You only have to walk around the local supermarket to see rows of processed food with advertising telling you how healthy it is.
As a rule, if someone has to tell you it is really healthy for you to realise it, then it probably isn’t. We’ll look at some of the ways common food labelling can be misleading.
“Never judge a book by it’s cover.”
The food industry is a highly competitive environment where products continually fight for our attention using catchy adverts, bright colours and slogans designed to entice us into buying their products. It is hardly surprising that some of the advertising can often be misinterpreted, and even less surprising that consumers become confused when many of the products are made using ingredients that nobody has ever heard of in machines that nobody has ever seen. We’ll look at some of the main things that you should look out for when you shop.
REDUCED FAT OR LOW FAT
The labelling of products is generally fair and reliable although there are certain products and ingredients that can be misleading. For example the inclusion of trans fats into your diet can increase your chances of heart disease and weight gain substantially. Trans fats are created by partially hydrogenated oils through a process which removes nearly all of the beneficial properties that healthy fats contain. Current regulations allow manufacturers to be able to round any labelling under 0.5g to zero, which can have an impact several portions later. A unique selling point of some products is that they contain no fat whereas in reality fat has been replaced by added sugar. Generally if labels such as 30% reduced fat are on products it means the company has either reduced a product that is extremely high in fat (where 70% may still be a high level) and/or has replaced the fat with sugar to keep the taste palatable. Avoid foods labelled ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ and make sure you understand what is really in reduced fat or low fat products.
Often products are marketed as being sugar free or a reduction in sugar. For some products this may well be true. However, often manufacturers will add artificial sweeteners instead and break down sugars into lesser known sugars. This is a very clever way of tricking us the consumer into believing that a lot of the time we are buying products that are healthy and reduced in sugar whereas they could be incredibly unhealthy. Sugar in moderation is good, anything more isn’t. As a general rule you should avoid products with ingredients high in syrup, sweetener and anything with an ‘ose’ on the end such as glucose.
If goods are labelled with ‘added vitamins’ this essentially means the vitamins and minerals have been killed in the processing production phase and they’ve added it back after. This is termed food fortification. For example in some cereals and fruit snacks they add vitamins A, C, E and B’s. Added vitamins are not as easily absorbed by the body as when eaten naturally and often most of what is added flows straight through us. Healthy foods shouldn’t need to have anything added so use this as a warning sign.
Another food industry myth includes products that have “cholesterol free” labelled on them when the product is plant based or processed food. Cholesterol is only found in animal products and therefore they use this as a unique selling point to convince us the consumer into believing it must be healthier as a result and to buy more. This trickery and influential form of marketing affects us whether we realize it or not but it’s good to go by your gut instinct as to whether it’s truly healthy or not.
A final health myth or form of trickery is the serving guides on labeling. A bottle of ice tea may claim to contain 100 calories in one serving when the bottle itself contains two to three servings leading to double or triple the calorie consumption. This is hugely misleading to customers and by law manufacturers can be up to 20% off with their calorie counts. This needs to be reduced as 20% is a high figure and over time can have a serious impact on our health.
DO IT – IT’S A DETOX
A detox is a given time period when an individual cuts something out for a period of time. It could be calorific restrictions for a day, a week or more. The aim is to shake an unhealthy pattern and allow the body to get rid of some form of bad effect. People adopt different approaches i.e a fruit detox so you have fruit and only fruit for a short period, this is unhealthy and unsustainable. Another approach and a longer term approach is to eat only organic foods not genetically modified and mass produced products. The better approach is the latter; all meals of the day should be eaten just at a reduction in calories. As we have referred to previously, cutting food from your diet is bad for your metabolism and shouldn’t be done.
In summary, be careful when reading labelling as it can be rather misleading. Fat may be low but sugar may be high and vice versa. If detoxing ensure three meals in the day and opt for organic choices. When shopping for food, try to avoid foods with added vitamins or minerals as they don’t provide the same quality as occur naturally. Looking at your food as you shop may take a little time to start with but you will be amazed at what you learn when you look at the labels.