Marketing myths and packaging porkies.
I’m above it.
Advertising falls on deaf ears with me.
I’m “immune to the seductions of pseudoscience”.
Or so I’d like to think. But the truth is, despite a career in advertising, I’m as gullible as a fish
(I can’t bring myself to deliver the punch line). Nor can I bring myself to divulge just how recently it was that I finally started to question my long held belief that ‘A Mars a day’ really does ‘help you work, rest and play’.
Yet another moment of self-awareness (and disappointment): maybe these marketing myths have penetrated the psyche. And with my eyes a little more open, I’ve started to realize the multitude of other occasions when I’m being sucked in…
Scouring the supermarket aisles for something that might vaguely pass as a meal, I’m simultaneously being sub-consciously seduced by labels whispering in my ear that they’re “low fat”, have “no added sugar”, are “organic”, so in the trolley they’re chucked with guilt-free abandon.
“Labeling and health claims on packaging are not good guides to healthiness. If the packet says the product is high in fibre or contains whole grains or has added vitamins and minerals, that doesn’t really mean anything, because the product might also contain high levels of salt or sugar or saturated fat. These terms create a halo effect around products to make them appear healthy when they might not be.“ Professor Rayner is clearly more clued up and switched on than I (should have guessed, there is an obvious clue in his title).
So, in my efforts to transform myself from sucker to cynic, I’ve done a little bit of research into the most common – and most notoriously misleading phrases – that manufacturers use on food packaging:
1. Light or lite
To make this claim, a product must contain 30 per cent less fat / fewer calories than the standard version. However, as we well know, a product light on fat can also be heavy on calories by way of added sugar. So “light” shouldn’t be interpreted as “healthy”.
What’s more, a food label may say a product, such as olive oil, is light, but manufacturers have been known to use the term to refer to the flavor rather than the ingredients. Maybe these innocent manufacturers just didn’t realize the label could be misinterpreted?!
For a product to be labeled “low fat” in the UK it must have less than 3g of fat per 100g. But, as above, when producers take out fat they often pile on sugar.
Must contain less than 0.5g fat per 100g, but again, just because it says it’s fat free it doesn’t mean you get a free ride. Big watch-out again for added sugar. What’s more, fat-free is not necessarily desirable anyway, as good fats are essential in a balanced diet.
4. No added sugar
OK, so whilst this means a product can have no sugar added, it does not necessarily mean a food has a low sugar content. Sugar is found naturally in loads of foods, esp fruit. Companies use fruit juice concentrate as a sweetener as it does not have to be labelled as "added sugar", but it is essentially sugar.
Multigrain – no thank you – not good enough. Look for whole grain or 100% whole wheat. Whole grains have more fiber and other nutrients than those that have been refined. Paradoxically, the ‘refining’ process strips away the healthiest portions of the grain.
And don’t go by colour alone: some darker breads have caramel coloring and are no healthier than highly refined white breads.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that organic is synonymous with healthy. But organic certification does not guarantee nutritional quality of food – it just guarantees the production methods. Of course organic food can still be packed full of fat, calories, and sugar. Having said this, there are definitely times when I do definitely opt for organic, but more on that another day.
So where do we go from here? Maybe we should adopt the Australian system, where packaging has a "nutritional profile that rates a food’s overall healthiness on a scale from ½ a star to 5 stars. The high-starred foods are quite clearly the better nutritional choice". Not a bad idea? Failing that, I guess just keep cooking….small plug for Hello Fresh here…ingredients and recipe cards delivered to your door so you know exactly what’s going in your grub. Finally, just check the ingredients label on the back. And to prevent you over-stretching your cognitive load in the process, here’s a reminder of the guidelines:
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g
High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g
High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
So, enjoy being superior folks. Rise above the marketing myths and packaging porkies. No excuses now...
I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.