also rich in riboflavin.

Violation of guidelines
According to the guidelines for food and beverages advertisements issued by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), an advertisement should not be misleading or deceptive. Advertisements that include what a consumer might interpret as health or nutritional claims should be supported by appropriate scientific evidence and must meet the requirement of basic standards laid down by the Food Safety Standards Act and Rules, wherever applicable. Advertisements should not disparage good dietary practice or the selection of options, such as fresh fruits and vegetables that accepted dietary opinion recommends should form part of the normal diet. When asked about the Horlicks commercial, an ASCI spokesperson said that the agency can act only on specific complaints made to it.

GSK denies charges
Spokesperson for Horlicks was careful to point out that the commercial only states that ‘during boiling of milk up to 25 per cent of the nutrients are lost and the same is based on published literature.’ ‘This is also stated clearly in the super (in print) in the advertisement,’ the spokesperson said. Horlicks cites two studies: One is a study to evaluate the impact of heat treatment on water soluble vitamins in milk, published in 2010 in journal brought out by Pakistan Medical Association. The second one is Impact of household practices on the Nutritional Profile of milk published in Indian Journal of Public Health in 2012.

On arrangement with Down to Earth magazine

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