How often do you buy a food item because of what the label says? Perhaps you are watching your waistline and the product “sounds” like the perfect option. Words sell, there is no doubt about it and each day customers all over the country purchase products without even looking at the ingredients solely because their labels make them out to be something really special.
The technical word for what is going on is “healthwashing,” and it is a highly deceptive, yet legal, form of advertising. By tacking on trendy or healthy words to their products, manufacturers are able to convince consumers that what they have to offer is something that we “really” need and offers us a great many health benefits.
Knowing the words to look for and understanding how to properly read food labels goes a long ways towards keeping your food choices as authentic as possible. Here are just a few of those suspicious words we uncovered:
In order to qualify for the multigrain label, a product only has to contain more than one type of grain. A chip, for instance can have several different types of highly-refined grains and be considered a multigrain chip. Here is what multigrain Pringles contain:
Corn flour, vegetable oil (contains one or more of the following: corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, and/or sunflower oil), dried potatoes, rice flour, maltodextrin, wheat starch, modified rice starch, sugar, mono- and di-glycerides, oat flour, malted barley flour, wheat bran, salt, dried black beans, caramel color and annatto extract (color) ).
Here is what regular Pringles contain:
Dried potatoes, vegetable oil (contains one or more of the following: corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, and/or sunflower oil), rice flour, wheat starch, maltodextrin, salt and dextrose.
The multigrain Pringles contain more corn flour than dried potatoes, a little oat and malted barley flours and a touch of wheat bran and dried black beans.
The nutrition food labels are almost identical when it come to calories, fiber and sodium. Similar examples can be found with crackers, bread and breakfast cereal.
Of course, we all know that antioxidants are a good thing and fight free radicals in order to keep our cells functioning optimally. You may equate antioxidants with youthfulness, protection from disease and vigor. Very few people knew about antioxidants a decade ago – but thanks to a few published studies linking antioxidants to improved health – advertisers have taken off with the word and there seems to be no end in sight.
Retail sales of antioxidant inclusive beverages, supplements, food and natural care products is expected to hit $86 billion by 2016. While health experts agree that a diet rich in whole foods containing vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, flavonoids, and coenzyme Q10 can help boost the immune system and keep disease at bay, the jury is still out on personal care products and antioxidant supplements.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, antioxidant supplementation is booming and makes up over 50% of the antioxidant intake of Americans. However, this may not be such a good thing, according to the center.
“Rigorous trials of antioxidant supplements in large numbers of people have not found that high doses of antioxidant supplements prevent disease.” In fact in some cases, antioxidant supplementation can cause damage. Published studies indicate that high doses of beta-carotene may actually increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers and that supplementing with high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer and a particular type of stroke.
The beverage industry has also gotten into the antioxidant scene and more and more people are buying into the concept that drinking their vitamins will protect them from disease and aging. However, many of these drinks isolate one particular antioxidant which is not enough to provide complete protection.
We need more than just vitamin E, C, beta-carotene, glutathione or other single nutrients for health. We need all of the food components that give food natural colors and flavors.
There is no way to get a full complement of antioxidants from a single supplement or from processed foods that contain artificial colorings and flavorings in place of natural flavonoids and carotenoids. Only a whole and balanced diet can bring forth the real benefit of antioxidants. If you really want to give your body a super antioxidant boost, try juicing fresh fruits and vegetables.
Made with real …
The “real” claims on food packages continue to grab attention and sell product. The problem with this claim is that a food may contain a small bit of something real but be mostly comprised of things that can harm your health. For instance, Cheez-It crackers made by Colby state that they are “made with real cheese.”
Consumers see this and think – WOW – made with real cheese, that means they are healthy right? WRONG. In actuality, these crackers are loaded with soybean oil that is most likely GMO, artificial preservatives, flavors and dyes.
Most people think Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars are an excellent quick and healthy breakfast. In fact, the packages boldly states such things as, “More of the Whole Grains Your Body Needs,” “Excellent Source of Calcium,” and “Made with Real Fruit.” A great choice, right? Wrong.
Take a closer look at the long list of ingredients of a Strawberry Yogurt flavored bar the next time you’re in the grocery store – there are 56 of them. The ingredients are always listed by volume, meaning they are listed from the largest amounts to the smallest. The bar begins with whole grain oats – not bad.
But following that you’ll find high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, wheat gluten, soy lecithin, artificial flavorings and a myriad of other ingredients, and that’s just the outer crust.
The filling lists high fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient and also includes partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, more artificial flavors as well as caramel color and red 40 – a widely used food dye that’s been said to cause a host of health problems and even behavior issues in children.
When you hear the word artisan what do you think of? Probably a skilled worker, lovingly crafting a product with his or her own hands, perhaps using a recipe passed down through generations. You may think of wholesome, pure, unrefined etc.. If you do, the food manufacturers have you right where they want you. Slapping the word “Artisan” on anything – even a fast food meal, seems to work to increase sales.
Take for instance Wendy’s Artisan Egg Breakfast Sandwich that is mass produced and reheated in a microwave or convection oven. Last year Dunkin Donuts was sued for using the word artisan deceptively.
Bottom Line: Food labels can be incredibly misleading. Just as you cannot tell the contents of a book from its cover, so to you cannot know the contents of food from the label. Learn what is really in the product by reading the nutrition information and even calling the manufacturer for clarification if necessary.
Remember, the food companies rely on sales and will stop at nothing to capitalize on trends, scientific discovery and the persuasiveness of words to draw us in for the CATCH!