There is a growing distrust for the larger industrial food producers (“Big Food”) around the world and for good reason.
They are constantly trying to scam us.
Do you want to eat healthier and have more energy? I’m pretty sure everyone does! Big Food companies know this and their marketers know just how to influence us.
Have you ever picked one food item over another because of the health claims on the packaging? We all do it! But it’s important to know the difference between true health claims and false ones.
Terms like “Fat free”, “Sugar Free”, or “All natural” are often slapped on a food item that may not be healthy at all!
When your intentions are in the right place and you really want to buy healthy food for you and your family, it’s extremely frustrating to learn that Big Food’s insincere attempts to make us healthier only accomplish one goal … making them a tonne of profits!
In a minute I’m going to show you how you can outsmart Big Food and know how to pick out real healthy food and avoid the ones that are trying to trick you!
But before that, I have to mention the rise of local independent producers who care about issues that are important to consumers. There are entire brands built on the importance of health, nutrition or sustainability and this is really encouraging. I’ve worked in the food start-up industry for a long time, from my first food business Kooky Dough to helping other start-ups like Cool Beans and Boutique Bake.
So I know all too well the bittersweet nature of producing food with strong core values in mind while trying to compete with Big Food. Unfortunately small producers just cannot compete on price with Big Food, and because consumers will always be price driven, Big Food is not going away anytime soon!
However I believe as consumers, we do have the power to change the way Big Food operates by changing our own shopping behaviours and being mindful of where we spend our food budget.
The way to do this is to get educated on nutrition, and learn how to read nutritional labels.
An easy step to take to getting education on Nutrition is registering for my FREE online nutrition masterclass… just click here to hold your place!
Here's my list of 11 common and misleading phrases Big Food use on packaging so you can be savvy to their marketing tactics and make smarter supermarket choices.
1. No Added Sugar
If you’re concerned about calories and sugar consumption, you may opt for products that say “no added sugar” or “unsweetened” on the packaging.
However, just because a food contains "no added sugar" doesn't necessarily mean it has a low sugar content and it definitely does not mean it must be low in calories.
The food may contain ingredients that have a naturally high sugar content (such as fruit) or have added milk, which contains lactose, a type of sugar that occurs naturally in milk.
No sugar added also does not mean a product is carbohydrate free and carbohydrates (which can be simple sugars or more complex starches) raise blood sugar.
Always look at the nutrition label where you can often find information about how much sugar is in the food you’re purchasing.
2. Sugar Free
Taking sugar out of our diets is something most of us have attempted at one point or another. And yes, it's a good idea to keep added sugar to a minimum and look to natural sources of sweetness. However a lot of products claim that they are “sugar-free” but instead they are loaded with artificial sweeteners or man-made sugar alcohols. The word "artificial" says it all.
Common artificial sweeteners used are aspartame and saccharin and common sugar alcohols are xylitol and sorbitol and they can can wreak havoc on our digestive system causing issues like diarrhea.
It’s best to choose the real deal when it comes to sugar or sweeteners (or treats that include them) like honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, and fresh fruit juices and purees...and keep their amounts on the lighter side as they are still high in calories.
3. Wholegrain & Multigrain
Whole grains have more fiber and other nutrients than grains that have been refined, a process that strips away the healthiest portions of the grain.
Multigrain means very, very little other than more than one type of grain was used in the manufacturing process so look for the words whole grain or 100% whole wheat.
And while whole grain can be very beneficial since it means the entire grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) was used, the benefits of whole grains can be offset by added ingredients like sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other processed additives.
Big Food often tries to disguise junk food like certain cereals with whole grain claims! So as always my advice is to look at the ingredients list.
4. Fat free
This is a notoriously misleading label. Products with “Fat Free” labels often contain nearly as many calories as full-fat versions and that’s because they are loaded with sugar!
We need fat, the healthy kinds, in our diet. Fat helps us to feel satiated. Fat-free products often leave you wanting for more because you’re just not satisfied. Healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats and omega-6 and omega-3 fats are important for our heart health and should be included as part of a balanced diet. Choose excellent sources like olive and rapeseed oil, nuts and nut butters, avocado, and wild salmon.
5. Gluten free
Gluten free is one of the latest corrupted health buzz words. Originating from a genuine need of people diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, a lot of foods are now labelled gluten-free purely to jump on this craze but they are anything but healthy! Some products which are naturally gluten free anyway slap the term on the front of the pack to boost sales!
Unless you have a specific condition, like coeliac disease, gluten-free products don’t help you lose weight and are not necessarily good for you. In fact, gluten-free whole grains may have less fiber than the regular version and gluten-free foods often contain 20% more calories than their gluten containing counterparts.
So unless you’re really gluten intolerant, there’s no need to opt for these foods in a quest to lose weight!
6. High Protein
High protein is another buzz word that is wreaking havoc! The belief that bulking up on protein will help you get into buff shape and melt away excess fat is a myth! The fact is too much of anything, even if it's healthy, isn't always good. Too many calories overall and that buff shape isn’t gonna happen!
Fueled by the low-carb/Atkin’s fad diet and the Paleo meat-eating trend, almost all forms of protein are becoming more popular. And food companies are more than happy to jump on the bandwagon since protein powders are easily added to their products to pump up the protein content on the label. Protein is great and your body needs it, but don’t go out looking for highly processed, protein-fortified foods. You’re much better off choosing real, naturally-occurring protein alternatives. And if you choose to eat meat, choose local, pasture-raised options.
7. High Fiber
Fiber is yet another go-to additive that can be mixed into all sorts of foods. Yes fiber is very good for you, but a sugar laden breakfast cereal that’s had fiber added to it is not. High-fiber products are often boosted with doses of processed forms of fiber. Added "functional" fibers like chicory root fiber, polydextrose, and oat fiber don't necessarily have the same impact as naturally occurring fiber in foods, and may cause bloating and gas. Look to fruit, vegetables, seeds, beans, and whole grains for your fiber intake and you'll hit your recommended grams per day without thinking about it.
Organic … how can a word that means so much also mean so little? Organic fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat are definitely better choices… but organic crisps and organic jellies?! Yes, that’s how far organic has drifted from its intended meaning. So remember organic jellies are still sweets and organic crisps are still crisps!
Energy claims are more appealing than ever thanks in part to the stressed lifestyles of a lot of consumers. But what does “energy” really mean? Absolutely nothing! Since calories equate to energy, almost any product can justify an “energy” claim. And when you consider that sugar and added caffeine are two of the most popular ingredients of “energy” products, it’s best to steer clear of them and opt for natural low-GI carbs instead for sustained energy.
10. Low Carb
The fear of carbohydrates that has taken hold of health conscious consumers has driven food companies to stamp "low-carb" claims on products such as chocolate bars, muffins and pasta! Most of these items however, contain high amounts of artificial sweeteners and/or processed sources of fiber which isn't exactly health conscious. The thing with carbs is not to demonize them, we need carbs to survive and they are not bad! It's about eating them in smart quantities and from quality sources. You'll fill up faster on less, and will be more satisfied.
11. Serving size
Food manufacturers can be very misleading with serving sizes. To make a product look low in fat or calories, they may list nutritional information on the front of the pack based on a tiny, unrealistic serving size. For example, a serving size for a chocolate bar could be two squares.. a lot less than what most people eat in one sitting! Be careful to check out what the serving size quantity actually is before letting the nutritional information sway your decision.
Have you fallen prey to any of these processed food health claims? Which, if any, do you find particularly confusing? If there’s any health claims I’ve forgotten that you find troublesome just comment below and let me know!