Unless your package is white with only a big black font that tells you what is in the box, the products you are picking up at the store are talking to you. Whether you realize it or not you are probably listening. With messages like low in fat, high in Omega-3’s, high in fiber, and heart healthy it can be tough to ignore.
From the time companies realized that we are easily swayed by statements on a box or bag they have been adjusting accordingly with what they value-added statements. Anything that they can add to a box that will make you buy it is fair game to them. Most shoppers believe, somewhat incorrectly, that it has to be true for them to put it on the packaging. While there are guidelines they are less in your favor than you think and can sometimes be so loose that they are easily manipulated and exploited.
the packaging on your food is swindling you
Marketers have learned that you want to live longer, be happier, and make sure you provide the same for your family. Really not a leap there as it is just a basic desire of all humans that we want those good feelings. The food marketers and big business have used this as a way to get you to plunk down your hard-earned cash on their products by convincing you that their product is part of a healthy diet. Think about cereal. You might believe Cheerios are a good source of fiber and whole grains. Maybe you would even pick that as your cereal of choice, but if you can instead get a fruity sugary cereal that also says “made with whole grains” which one are you picking up? That probably depends on how much you know about whole grains and how big your sweet tooth is.
Beyond just the front of the package, the nutrition label might also be created in an effort to fool you. Check out the nutrition panel and the calories, fat, sodium, and sugar all seem reasonable. You think great I would buy this. But did you look at the serving size? It is a trick a lot of manufacturers use. Pick up a prepared sandwich or a frozen burrito at Trader Joe’s and the sodium content probably already strikes you as high. Then you realize that little burrito is 2 servings! No one eats only half the burrito so you are getting double the sodium. That could be your entire daily allowance of sodium. It is good to learn some of the common tricks food manufacturers employ.
truth in advertising
Before a statement can go on a food package the statement has to be approved by the FDA which has a set of guidelines to help the food industry. Those guidelines are sometimes loose and may not mean what you think they mean. Let’s start with “Natural”. You find this on lots of things and some may make sense. But did you know when you see it on chicken it might mean that the chicken has been injected with a salt water solution to make it juicier? It also makes it weigh more which makes it cost you more. It may or may not mean that the chicken in antibiotic free. Consumer Reports looked at a variety of products a year ago and the ingredients they found in “natural” products was surprising.
food studies are inherently flawed
All the food studies that come out and are referenced in articles are inherently flawed for a few main reasons
- every human body is different and acts accordingly
- you can’t control for the other foods eaten over month/year-long studies
- nutrients don’t work in a vacuum they need other nutrients and processes to work properly
- some studies are sponsored by food manufacturers and reveal a strong bias
That being said, food studies are important and have led to some great breakthroughs in science. But because of these reasons, believing the clever value added statements on that box of blueberry fruit bars might not get you the results were hoping for. Sure blueberries are high in antioxidants and yes there are enough studies to know that antioxidants are good for us. But when you read the label on the box and the first ingredient is sugar and the third ingredient is blueberries it is tough to know how many antioxidants you are really getting from those bars. Same story for fruit juice, if water and sugar are the top two ingredients just grab a handful of fruit and a glass of water.
A ton of information up there and if you didn’t know about the lies your food packaging is telling you it can seem rather daunting. Here are 5 tips to help you avoid foods that claim to be healthy, but add a lot of unwanted calories to your diet.
- Even if it says “sugar-free” a cookies and other sweets aren’t part of a healthy diet
- Fruit juice can be loaded with sugars, even the ones that say “no sugars added”
- “Made with whole grains” doesn’t have the same benefit as a package that says 100% whole grain
- If you want the benefits of a superfood or a particular nutrient eat the food itself, not a processed version with that superfood add to it
- Look at the serving size to get a true idea of what is really in that package of food
Don’t fall for them on the boxes of the food you buy because many are only there to make someone a lot of money. If you have questions find a good doctor or contact a nutritionist and practice moderation in all things.