Beware diet hucksterism!

Dear Dr. Eva,

I get emails all the time for “amazing” weight loss cures. Somehow the Internet knows I’m overweight. I have tried some of these “cures” with no real success. I wanted to see if you would check this ad out as a doctor and let OUTloud readers know the truth, if it works or if it is BS like I think?

Size 3x

Dear Size 3X,

Thank you for this opportunity to debunk another useless “dietary supplement.” There are so many things wrong here it’s hard to know where to start.

1) These mints will be sold as “dietary supplements.” This is wrong because caffeine has no nutritional value. That is, caffeine has no role in the human diet or the diets of other animals.. It does not contribute any calories, or vitamins or minerals.

2) The first line of the ad states that caffeine mints have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as effective “for losing weight and gaining energy.” This is a flat-out lie. Caffeine has never been approved by the FDA as a medication effective for weight loss, increasing energy, or anything else.

3) Caffeine is well known to increase alertness and interfere with sleep. It is sold over the counter for alertness, but it is not harmless. Being awake and alert is not the same as feeling energetic. Too much caffeine, especially in children, can cause abnormal heart rhythms and death. 400 mg of caffeine is generally a deadly dose in children. Eight ounces of caffeinated soda has about 40 mg caffeine. A cup of coffee has about 100 mg. Energy drinks vary greatly in the amount of caffeine they contain. Many contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee, and often they are not labeled with the amount of caffeine they have.

Excerpt from the ad

The first real, FDA approved solution to losing weight and gaining energy is here!
Say Goodbye to Coffee, Energy Drinks and Weight Loss Pills With Launch of Essential Mints! Essential mints are formulated with a refreshing peppermint flavor and just the right amount of caffeine. Each mint is the equivalent 20mg of caffeine and a handful (5 mints) equals a cup of coffee. The mints are a healthy substitute to replace morning coffee and unhealthy sugary energy drinks. Essential Mints are one of the lowest price per mg of caffeine than any other product. The company’s current line of mints includes delicious tasting energizing mints and bedtime mints. Along with being all-natural and non-GMO ingredients, the mints are fructose-free and gluten-free. “I initially started creating Essential Mints in my own kitchen when I wanted to find a healthy and effective alternative to coffee and energy drinks,” says Donald Choi. “I began working with my business partner and we brought our years of successful business and manufacturing knowledge to building this new concept. Our goal with Essential Mints was to create a product that would positively impact us and our customers.

4) Given how much pressure many people feel to lose weight, if caffeine could cause weight loss it would be well known by now. Who do you know that drinks coffee or cola every day? Are they thinner than people who avoid caffeine?

5) “Along with being all-natural and non-GMO ingredients, the mints are fructose-free and gluten-free.” As far as I can tell from what the company’s press releases state, the mints probably contain the same ingredients usually found in peppermints, mainly sugar and peppermint oil, plus caffeine. They are trying to make the mints sounds like “natural” products. Fructose is sugar from fruit. Notice that the ad does not deny that the mints contain sucrose, ordinary table sugar. Gluten is a product of wheat. Wheat never is an ingredient of candy, so saying this product is gluten-free is meaningless. Finally, “GMO” (genetically-modified organisms) refers to certain vegetables like corn and soybeans. Again, since corn and soy are not found in peppermints, of course these mints are non-GMO – just like all other mints!

6) When someone who claims to be an inventor says “Our goal with Essential Mints was to create a product that would positively impact us and our customers,” he’s being unusually clear. The product is intended to make him money- and nothing else!

Eva Hersh is a Baltimore family physician. Send your comments and questions to her by email at