I’m so glad that we are a part of the food revolution that is happening, especially within the Bay Area. We are going back to raw foods and enjoying less overly processed foods. But in our haste of enjoying healthier, fresher foods, we can fall into the carefully laid traps that food manufacturers employ to trick you. You may think that you are buying healthier foods, but really, it’s a marketing gimmick. Here are some marketing tricks of which you should be aware!
Trick #1: Multi-Grain/Wheat
There’s a whole craze about whole grains versus enriched white grains. Companies have jumped on board and started making 100% whole grain products like breads, rice, pastas, and crackers. This is great because there are more products using whole grains to provide us, as consumers, with more fiber and nutrients. However, a lot of companies will trick you by labeling something is “Multi-Grain” or “Wheat.” This doesn’t meant that the product is made of 100% whole grains which refers to one whole grain used. “Multi-grain” refers to more than one grain is used, but they are not particularly whole grains. In fact, if you look at the Ingredients List under the nutrition label, you’ll see that these products are composed of “enriched wheat flour” (which is another way of saying “enriched white flour”). Tricky Dicky!
Lesson: Read your ingredients list under the nutrition label! This will tell you what your products are made of like if it’s regular wheat (enriched white grain) or whole wheat (a complete grain with the bran, endosperm, and germ).
Trick #2: Organic
Everyone thinks organic is the best. Well, in some ways it is! Fruit and vegetables are great organic because they don’t have harmful pesticides that are sprayed on them or the plant on which they are grown. Also, there are no petroleum based fertilizers used on them either. This is great because our food becomes fresher, rawer than conventionally grown with hormones and chemical sprays. Pesticides can be harmful to the human body. However, organic is expensive and sometimes not essential to the quality of some products. I’ve seen Organic Bamboo Bed Sheets. I didn’t buy them because they were organic. I bought them because they were on sale. Do I really need organic bedding? No.
Note that only these organic foods can use the USDA certified organic label.
– 100% organic = completely organic or made up of all organic items
– Organic = 95% organic
Organic Labeling tricks
– Made with organic ingredients = 70% organic. These DO NOT get the label.
Lesson: Not everything has to be organic and not everything organic is as good as it claims.
Trick #3: Fat-Free/Low-Fat
In the 80’s, there was a HUGE craze about the low-fat/fat-free diets because we thought eating more fat would put more fat in our bodies and make us fat. That’s a pretty understandable rationale except it’s not completely true. It’s a combination of what types of calories we get and how many calories we get that determines our storage of fat. Mostly, fat-free/low-fat labeling is used on indulgent foods like ice cream or cake. But did you know, that manufacturers actually replaced the fat with more sugar? That’s right! You could be eating a lower-fat yogurt, but there is more sugar in there (and potentially more calories). Why do they put in more sugar? Sugar and fat are important in food for many reasons: primarily, flavoring and tenderizing.
Lesson: Sugar and fat replace each other aka lower fat products shouldn’t be assumed to be better.
Trick #4: Sugar-Free/”Diet”
This is pretty similar to the previous marketing trick. It’s so popular because again, we think sugar = bad = it makes me fat. In sugar-free cakes or pastries, bakers usually add more fat (i.e. butter or shortening) to replace the sugar. Also, people use artificial sweeteners in pretty much anything like diet sodas and energy drinks. Be aware that the effects of most artificial sweeteners are wildly unpredictable. There have been claims that they cause cancer in high dosages. However, nothing has been proved on humans. A recent study in the past three years noted that diet drinks can alter the body’s recognition and reduce the metabolism of sugar. This has yet to be seen but the uncertainty makes me nervous enough, even if it’s zero calories.
Lesson: Moderate here. Not all sugar-free items like baked goods are lower in calories. The health risks of diet and sugar-free drinks are TBD.
Trick #5: All-Natural / Made with 100% Natural Ingredients
Following the wave of eating more raw foods, companies want to emphasize that their products are all-natural. However, you’ll want to be especially cautious with food items that say that they are “Made with 100% Natural Ingredients.” Alongside the great and beneficial things that are natural, there are also terrible and harmful things that are natural. Take for example: orange juice. Tropicana is getting tons of heat right now because they claim their juice is 100% pure OJ. However, most foods need preservatives added to them to extend the shelf life. This makes sense for consumers like us because we need to make sure our food is safe to consume when we buy it! However, in addition to the “all-natural” orange juice, manufacturers may add coloring, sugar, and extra flavor boosts to enhance the juice. After all of that, I can’t deny that the juice is “made with 100% natural ingredients” like an orange. However, all the extra stuff…not so natural all the time and not so good for us. Are they lying? Technically and sadly, no.
Lesson: If you want to go raw, juice at home or find non-generic foods that require minimum processing like fresh produce. That’s the only way to ensure that your food is not overly processed and is actually “all-natural.”
Trick #6: 0g of Trans Fat
Trans fats are bad. They’re bad because of the carbon configuration in the fatty acid chains of carbons. “Trans” refers to opposite sides for the carbons around a double bond. As such, these trans fats are more stable and less reactive. This means that the body has a harder time metabolizing/breaking down this type of fat. Although manufacturers have limited or eliminated the use of trans fats in their products (due to growing opposition), they can still label something has having ZERO grams of trans fat on the nutrition label even if there is trace amounts of trans fat. The threshold is 0.5 grams/serving, to be exact. 0g of trans fat…you’re such a liar.
Lesson: Check the nutrition label. If it has a line item for “trans fats” and the amount is zero, they are lying. ALERT. Put the box of trans fatty crackers down, and step away from the aisle.
Overall, companies are really keen on tricking you into believing what they label. The absolute best rule of thumb is to read the nutrition label, ingredients list, and use your critical thinking. Don’t believe everything you read (except this blog).
Happy eating, friends