Meal Planning

Perils of Food Marketing

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You are trying to eat as healthy as you can and know the basics…which oils to choose, how to avoid sugar, and eating more fruits and veggies. However, when it comes to choosing favorite products do you ever feel confused as to which is the best? Perhaps you know the basic healthy food stock for the fridge, freezer, and pantry, but when you want to pick a new product…how do you decide?

We have to be smart consumers because the food industry simply doesn’t care about our health. They care about money. The increase in “healthy” products is due to consumer demand for more of these types of foods.

And it turns out good quality ingredients are not cheap. So, if food companies can market a product in a healthier way and still save a few dollars on ingredients…they will do it.

In short, if Big Food can trick us, they will. Therefore, it becomes imperative to check the ingredient lists of foods to avoid the perils of food marketing. Choosing to eat a dessert is one thing, choosing a “healthy” product loaded with sugar and processed ingredients because you are misinformed is another.

Food marketing tricks can come in all sizes and shapes (quite literally…the packages can be quite

Common Examples of the Perils of Food Marketing

Reduced Sugar/Sugar Free

Have you ever seen a product that claims, “50% less sugar” or even “sugar free.” Sure, it has less sugar, but it’s generally replaced with artificial sweeteners or other fillers. Definitely check the label to see if this is the case. Typically, the sugar is replaced with sucralose or another artificial sweetener, making the product no better and possibly worse.

Made with Olive/Avocado Oil

Mayonnaise is a big one, but it’s marketed in a variety of products. Big food companies try to make us think they are using healthier oils on a quick glance. However, if we examine it they are often still using other oils as well. So before you pick up that Mayonnaise made with avocado or olive oil oil, check the label. You’ll see that (at least in the case of Kraft) the avocado/olive oil is directly followed by canola and soybean oil. So, sure it’s made with avocado oil, but it’s not just avocado oil.

Perils of Food Marketing

Made with Whole Grains

Unless a product says “whole” such as “whole grain rice” or “whole wheat” then it’s not actually all whole grains. Many products have a small portion of whole grains in them and try to make this into a healthy twist. See the Nutri Grain bars below which are advertising “8g of Whole Grains,” yet the second ingredient is enriched flour. Not to mention, their claim to “Morning Energy?!” Morning crash might be more fitting given all the refined grains and sugars with such little protein! (If you eat these for breakfast and are looking for some new choices check out these 8 breakfast foods that aren’t cereal or download my Real Food Breakfast Guide!)

Perils of Food Marketing

Made with Real Fruit

Again, let’s look at those Nutri Grain bars (Kellogg’s is a pro at this food marketing trickery!) From examining the ingredient list we can see the “real fruit” comes into play as strawberry puree concentrate (and listed third to sugar and corn syrup!) The filling of these bars is a far cry from an actual strawberry! In fact, I’d be surprised if the amount of fruit in one bar even equals one strawberry.


Essential Vitamin and Minerals

Okay, for the last time we’ll look at those good old Nutri Grain bars. See the claim on that box “8 Essential Vitamins and Minerals.” When we read the label we can see that all of these vitamins were simply added into the product, not naturally occurring. It’s no different than taking a processed vitamin. This is a far stretch from getting our iron and B vitamins from natural whole food sources.

Made with Cane Sugar or Cane Juice

Cane sugar and evaporated cane juice are still processed sugar. Don’t let these terms fool you. While there are variations in the various forms sugar takes, at the end of the day the nutritional value (or lack thereof) is not significantly different.

Organic/Gluten Free does not mean healthy.

You know those “health” aisles full of organic, gluten free, etc foods? I’m pretty sure the amount of cookies and goodies in these aisles is growing by the day. Food companies are realizing there is quite the market for these items and they are filling it fast. Remember when you pick these goodies up that they are not healthy simply because they are organic or gluten free. Far from it! While we don’t need to feel guilt for enjoying these foods in a balanced way, our thinking is skewed if we are falling for the marketing ploys that something is healthy just because it’s organic or gluten free. Sugar is still sugar.

All Natural

Regulations for using the words “All Natural” or “Natural” are very lenient, or should I say, nonexistent. In fact, the FDA doesn’t have rules set on what natural actually means. Natural can mean many things to many people. You can buy natural Cheetos, Doritos, and even natural hot dots! Sometimes, the product may be better than the original, but often times it’s not and in general the term “natural” on a food label doesn’t define anything.

Stevia Sweetener (Truvia)

Many people are using the product Truvia and thinking they are sweetening their beverages and foods simply with stevia. However, if we peek at the ingredient list we see that Erythritol is actually the first ingredient, followed by Rebaudioside A, a highly processed derivative of Stevia. Personally, I don’t use Stevia, but if you are going to use it yourself opt for a Stevia extract rather than Truvia.

Perils of Food Marketing

Steps to Avoiding the Perils of Food Marketing

1. Choose simple, whole foods first.

We don’t fall into the traps of food marketing when we are eating whole foods. Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meat, and even simple grains such as brown rice or oats is a simple way to even reduce your exposure to food marketing.

2. Read the ingredient list on the food label.

However, most of us still enjoy buying some boxed or packaged foods to add convenience, flavor, or fun to our whole foods. The best way to be clear on what you are purchasing is to read the ingredient list. By checking the ingredients, you will be able to tell if the food is really truly what it is made out to be.

3. Read the sugar content on the nutrition label.

After checking the ingredient list of a product, check the actual sugar content before you buy. Regardless of the type of sugar used, your best bet is to limit your consumption as much as possible. Of course, you still want to make sure artificial sweeteners aren’t “artificially” pushing down the sugar content.

The Perils of Food Marketing

The problem with tricky food marketing is that we are often trying to make a better choice. However, if we aren’t diligent in checking ingredients and facts we could easily fall for a product that isn’t what we think. While we may all enjoy choosing food for pleasure instead of nutrition at times (desserts, etc) we don’t want to be doing this unintentionally!

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