Tips For Busting Through Food Marketing Scams

16 Mar

1. 100% whole wheat: be wary if a label just says “whole wheat” instead of “100% whole wheat”. Even products that contain minuscule amounts of whole wheat are allowed to slap on the “whole wheat” label on the packaging.

2. Multi-grain: is not the same thing as whole grain. Multi-grain just means that there are multiple grains used, but it says nothing of the level of refinement of the grains.

3. Pure, Natural, & Fresh: these marketing buzz words are empty of nutritional information. Food companies don’t have to meet very stringent (or in some cases, any at all) regulations to be able to use this lingo on their labels, meaning that food companies squeeze in as many of these words as possible to make you feel like it’s a healthy product. On the other hand, labels such as “100% natural”, “high source of fibre” (>4g), “low-fat” (<3g), “sodium-free” (<5mg) do have to meet government regulations.

4. Daily Value – have no idea how to read food labels? I mean what does 8g of saturated fat actually mean? How do you put that into perspective? That’s what the % Daily Value column on the right is there for. It’ll tell you that, for example, 4g of saturated fat is 21% of your daily recommended value for the average person who eats a 2000 calorie diet.

5. 3 ingredients: did you know that the ingredients listed in the food label must be listed in the order of the amount used? The first 3 ingredients usually give you a pretty good idea of what the majority of the food is comprised of.

6. Serving size: the nutritional label on the sides of food packaging are for one serving size, which is not only a gross underestimate of how much a typical consumer would eat in one sitting, it’s also misleading because most packaged foods contain much more than one serving.

7. Probiotic is a word that General Mills made up: at least, it is in the sense that General Mills started advertising probiotics as a godly, all-healing ingredient in their yogurt. Then all of a sudden, Danone, Yoplait, and Nestle all started backing probiotics as a gut healing, immunity boosting ingredient that improves your overall health in all sorts of ways (a lot of court battles about this controversy).

How many people actually know what probiotics is? Not many. But it sounds like it’s good for you, and they charge you more for it, so it must have added benefits. Right? I’m not bashing probiotics, it’s not bad for you or anything, but most studies have been inconclusive that it provides any health benefits other than assisting people who have trouble digesting yogurt in digesting it.

8. Brown eggs = white eggs: the idea that brown eggs is healthier than white eggs is utter bulldroppings. There is no difference in nutritional value or quality or taste between brown and white eggs, yet brown eggs always have a price premium. Obviously a marketing scam because brown eggs are laid by larger chickens who require more feed to lay the same amount of eggs, thus justifying the higher price.

For my personal grocery-buying habits, whenever I buy packaged foods, my eyes usually zoom to Saturated FatCholesterol, Sodium, and Sugar on food nutrition labels because they tend to be the usual suspects (I also sometimes pay attention to because I rarely eat red meat, but that’s probably not relevant to most people).

I got inspired to write this post when I read a week ago that the FDA is cracking down on major food companies by issuing warning letters to reform their food labeling or be shut down (luck recipients included powerhouses like Nestle, Gerber, Pom, and Diamond).

If you’d like a good overview of how to read Canadian nutritional labels (it’s not too dry of a read), then check out EatRight Ontario’s “Decoding the Nutrition Label“.


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