Published January 14, 2013
The growing number of overweight and obese individuals spanning the globe is prompting more and more consumers to seek healthier habits in an effort to avoid the trend. However, this proves to be a challenging feat, as food manufacturers use clever marketing strategies to disguise many junk foods as the healthy choice.
You don’t have to fall for marketing gimmicks. Protect yourself and your family with these tips for deciphering the difference between well-done marketing ploys and foods that will truly improve your health.
Food manufacturers splash words like, “gluten-free,” “low-fat,” and “no sugar added” across the front of packaging to enhance the perception that the food is a healthier choice. In a 2010 survey, 50 percent of consumers said they believed foods marked as “gluten-free” are healthier than other foods. This common misconception has caused the gluten-free food market to erupt.
But the primary difference between gluten-free foods and other foods is the absence of wheat and the wheat protein, gluten. It is not necessarily healthier, but it is safer for individuals with gluten sensitivities or allergies.
Foods marked low-fat, low-sugar or low-sodium, may have less fat, sugar or sodium, but you must ask yourself, how much less? Ground turkey meat is a prime example. Many consumers are under the impression that ground turkey meat has less fat than beef, but this is only true if you buy 80 percent fat-free turkey meat.
Foods claiming to have no sugar added still have sugar, they just didn’t add any extra to enhance the flavor. This is a common practice seen in fruit juices and does not mean the juice is a healthier choice. Fruit juice is loaded with sugar and, unlike whole fruit, lacks fiber to reduce absorption and storage of excess sugar.
No- or Low-fat foods have a lot to hide. Fat is often the flavor behind the most decadent food. Foods advertising no- or low-fat are generally higher in sugar or salt to compensate for the lost flavor.
Nutrition Fact Labels
Learning to read nutrition fact labels and ingredient lists can make shopping for healthy food much easier. Start at the top, noting the size of the package, number of servings per package and what constitutes one serving. Make note of the number of calories per serving. Below the calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar are listed. These are ingredients you want to limit
Carbohydrates and protein should be consumed in moderation. Dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals are highly beneficial nutrients, so ensure you get plenty. The daily value listed to the right of each label is based on a 2,000 calorie diet, which is may be high for the typical woman and average for most men. A rule of thumb is that 5 percent or less of the daily value is low and 20 percent or more is high.
To truly protect yourself from deceptive marketing, choose whole foods over processed and packaged food items. Additives and preservatives in pre-packaged and processed foods can lead to a build-up of toxins in your system, which can contribute to weight gain and disease. One study found that eliminating prepackaged and processed foods from your diet can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 30 percent.
It may be challenging to exclusively consume whole foods, but it is worth all the effort. Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables from the produce section of the supermarket or, even better, visiting your local farmers’ market, can ensure your foods are free from processing. Choose fresh lean meats or plant-based proteins, over processed lunch meats or canned meats.
Evidence compiled by the World Health Organization links the global obesity crisis to an uptick in consumption of prepackaged, processed and fast foods – all the junk foods classically known to masquerade as healthy.