A couple of weeks ago while doing my groceries at the local supermarket, I bumped into a friend of mine. After a brief chat he glanced at a bottle on the shelf in front of him. The bottle read ‘organic sunflower oil’.
“What do you think about this?”, he asked. I smiled as I immediately figured out what he was up to. My friend was about to fall victim to successful nutrition marketing!
Marketers use a variety of tricks to make foods seem healthier and more appealing than their competitors. One of the most powerful advertising tools a food manufacturer has is the packaging, as this is what we look at immediately before deciding which food to purchase. Speaking of which, our eyes are subconsciously drawn to the labeling on the package. This can be very misleading and in the long-run detrimental to health and body composition.
In order to minimize the risk of you falling for the marketers tricks, I’ve thought about listing the most common ones which I come across on a daily basis so that your defense mechanisms will be stronger the next time you’re chucking food in your trolley.
Food label marketing tricks:
- “Fat-free” or “low in fat” – the fat in food i.e. dietary fat, does not make you fat, rather is an important part of a balanced diet. It is also highly probable that low fat products are high in sugar. Watch out.
- “No added sugar” or “sugar-free” – at face value these terms look good, however one needs to think beyond; many food products naturally contain high amounts of sugar e.g. fruit concentrate juices, and as we all know the excess consumption of sugar is harmful in many ways. Additionally, food producers commonly revert to artificial sweeteners, the consumption of which can be dangerous.
- “All natural” – doesn’t mean anything when it comes to foods; food manufacturers stamp it on hundreds of packages to give you the impression that a product is a healthy, but it’s a meaningless term.
- “Organic” – just because something is organic does not mean it’s healthy; rather it is specifically free from pesticides or fertilizers which in no way suggests that a product is also free from other processed or artificial ingredients. “Organic” sunflower oil does not make sunflower oil healthy.
- “Gluten-free” – gluten is only bad for coeliac individuals i.e. people with a gluten intolerance. Gluten per se is not unhealthy and you do not need to avoid it if you’re not gluten intolerant. In fact, many gluten-free products contain added sugars and processed fats.
- “High in calcium”, “high in fibre”, “GMO free” or “no artificial colours or flavourings” – nothing wrong with these terms when considered in isolation, however they do not mean anything on their own. In fact such labels cannot be assumed to exclude the presence of other unhealthy ingredients in a food product.
- “Made with whole grain” or “multigrain” – there are either (healthy) whole grains, e.g rye flour, or (unhealthy) processed grains e.g. wheat flour; a combination of both will not make a food product healthy. This is clearly the case with many bread products labeled as “whole grain” or “whole wheat”. Upon a closer look at the ingredients, one will realize that the bread is only partly whole-grain with the balance consisting of wheat flour. Make sure that the healthy grains in your products add up to 100%.
Another marketing trick which I often experience is the use of small serving sizes. This is particularly handy for food and beverage manufacturers in trying to cheat us by making us believe that their product contains low sugar. You will easily come across references to a 50ml serving size on a 350ml bottle meaning that you would need to multiply the nutritional values of the serving size by 7 to get to the actual content of the whole bottle. I myself have been guilty a few times for initially stopping at the 50ml nutritional values before I realized that the numbers were looking too good to be true.
As you’ve read above there are numerous marketing tricks which we can easily fall for when choosing our food. However, the good news is there is one very simple long-term solution through which you will start exiting the supermarket victoriously.
Solution 1: Go straight to the ingredients label
Disregard product labels and go straight to the list of ingredients. When going through the product ingredients make sure you keep these points in mind:
1. Ingredients are listed in order of abundance i.e. the first ingredient being the most abundant, the second ingredient being the second most abundant etc. Thus it is very important that at least the first 3 to 4 ingredients are healthy ones.
2. The shorter an ingredients list the cleaner the food or beverage typically is. The longer the ingredients list the higher the probability the product contains artificial additives.
3. Avoid ingredients referring to different forms of sugar (e.g. dextrose, glucose, maltodextrin, syrup, mollases etc.)
4. Avoid anything referring to hydrogenated oils or fats, preservatives and artificial additives (highlighted by E numbers).
Solution 2: Proceed to the nutritional values label
Once you have familiarized yourself with the process of judging a food or beverage from its ingredients, then you can proceed to mastering the nutritional values label.
It is high time we stop marketers from defeating us every blessed week. Let us use the above 2 solutions to reverse this trend and start outplaying them, the #mirrorfriendly way.
To fitness with love,